“We believe StartUp Week is an important brand to Chattanooga and to its participants,” says Marcus Shaw, CEO of CoLab. “It is one part workshop, one part networking event and one part citywide party.” The energetic Shaw, whose nonprofit CoLab is for the first time entirely responsible for the annual soiree’ for small business, is in his element.
Yet, it has a been a resolute journey.
As an IBM electrical engineer, Shaw worked on early wireless networks. Then he returned to the classroom for an advanced degree in finance from Duke University. He worked for a while as an equity analyst on Wall Street and about mid-career, suffered and survived—a pulmonary embolism.
Time to push the restart button. Obviously, he had skills. He first decided to outsource his CFO capabilities to small and medium-sized businesses, as the senior director of business development and partnerships for Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT), a DC based nonprofit. “There is no difference in the business components (between small and large companies), the management pieces are just scaled differently,” he says. “All companies start somewhere.”
He realized that he relished meeting entrepreneurs when they were just getting started. So, he created a boutique consulting company in the Washington, DC area, where his wife’s medical practice was located. There he helped top minority talent get their ideas off the ground. He and his family later moved to Chattanooga where his wife’s brother lives, and in 2017 he joined CoLab, a nonprofit startup accelerator. He had a taste of the StartUp Week production last year and is ready for more.
Now in its 5th year, StartUp Week Chattanooga, beginning on October 22nd is a celebration of the city’s entrepreneurial community. The weeklong experience features community-led events that highlight and inspire entrepreneurial thinking. From sessions on how to formulate a startup strategy to branding a business and marketing the product, entrepreneurs will gain insider information on the art of crafting the journey and meet people who can help them along the way.
The goal of StartUp Week 2018 has been to provide more structure and authenticity, harking back to the roots of the original program. By limiting the number of events and encouraging their density, organizers expect to intensify the experience as participants attend dozens of sessions designed to meet their specific goals. There are over 120 applicants this year.
The healthcare sector will include a healthcare panel, hosted by Unum and Erlanger. A banking panel hosted by Atlantic Capital will address specific financial questions. This is also an opportunity for hosts as well as other professionals to engage with the startup community, possibly developing potential future customers. Shaw says entrepreneurs should begin building relationships within key sectors before they may, actually, need them.
There are a record number of sponsors this year. CoLab is responsible for organizing the topics, fundraising for the events and managing the experience. Participants are sure to meet people who are interested in their potential product, adds Shaw.
According to the CoLab organizers, the most popular event in past years has been “Will This Float?,” where all largely untested ideas are heard, no matter how fantastic they may be.
Communications Director Tia Capps says some of the favorites have been Bellhops back in 2012, Roots Rated, an app showing a community’s best outdoor activities and a variable ink node device producer.
“The wildest might have been the crawdad farm idea for a company that used aquaponics,” she says with a grin. There have been some big brag stories, too. Like the sale of Quick Queue, a startup that sold to open table for over $11 million. However, it may be the modest successes that most impact a community like Chattanooga.
“The startup community here is a key driver for economic development,” says Shaw. “We should embrace its value to the larger economy of the city.”
Another not-to-miss event is the Chattanooga Mini Maker Faire© at the Public Library on Saturday, October 20. The family-friendly event is “creativity personified” according to Shaw, with over 50 exhibitors and now in its fourth year.
“Think old-school country fair meets hi-tech expo. Kids love it,” he adds. “My kids are real skeptics, too—but they didn’t want to leave.”
EPB’s annual TenGIG Fest, highlighting Chattanooga as one of the top gaming event venues in the nation is in planning stages, with the date pending. TenGIG will bring thousands of attendees to play and stream the biggest games in esports on EPB’s blazingly fast community-wide fiber network, the fastest Internet in the world. This festival combines esports, innovation, music and food.
As a major sponsor of StartUp Week and all its related celebrations, EPB also was the first and to date, only American ISP to make up to 10-Gig Internet speeds accessible to all its residential and commercial customers as a standard offer. EPB is also the first major power distribution utility to earn the USGBC’s PEER certification for having a highly automated, modernized electric power grid.
Exceptional sponsors engaging with innovative entrepreneurs is the heart of Chattanooga StartUp Week 2018. This year’s participants include startup founders, thought leaders, community supporters, investors and technology drivers in throughout the region. The event showcases the best of Chattanooga—it’s can-do attitude, innovative spirit and remarkable people. For details of StartUp Week’s schedule of activities, go to colab.co