The sweet smell of entrepreneurship filled the fourth floor of of the Chattanooga Public Library on Thursday, as 18 presenters lobbed their best moneymaking ideas into a crowd of more than 325.
"I'm looking to see if they have a clear concept, how organized and clever they are," said Shelley Prevost, event judge and partner at the Lamp Post Group.
It was the latest in a series of events designed to spur innovation and small business growth in the Scenic City, conceived and launched by The Company Lab, or CoLab, a regional business accelerator based in Chattanooga.
Formerly stocked with unwanted furniture and wood-grained televisions with analog knobs, the library's fourth floor venue instead was bathed in a cool blue glow during its first public unveiling. Attendees cast shadows onto full-wall interactive projections and boosted their networking skills with the aid of local drinks from Chattanooga Whiskey and Pure Sodaworks.
Driving home the futuristic theme was an enormous fish tank projection on which tweets with the #wtfCHA hashtag floated slowly to the water's surface in full view of a raucous crowd.
Presenters pitched a vast range of ideas, from a vending machine for school supplies to a online video platform that connects therapists to their clients. There was an app to manage a remote garden and a cloud-based backup service for PC game content.
In the end, RootsRated floated to the surface through a text message-based voting process and took home the big prize -- a Skype interview to get a chance at a $250,000 investment from 500 Startsups, a west coast accelerator.
RootsRated, headed by Fynn Glover, is an online recreation guide created by outdoor retailers for outdoor enthusiasts.
"These are real ideas, and we're seeing real companies coming out of here," said Mike Bradshaw, a mentor at CoLab.
Not only has Chattanooga become a hub for small business growth, the city has begun to attract entrepreneurs from other cities like Atlanta and Nashville, he said.
"We're bringing people from all over," he said.
The new ideas, while fun for small businesses and investors, are useful for big businesses as well, said Bob Farnsworth, president and CEO of PlayCore.
"It helps stable businesses to think outside of the box," he said.