If there’s a single piece of real estate that best reflects the way Greater Chattanooga has reinvented itself, it’s the Tomorrow Building, a historic property and one-time hotel in the heart of downtown that has been re-fashioned into a co-living space for the tech/entrepreneurial community, offering fully-furnished apartments where bold thinkers can live among like-minded neighbors.
“We are moving from the point where we are transitioning from Chattanooga being just a great place to live to achieving the critical mass in the tech community where the existing talent base makes it a great place to relocate,” says Weston Wamp, principal at the Dynamo Accelerator and Fund, which supports startups in the logistics, transportation and supply chain industries.
“We are looking for entrepreneurs who are working on transformative technologies or business models,” Wamp says. The fund’s presence makes participation in Dynamo’s three-month accelerator program even more attractive, especially for startups coming from a large region, Wamp says.
“You are not only coming for the investment and the benefits of the accelerator but you may also develop a relationship with your first institutional investor,” he says. “The Fund puts Chattanooga on the map not just as a place where transportation-related companies are based but where capital has been assembled for the specific purpose of investing in the best logistics entrepreneurs around the globe.”
Torch: One of Chattanooga’s Tech Startups
Dynamo is among a wealth of resources that are kickstarting new companies. The Company Lab runs programs and events designed to support the startup ecosystem in the region, Many of the 100-day accelerator programs it offers are theme-based — focused on 3D printing or software companies, for example.
GIGTank, a boutique accelerator focuses on high-bandwidth startups. The Hamilton County Business Development Center houses the INCubator, a program of the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce. More than 70 companies work in the INCubator, the third-largest business incubator in the U.S.
A compelling local startup is Torch, which offers a Wi-Fi router with dynamic internet filtering, one designed to help parents manage their kids’ internet usage much more easily. CEO Shelley Prevost, parent to three school-age children, created Torch with parents of children ages 6 to 18 in mind. “There wasn’t anything out there for a nontechnical parent like me,” she says. “I tried all these different [solutions] on the market and they were difficult to manage, with software that had to be installed on every single device.” Torch, a client of The Lamp Post Group, another Chattanooga venture incubator, captured the top prize and $50,000 at Launch Tennessee’s 36|86 Conference in 2016.
The region’s prowess in logistics is helping draw innovative companies like TransVix, the first futures exchange to focus on trucking freight. The company, started by a Chattanooga native and longtime trucking industry executive, relocated from Texas. Creative types find the region friendly, too. The Cleveland Workspace, on the campus of The Old Woolen Mill in Cleveland, Tenn., offers private studio spaces for local artisans and craftspeople to use. The region’s entrepreneurial, creative and business communities are interconnected in a way that wouldn’t be possible in a mega city. “There is pent up energy in the region that has been unleashed,” says Jack Studer, executive director at The Company Lab. “It’s big enough to get cool stuff done, but small enough that all the players know each other.”
The livability factor and modest cost of living also work in the region’s favor, Studer says. “A lot of smart people have moved here who could easily move to Nashville or Atlanta but came here for lifestyle reasons,” he says. “Plus, everybody is pulling in the same direction here and that makes for a region where launching a company feels like a very real possibility.”