Greater Chattanooga Startups Have a Leg Up
Abundant resources in the area boost startups in the Greater Chattanooga Region.
As Season 16 of the popular YouTube series Hot Ones kicked off, celebrity guest Jimmy Kimmel enjoyed the sizzling taste of a hot sauce created by a Chattanooga entrepreneur.
“It’s good,” Kimmel said as he ate wings coated with Hoff & Pepper’s signature Hoff’s Haus Sauce. In subsequent episodes, renowned chef David Chang and actor Rob Lowe also tasted and praised the sauce.
Founded by Aaron “Hoff ” Hoff man and his wife, Michele (aka Pepper), Hoff & Pepper products are sold in more than 4,500 retail stores. That’s impressive growth since 2013 when the couple started bottling hot sauce as gifts for family and friends, and the idea for their own company was born.
The Hoffmans say success is partly due to resources available to entrepreneurs in the Greater Chattanooga region, specifically the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce’s INCubator, located inside the Hamilton County Business Development Center.
“A large part of our growth has come from the INCubator and the Chattanooga community,” Aaron Hoffman says. “The startup scene here, whether it’s software or hot sauce, is very welcoming. Starting any small business is daunting. Having the resources here is the most important thing. It’s not just about cheap rent. You have all the programs and things like a loading dock or having a handyman around to help fix things. These are tools you might not think of when you are starting a new business, but the program has all of that combined. It makes it easy to focus on your business.”
The INCubator is the largest business incubator in Tennessee and the third largest in the nation, with 127,000 square feet of space for entrepreneurs. Around 50 entrepreneurs at a time are housed there, undergoing a three-year progressive development program.
“We’ve graduated from the program here, and we’re building out our own warehouse and manufacturing facility,” Hoff says. “We’re excited about that. And we’re starting to move into other types of condiments rather than just hot sauce. None of this would be possible without the help of the Hamilton County Business Development Center.”
Pitching New Ideas
At the Dalton Innovation Accelerator, entrepreneurs in the region also find support across the state line in Dalton, Georgia. DIA feeds Dalton’s entrepreneurial spirit with programs and resources. Every 18 to 24 months, Dalton’s startup incubator hosts pitch competitions, encouraging local entrepreneurs to present their ideas in exchange for a potential cash prize or investment.
Ben Smith and Charlie Hubbs of SRSC Inc. won PitchDIA 2022 with patented design seat cushions that enable consumers to live a flexible lifestyle in comfort. Relieving everyday pain is the priority, and the durable and washable cushions relieve targeted pressure points.
Lauren Holverson, DIA executive director, says PitchDIA is an important program to allow entrepreneurs to showcase their ideas and services. In addition, the competition is an example of the region’s support of innovation.
“Innovators and startups in the region, whether in Chattanooga or Dalton, will find a variety of resources in the initial stages and throughout the entire journey,” she says.
The Cleveland-Bradley Business Incubator (CBBI) is another resource offering entrepreneurs spaces and programs to turn profitable ideas into action. Developed out of the George R. Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Cleveland State Community College, the incubator offers tenants access to technology and affordable rent.
“Networking is an important benefit of incubation,” says Hurley Buff, executive director. “The community that exists in this building looks out for each other. There is always a business here willing to help a new entrepreneur.”
Buff says for some businesses, the pandemic emphasized the importance of networking and collaboration. For example, CBBI resident Anchor Family Counseling had to pivot to continue to serve clients.
“They had to figure out how to restructure and continue to meet the needs of clients,” he says.
Tech companies within the incubator helped Anchor Family Counseling install health care privacy-compliant software.
“Community is one of the best aspects of having space in an incubator,” Buff says.
If you’d like to learn more about the Greater Chattanooga area, check out the latest edition of Chattanooga Region Economic Development.