#southernstartuptour: Asheville –> Chattanooga

I woke LoriAnne up before the sun on Thursday. She was not happy with me.  It was an awesome drive from Asheville to Chattanooga through the mountains.  We got to Chattanooga for our first meeting with a local startup around 9:30 and got an awesome product demo.  Chattanooga has a lot of exciting innovation happening and was one of the first cities in the country with internet access of up to  one gigabit per second for the public.  The city also has an innovative program called GeekMove that attracts development talent to the city.  That type of forward thinking has attracted a lot of talent to the region.

After our startup meeting in the morning, we drove to the Co.Lab where we met another company that has been really successful since launch and was exploring options in the Southeast for funding.  Meeting these startups in different cities has been a really informative way to weave a larger story about the struggles of startups in the region and try to identify comprehensive solutions to start addressing and solving them.

At the Co.Lab we also met with Charlie Brock and discussed their mission and the broader mission of the Chattanooga Renaissance Fund. Charlie has done a lot for startups in the Chattanooga area and entrepreneurs in the region are lucky to have access to such an active and aggressive fund. Co.Lab also seems well positioned and focused on providing mentor driven accelerator that will drive meaningful results in coming years.

After our morning tour, we met up with Sheldon Grizzle, one of Co.lab’s founders,  for lunch down the street from their office.  We talked about the founding of Co.lab and its future in Chattanooga.  It was great to talk to a group focused on creating sustainable economic development and a lot of their themes and missions echoed those of Four Athens.  They’ve had some great successes come out of Co.Lab as well!

After lunch, we drove over to the Lamp Post Group, another group trying to spur entrepreneurial innovation in Chattanooga.  Formed from the outgrowth of Access America, the Lamp Post Group team is energetic, to say the least.  Their space was by far our favorite of the trip and you could feel the energy as you walked in their doors. Creative chaos is putting it lightly. Ted Alling, CEO of Access America, gave us a great tour of the space and introduced us to many of the startups in the space.  We definitely picked up a lot of great ideas from them in regards to physical space, community and long term growth.

From the Lamp Post Group, we met up with Walt Robinson to talk more about Chattanooga & their entrepreneurial growth.  He had an interesting view, having once lived in Athens.  As an interesting side note, those cities that seemed farthest along in their entrepreneurial community building were also those that were most welcoming in terms of introducing us to other people that we should talk with and freely sharing information.  Chattanooga was a long & exciting day.

After our final meeting, we hopped in the car for the 2 hr ride to Birmingham for our Friday morning meetings.  At this point, LoriAnne and I were both very tired, but overflowing with great ideas to bring back to Athens.  We weren’t sure what to expect from Birmingham!


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