Source: EPB | Release | November 18, 2020

Northwestern University team moves to the top of the class, capturing first place for their ideas to make Chattanooga a leader in the adoption of electric vehicles

The final day of Chattanooga’s Startup Week highlighted the future of innovation by shining the spotlight on students. CO.LAB’s inaugural Gig City Innovation Challenge invited college students from around the country to solve a real-world challenge developed by event sponsors EPB, TVA, and green|spaces. The case presented to the students asked for innovative ideas to promote the use of electric vehicles (EVs) in the greater Chattanooga area, and they were only given 48 hours to develop a solution.

Student teams were given the challenge case the Friday before Startup Week, Oct. 16, during a “reverse pitch” with sponsors where students were able to ask questions about the case, the Chattanooga area, and the challenges of EV adoption. Over the weekend, subject matter experts from EPB, TVA, CO.LAB and green|spaces continued to answer questions from the teams as they worked on their solutions. On Sunday afternoon, Oct. 18, each team submitted a slide presentation and four-minute video explaining their approach to the challenge. Eight solutions were selected and forwarded to TVA, EPB, and green|spaces for review resulting in the selection of four finalists to present during Startup Week.

EPB, which operates one of the most advanced smart power distribution grids in the country, participated in the event as part of its community-oriented mission. “EPB is committed to pioneering efforts that position Chattanooga as a leader in adopting sustainable technologies like electric vehicles,” said Lance Irwin, EPB Director of Energy Solutions Technology. “We were glad to join with our partners in engaging college students in developing their best thinking about this incredibly important topic.”

Throughout the entire process teams were identified by an element from the periodic table so that none of the reviewers or judges were aware of school affiliation. At the final pitch, held on Oct. 23, teams joined the virtual event to answer judges’ questions after each of the pre-recorded videos were played. All of the presentations were exceptional, making final decisions difficult, but after 20 minutes the judges selected three winners.

  • First place – Team Zinc (Northwestern University)
  • Second place – Team Copper (STEM School Chattanooga)
  • Third place – Team Cobalt (University of Tennessee at Chattanooga)

Winning recommendations included ways to improve awareness of the advantages of EVs, countering common misconceptions, and partnering with automobile dealers to host events to give members of the community opportunities to see and test drive EVs.

Teams from colleges in six states (Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, and Tennessee) competed in the challenge.

“Congratulations to the winners and all the teams who participated in the challenge,” said Dan Pratt, TVA VP for Customer Delivery. “Your innovative strategies will help address barriers to EV adoption so the communities we serve can reap the benefits of going electric.”

Leadership at CO.LAB, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting innovation and entrepreneurship in the region, said this event aligns perfectly with the mission of the Chattanooga Smart Communities Collaborative (CSCC) formed in recent years, of which CO.LAB and EPB are member organizations. The CSCC is a multi-organizational effort including academia, corporations and government whose mission is to develop and implement solutions relevant to the region’s existing assets, with verticals in energy, mobility and health. This year’s Gig City Innovation Challenge follows the Freight Tech Innovation Challenge and the Unum HBCU Innovation Challenge held last year, focusing on mobility and healthcare solutions respectively.

 “We are excited that we were able to engage some of the nation’s top emerging talent through this challenge and look forward to future innovation events supporting the energy sector,” said Marcus Shaw, CEO of CO.LAB. “Our challenge sponsors, EPB, TVA, and green|spaces gained great insights and ideas for the steps necessary to make Chattanooga an EV friendly city. We look forward to leading more idea-based competitive challenges to support local industry leaders and attracting participants to Chattanooga which we know is a great place to grow a business and career.”

About EPB

EPB serves the greater Chattanooga area by providing world-class energy and connectivity solutions as a means of promoting economic development and enhancing quality of life for our community. We deliver electricity to more than 170,000 homes and businesses across our 600 square mile service area which includes most of Hamilton County as well as parts of surrounding counties in both Tennessee and Georgia. In 2010, EPB Fiber Optics, which offers internet, TV, and telephone services, became the first provider in the United States to deliver up to 1 Gig (1,000 Mbps) internet speeds utilizing a community-wide fiber optic network which is accessible to every home and business in its service area. In 2015, EPB became the first, and to date, only American ISP to make up to 10 Gig (10,000 Mbps) internet speeds accessible to all of its residential and commercial customers as a standard offer.

EPB has also utilized its community-wide fiber optic network to deploy the most advanced and highly automated smart grid power management system in the nation. In recognition of EPB’s groundbreaking infrastructure, the Department of Energy and Oak Ridge National Laboratory are utilizing EPB’s smart grid as a national model for researching and developing best practices. 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.

EPB is an independent board of the City of Chattanooga which began serving customers in 1939. Visit for more information.

About TVA

The Tennessee Valley Authority is a corporate agency of the United States that provides electricity for business customers and local power companies serving nearly 10 million people in parts of seven southeastern states. TVA receives no taxpayer funding, deriving virtually all of its revenues from sales of electricity. In addition to operating and investing its revenues in its electric system, TVA provides flood control, navigation and land management for the Tennessee River system and assists local power companies and state and local governments with economic development and job creation.

About green|spaces

green|spaces is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to regional sustainability by progressing the way we live, work and build in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. Using advocacy and incentive campaigns, education and training classes, design competitions, and other programs, green|spaces has advanced the sustainability of living, working, and building in Chattanooga.

About The Company Lab (CO.LAB)

The Company Lab (CO.LAB) is a nonprofit organization that supports entrepreneurial growth in southeast Tennessee. Established as the region’s front door for entrepreneurs, CO.LAB works to increase the viability and capability of startups and strengthen the ecosystem of support behind them. In doing so, the organization helps entrepreneurs refine their business models, test their ideas with customers, pursue capital and partnerships, and connect with a community of mentors, peers, and business experts. To learn more, visit