CO.LAB launches new accelerator program
BY DAVE FLESSNER
The Company Lab, the nonprofit started more than 12 years ago to help startup businesses in Chattanooga, is changing both its focus and location this year after Tasia Malakasis took the helm of CO.LAB last year and undertook a strategic study for its future.
CO.LAB will be joining in the promotion of Chattanooga’s growing logistics and smart city focus with a business development program targeted at what it calls the “Sustainable Mobility” sector. The new accelerator program will be housed in the newest Society of Work complex of offices and apartments on the North Chattanooga near the Chattanooga/Hamilton County INCubator and will focus on developing and growing startup and emerging companies that can capitalize on the logistics hub in Chattanooga and the smart city research being done using EPB’s fiber optic network at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga.
Malakasis, who joined CO.LAB last year, said Sustainable Mobility focuses on finding better ways to move people, goods, energy and data and the accelerator program will build on Chattanooga’s strengths.
“With the plethora of expertise and resources and research and leadership and industry that we have in Chattanooga, it doesn’t make sense for us not to do this,” she said in an interview.
CO.LAB will begin in May to solicit businesses and entrepreneurs from the local area and around the country to participate in the newest accelerator, which will begin this year with at least 10 participating businesses and entrepreneurs.
Similar to other accelerator and GIGTank programs that CO.LAB has sponsored in the past on everything from health technology to 3D printing, the
accelerator program provides entrepreneurs with connections and access to talent, training and mentorship during the program and will include a pitch event at the end of the 12-week program. As a catalyst for Chattanooga’s growing startup culture, CO.LAB is also working on developing and providing seed and startup capital for new and emerging businesses.
“With our new sustainable mobility program, CO.LAB and Chattanooga will once again be front and center supporting startups who are building the innovative companies of tomorrow,” CO.LAB founder and chairman Charlie Brock said in an announcement of the new initiative. “Our accelerator participants will have access to multiple technology platforms along with capital, mentorship, talent, and pilot customers.”
The Sustainable Mobility accelerator will capitalize on the pioneering research being done at UTC at the Center for Urban Informatics and Progress (CUIP) on ways to use technology to move traffic and people more efficiently and safely. The CUIP has developed the Smart Corridor along ML King Boulevard where it is studying traffic and pedestrian patterns to design better traffic lights, crosswalks and urban design features.
Dr. Mina Sartipi, founding director of the UTC smart city research program, said CUIP “is uniquely positioned to partner with CO.LAB in the sustainable mobility sector” and serve as a testbed for new business ideas.
“Leveraging our growing and dynamic test beds with the support of numerous community partners, CO.LAB’s new programmatic focus will help fast-track Chattanooga’s place as the hub for mobility electrification, connectivity, and automation,” Sartipi said.
The new initiative is also being supported by many of Chattanooga’s logistics and data businesses, including Freightwaves, US Xpress and EPB. The initiative is also being backed by Tennessee’s statewide entrepreneurial network, LaunchTN, and is also working with local capital venture and incubator businesses such as Brickyard, VentureSouth and the Chattanooga Smart City Collaborative.
“I’m very excited that Tasia and the team are focusing on a sector of great promise and opportunity for our city,” Craig Fuller, CEO of Freightwaves, said in a statement.
Fuller has dubbed Chattanooga “freight alley” as home to two of the nation’s largest long-haul trucking companies (U.S.Xpress and Covenant Logistics) and more than a dozen other freight brokers and freight insurance and transportation media companies. Most of those companies are exploring new technologies for moving freight or automating truck driving.
Fuller brought more than 2,000 industry leaders to Chattanooga last fall to discuss the future of freight transportation during the annual Freightwaves Festival.
Malakasis joined CO.LAB last summer after working as a Silicon Valley tech advisor and former head of an awardwinning goat cheese company in rural Alabama and has spent much of the past year plotting a new strategy for CO.LAB. She succeeded Lindsey Cox, who is heading Tennessee’s statewide entrepreneurial support agency, LaunchTN.
CO.LAB is still active with programs such as KIVA, CO.STARTERS and rural outreach But as CO.LAB moves from the Edney building to the newest Society of Work complex at the Somerville location on Cherokee Boulevard, Malakasis said she is working to raise capital and attention to the potentially revolutionizing industry of sustainable mobility and the ways that new businesses can test out their concepts in Chattanooga.
“We are open to exploring potential partnerships and opportunities to collaborate together,” Malakasis said. “With the city’s strength of industry backed by cutting-edge research teams dedicated to exploring clean, sustainable energy sources, Quantum networking, freight technology, Smart Traffic solutions, and electric + autonomous vehicles, Chattanooga now has testbeds in these areas that exist nowhere else on the planet.”