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Startup Week Showcases Chattanooga’s Rapid Entrepreneurial Growth


Founder talks startup traction at Startup Chattanooga Week 2016

When Chattanooga Startup Week launched three years ago, the hope was that startup founders, community supporters, investors and other tech followers would take notice. Three years in, the event just wrapped up its most successful run to date, with more than 170 events packed into a full schedule.

Startup Week focuses on multiple avenues of programming in a dozen categories. It’s designed to range from hands-on, deep dives into specifics to social mixers and other gatherings to foster collaboration and community growth.

While the event was founded by the team at Co.Lab, it has become very much a community-led activity, and those multiple stakeholders are key to its rapid growth, says Steph Hays, marketing and Tomorrow Building manager at Lamp Post Properties and one of Startup Week’s organizers.

“This year was our third year and the best part about Startup Week is that it’s 100 percent community led and organized,” Hays says. “The first year, we had 60 events. Last year, that number doubled. This year, we really thought we’d see the number shrink. In fact, we emphasized high-quality, well-attended events over increasing the quantity in our messaging. That said, there’s no stopping the Chattanooga community when you put out a request for participation!”

What was great about that uptick, she says, is that “We saw the variety of events increase and we also observed higher attendances, and more unfamiliar faces, at the events. Attendance was really up —we used a website called Sched.org to organize the week, and we had about 1,000 people sign up and personalize their own schedules in addition to those who used printed schedules or just showed up.”

Growth and Success Feed Each Other

Startup Week has begun to feed off its past, with enthusiasm generated at each year’s event helping to build expectations and participation in the next one.

“I met several people over the course of the five days who though they had been in Chattanooga for years, were attending Startup Week for the first time,” Hays says. “We also met people who were new to the city— as new as one week — who were really taking advantage of what was offered, as well as the incredible networking opportunities. The thing about hosting 170 events it that there really is something for everyone. Even if you’re a well-established business in the city, there are opportunities to learn from the entrepreneurial thinking that this week emphasizes, whether that’s participating in a social media marketing workshop, or hearing from startup founders on issues they’ve tackled and problem-solved while launching their businesses.”

The event also enables the community to come together, giving everyone a seat at the table. In fact, a number of conversations about inclusion and diversity within the startup community took place during the week.

There’ll be no resting on laurels now that the 2016 Startup Weeks is on the books. Now the planners are focusing on continuing to grow participation from a variety of spectrums — startups, those looking to start a business, scaling businesses, businesses who offer services to the startup community, and arts and education organizations using entrepreneurial thinking to tackle social issues, just for starters.

“Three years ago, we set out to celebrate the growing entrepreneurial community of Chattanooga and inspire further growth,” Hays says. “We’ve certainly seen the startup ecosystem in Chattanooga grow and evolve and Startup Week is certainly a contributing factor in fostering and accelerating that growth. It’s also an opportunity for us to come together and learn from each other and provide unique development opportunities for individuals and organizations all over the city.”

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