In the last few months, the COVID-19 crisis suddenly shifted the lives of many across the U.S., especially entrepreneurs. Businesses across many sectors have been faced with unique challenges that, for some, have forced them to pivot their business model or for others deciding to shutter their doors for the time-being. And then there are some business owners who have seen a need to give back and do their part in addressing the crisis. Chattanooga-based Ji Heo, founder of TesBros, is one of those entrepreneurs. …

by Zac Beker

Founder Features showcases alumni of all CO.LAB programs, including accelerators, CO.STARTERS, Kiva, Business Breakdown Sessions and more. Learn more about CO.LAB’s CO.STARTERS program and apply at

In this founder feature, we talked to Janki Vansia to learn more about her story and her company, Opty. Janki commuted to one of CO.STARTERS cohorts for 9 weeks last year all the way from Atlanta, and for those of us familiar with the region, we know just how not-fun that drive can be. But clearly she is relentless when it comes to her business, and we’re excited to see her product popping up in retail stores in our area this year. …

by Erroll Wynn

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On Oct 24–25, The Company Lab (CO.LAB) hosted its first Unum HBCU Innovation Challenge, in partnership with Unum, the world’s largest provider of disability insurance. This two day business case challenge was born out of both organizations’ commitment to inclusivity and diversity, and a need to explore innovation in an industry subject to changing markets and disruption.

This partnership exposed young talent to an opportunity that could advance their careers. Thirty-two highly accomplished students from fifteen Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the eastern region traveled to Chattanooga, TN to showcase their leadership, problem-solving abilities, and presentation skills by tackling key challenges in the insurance industry. The mission was to introduce future leaders and innovators to a corporate environment to address real-life business opportunities for a leading insurance company. The seven teams developed and presented viable, feasible, and desirable solutions; captivating senior leaders and hiring managers. …

by Tim Moore

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Even if you haven’t heard about Chattanooga, Tennessee, you have likely heard of some of the legacy brands that started here. McKee Foods — you know it as Little Debbie. Chattanooga Bakery — you know it as Moonpie. Lodge Cast Iron, the nation’s oldest manufacturer of cast iron cooking products, sits in our backyard in South Pittsburgh, Tennessee. And while Coca-Cola was first created and distributed as a fountain drink in Atlanta in 1886, two Chattanoogans were the first to bottle it in 1899.

Today, Chattanooga is still a thriving ecosystem for companies with consumer products to grow. But that’s not just the legacy ones — there are countless new products popping up each year in Chattanooga. …

by Zac Beker

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CO.STARTERS is one of the most important programs that we offer at The Company Lab (CO.LAB). The 9-week program provides participants with the framework they need to build out and grow their business. Leading the program for the past 2 years, I have seen some amazing companies get their start. Participants use CO.STARTERS to gain the confidence and knowledge they need to build out their businesses. …

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For the past several months our team has been developing the second CO.LAB Insights Report. The first report was completed at the end of 2018 as a continuation of the larger Impact Report that was published in 2017, which summarized the work and impact of our organization and the larger entrepreneurial ecosystem since CO.LAB’s conception in 2010.

While the Insights Report is partially designed to capture the work of our organization this past year, its greater purpose is to inform, enlighten, and inspire the public regarding the state of entrepreneurship in our region.

The data and insights collected and conveyed in this report captures information from all corners of the community and provides guidance for CO.LAB’s programs and services. Recently, we launched a survey calling for entrepreneurs in our region to share their needs, insights, and stories. …

by Katie Smith

This Spring, The Company Lab (CO.LAB) hosted our inaugural HealthTech Accelerator, in partnership with Erlanger Health System and Unum. Eight healthcare startups graduated from the 10-week program prepared to take their companies to the next level. One of the key outcomes for participants was an improved digital presence. This post is focused on expert suggestions for refining your digital media presence.

Those who have embarked on the journey of entrepreneurship know that running a startup comes with a multitude of challenges. As a founder of a startup, you’re not only responsible for developing the business — your role also requires juggling other important tasks such as social media management, bookkeeping, and website development — all areas that may go beyond your expertise. …

with CO.LAB’s Emily McAndrew and Kenzie Butera

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(from left to right) Grace, Emily and Kenzie pictured with Charlie Brock, CEO and President of Launch TN

On July 21st, we caravanned through the rain to the Nashville Entrepreneur Center for a Launch TN mixer and workshop. Thursday was filled with introductions to the Nashville EC and Launch TN staff, a workshop with the founders of EVAmore, and a panel discussion with the Managing Director from Jumpstart foundry, the founder of Gigamunch, and the founder of the MILK app.

After presentations, discussions with our peers, and a delicious breakfast meeting at Fido’s, we returned ready and reinvigorated to Chattanooga the following Monday. We hope to bring new ideas and programs to CO.LAB …

On Thursday, May 10, 2018, our organization was proud to host AOL co-founder Steve Case and his team for their Chattanooga stop of the Rise of the Rest 7.0 tour. Over the course of several months, we coordinated with other incredible organizations and companies in Chattanooga to give the Rise of the Rest team a sense of what we have accomplished in our city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and where our sights are held in the future. See below for pictures and a re-cap of the day.


To kick off the event, we started with a large breakfast gathering featuring dozens of leaders from around Chattanooga to hear from Steve Case and JD Vance. The breakfast was held at the Songbirds Museum—which is home to one of the world’s largest collection of fretted instruments—that is located at the historic Chattanooga Choo Choo. …

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Ken Hays with The Enterprise Center talking to SCN Summit attendees as part of a speed introduction session at 1 Million Cups.

A couple of weeks ago, CO.LAB was invited to partner with CO.STARTERS to host the Startup Champions Network Summit here in Chattanooga. Startup Champions Network (SCN) is a national sharing group dedicated to supporting innovation ecosystem builders across the United States and the entrepreneurs they serve.

Over the two-and-a-half day summit, ecosystem builders from across the country gathered in The Edney for critical conversations around how we can all best serve our communities. A number of topics were covered, including best practices for engaging corporate partners, how to develop and distribute toolkits, and much more.

We asked a few folks from SCN to give us a quick recap of their experience. …


The Company Lab

We’re a nonprofit dedicated to supporting entrepreneurship in Chattanooga and Southeast TN. Founders of @COSTARTERS and @GIGTANK. Visit COLAB.CO for more info.

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