Introducing Grizzle: A traffic controller for entrepreneurs

Introducing Grizzle: A traffic controller for entrepreneurs

May 24th, 2012 by Carey O'Neil in Business Around the Region

Sheldon Grizzle, founder of Co.Lab, talks to a crowd at SXSW Interactive in March about Chattanooga's entrepreneurship community.

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SHELDON GRIZZLE

• Company: Co.Lab

Title: Founder and air traffic controller

• Age: 30

• Education: Psychology degree from Covenant College

• First job: From age 10 till he left for college, Grizzle helped out in his father's south Florida book store

• Family: Grizzle and his wife Kelly have been married since 2003. They have two kids, Naomi, 3, and Micah, 8 months.

• Personal: Grizzle has always enjoyed soccer and helped start the Chattanooga Football Club.

Sheldon Grizzle started learning how to run a business before he reached fifth grade.

The future founder of startup accelerator Co.Lab stocked shelves at his father's book store from age 10 until he left his Florida home for Covenant College.

"My dad's one of the most entrepreneurial guys I know," he said. "It's really had a big impact on my life."

Today, Grizzle calls himself Co.Lab's air traffic controller, constantly directing successful Chattanooga investors and business people to the fledgling entrepreneurs who go to the Co.Lab for help.

The father of two will have a particularly large number of people to direct this summer. Eight tech-savvy startups came to Chattanooga this month to join the Gig Tank. Dozens of mentors and investors are meeting with Grizzle's teams, helping with the summer-long initiative to spur technology development that takes advantage of the Scenic City's unprecedented gigabit Internet speeds.

Even if he's more tired and busy than he'd hope, Grizzle's happy. He's helping people who he knows from first-hand experience need the help.

A few years after graduating Covenant in 2003 with a degree in psychology -- a field he didn't love, but that gave insight to how to solve people's problems -- Grizzle took a shot at starting his own business. He wanted to blaze a trail to help non-profits raise funds via the Internet, an idea just gaining traction when the site came online.

SupportThisMinistry.com saw some early success, but Grizzle struggled to find funding.

"We had a growing business die on the vine because we couldn't get good mentorship or capital," he said. "At some point, you've got to shut it down and move on to the next thing."

But Grizzle had no idea what that next thing would be. His wife Kelly is from out west, so they figured they might move on and try their luck out there.

During the months they tried to sell their Highland Park house and set up a new life closer to Kelly's parents, Grizzle got a temporary job at CreateHere overseeing Springboard, its new start-up development project. Grizzle loved the job, stuck with CreateHere and eventually grew Springboard into Co.Lab.

"I love solving problems. Trying to create a solution for a given problem is one of the most creative things you can do," he said. "I like to serve and work beside people. It's like a mash-up of my two favorite things."

Grizzle decided to stay in Chattanooga to help connect entrepreneurs to the resources he wishes he had when starting his own business.

"Everybody in the world has had an idea for a business at some point," he said. "Some of them are fleeting, but some of them hang around. They just haunt you.

Chattanooga is a great place for a business accelerator, he said. Since the city was founded, colossal businesses have found homes here. Coca-Cola's bottling, Unum's insurance and Chattem's pharmaceuticals all grew from Chattanooga's industry, and that history laid the foundation for a strong community of entrepreneurial support that took off in the last few years.

"It's been in the blood of Chattanooga for 150 years," Grizzle said. "It's a unique combination of so many things. Because of all these factors, it makes you want to be involved."

Grizzle's glad to help promote that spirit. People with those haunting business ideas are better off trying them out and fighting for success than letting them slip away, he said. "No one wants to live with that 'What if.'"