Source: Times Free Press | Dave Flessner | September 21, 2016
True to its name, the Company Lab continues to experiment with new ways and means to help start more successful companies in Chattanooga.
A year after relocating to the Edney Building to help form the hub of Chattanooga’s new Innovation District, the Co.Lab is getting a new executive director and its board is developing a new strategic plan for the future.
Mike Bradshaw, a 62-year-old successful entrepreneur and manager who headed the Co.Lab for the past couple of years, is leaving his post to expand his work as director of the learning management system for Jensen Hughes Academy, a division of Jenson Hughes — one of the world’s biggest providers of fire protection and safety systems.
Bradshaw, whose new office is nine floors above the Co.Lab office he is vacating in the Edney Building, is being succeeded at the Co.Lab by Lamp Post Group partner Jack Studer, at least on an interim basis.
Studer, a general partner at Lamp Post Group and the Chattanooga Renaissance Fund and chairman of Erlanger Health System, is a Princeton graduate who has helped launch a number of tech businesses after working as an investment banking analyst for Credit Suisse in the company’s technology group.
“I’ve been a booster of Chattanooga my whole life and I love what is going on in the innovation sector of our city,” Studers said. “I hope I can have a little bit more impact on that across the board in this new role.”
A 33-year-old native of Chattanooga, Studer returned to Chattanooga six years ago after working on Wall Street and elsewhere. He worked with one of the early pioneers of the Company Lab, Charlie Brock, who transitioned to a statewide position at Launch Tennessee after Gov. Bill Haslam was elected governor. Through Co.Lab’s original founder and “air traffic controller,” Sheldon Grizzle, Studer said he also met many of the players that formed the Renaissance Fund and Lamp Post.
“There is an extraordinary and growing eco-entrepreneurial community here and we’re definitely making progress,” Studer said. “To use a college metaphor, we’re moving as a community from our freshman to our sophomore year and there is a lot of exciting things ready for the future.”
Rick Hitchcock, an attorney and partner in the Chambliss Startup Group who is chairman of the Company Lab, said the 6-year-old organization plans to use the leadership transition as an opportunity to look at its business startup efforts and what, if any, changes should be made at Co.Lab. Chattanooga’s Co.Lab is one of the most successful of the nine accelerator programs supported by LaunchTN, the state agency formed to promote entrepreneurship and business startups in Tennessee.
“One of the things that the maturation of our entrepreneurial economy is challenging us with is the ability to grow companies with the special skills and capital they need when they succeed,” Hitchcock said. “Co.Lab is doing a very good job of identifying a lot of really talented people from a variety of places in our community and getting them to their potential. We have a lot of people and businesses whose potential is a lot bigger than what this community is used to and we need to be building the networks into capital and the distribution channels to make sure their success match their potential.”
Co.Lab gets about $1 million a year from local foundations, LaunchTN and more than a dozen corporate donors to help support its incubator, counseling and startup events and programs.
The Co.Starters, GigTank and 48Launch programs by Co.Lab over the past six years have helped produce or nurture such successful businesses as Quickcue, Society of Work, Branch Technology and others.
The new strategic plan for Co.Lab, which is the designated state-backed accelerator for 10 counties in Southeast Tennessee, comes as the Oak Ridge National Laboratory up the road is launching an ambitious new energy program called Innovation Crossroads.
Up to five entrepreneurs will receive a fellowship that covers living costs, benefits and a travel stipend for up to two years, plus up to $350,000 to use on collaborative research and development at ORNL. The first cohort is expected to start the program in early 2017.
“There is a huge opportunity and need to develop an emerging American energy ecosystem where cleantech entrepreneurs can thrive,” Mark Johnson, director of federal Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, said in an announcement Tuesday. “This program gives the next generation of clean energy innovators a chance to make a transformative impact on the way we generate, process and use our energy resources.”