Chattanooga Startup Week

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I spent the last few days at Chattanooga Startup Week, exploring the burgeoning startup community. Startup leaders from across the country came to attend the week’s festivities, which included Angel Summit US, a national conference on startup investing, and key speakers like marketing guru Gary Vaynerchuck and Startup Weekend founder Andrew Hyde

Having spent the past few years as a community organizer for the Triangle startup community, I was fascinated to observe the Chattanooga startup scene in its similarities, nuances and distinctly unique characteristics. Gary Vaynerchuck aptly urged listeners in his Kickoff session, “Be self aware, and be yourself.” Chattanooga is living this self-awareness and continually discovering what role it will play on the startup stage. 
As a visitor to the city, it was clear to see the investment that has been poured into making Chattanooga a great place to live. Parks and public spaces are ubiquitous, the arts are celebrated, there’s a great food and drink scene. I am told that just 25 years ago—not unlike Durham—the city was left in rough shape after the industrial decline. The city has spent the last two decades revitalizing its downtown with the help of private and public investments and great leadership. Three more recent features of this development are proving clutch to the growth of the startup scene: the innovation district, really fast Internet and great biking infrastructure. 
The Innovation District is a 140-acre district in the downtown area strictly devoted to innovation. This mix of accelerators, incubators and various coworking spaces offers a startup everything it would need to thrive. Having a wealth of amenities and resources available in one central place is obviously a huge win for startups, but the bigger win is the amount of support that exists for startups. The Innovation District is a testament to the city’s dedication to seeing startups thrive. This support is and will continue to be a key in Chattanooga’s startup growth. 

Chattanooga Basecamp event at Startup Week
Chattanooga Startup Week annually hosts a week of events, speakers, panels and more celebrating its growing startup community. Basecamp was a venue for free WiFi, EPB charging stations, a lounge for games, snacks and other activities. Credit: Lizzy Hazeltine
Similarly, thanks to good leadership and forward thinking, Chattanooga claims the fastest Internet in the country, and it's getting even faster with news last week that the city would offer 10 gigabit fiber Internet. It was the first city in the country to offer gigabit Internet access in 2010. This distinct characteristic has allowed Chattanooga to attract techies looking to start businesses and has created thousands of jobs in the city. With the city’s dedication to making high-speed Internet available to all of its citizens, this feature can potentially be a vehicle for creating a more inclusive and diverse tech scene in Chattanooga. 
Part of what makes the city great is its natural beauty. Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains and right along the Tennessee River, Chattanooga abounds with natural beauty. The city has capitalized on this feature and has implemented some of the best bike infrastructure I’ve seen in a city its size. The city has a Generation-three bike share program, bike lanes that traverse most of the city, and a culture that is friendly to bikes. This is a winning point to attract more millennials to the city and definitely something from which the Triangle could take a lesson. 

Chattanooga Skyline
"Chattanooga, Tennessee Skyline" by Imilious - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons -,_Tennessee_Skyline.JPG#/media/File:Chattanooga,_Tennessee_Skyline.JPG

The Triangle can learn from what’s happening in Chattanooga, specifically from its willingness to invest heavily, hold loosely, and not expect immediate return. At the same time, I am reminded of how far the Triangle startup community has come. 
In the short time that I’ve observed it closely, the Triangle startup community has continued to grow in its self-awareness and become distinctly its own. My hope is that as the Triangle continues to evolve, that it would keep up the Bullspeed, grit and hustle that make it the Startup Hub of the South.