Tennessee's top accelerator program comes to Chattanooga

Tennessee's top accelerator program comes to Chattanooga

February 4th, 2016 by Mitra Malek in Business Around the Region

Charlie Brock, CEO of Launch Tennessee, welcomes all before Branch and Innovasan make their pitches Wednesday at the Company Lab, located on the 5th floor of the Edney Building in Chattanooga.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Jeff Hubrig, of Innovasan in Knoxville, makes his pitch Wednesday at the Company Lab, located on the 5th floor of the Edney Building in Chattanooga.2

Jeff Hubrig, of Innovasan in Knoxville, makes his...

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

The 2015-2016 TENN Master Accelerator startups

* Branch Technology - Chattanooga (Co.Lab GigTank)

* DivorceSecure - Memphis (StartCo)

* Innovasan - Knoxville (Co.Lab accelerator)

* KaraoQ - Nashville (Project Music)

* LendMed - Memphis (StartCo)

* Preteckt - Memphis (StartCo)

* Remix Hits - Nashville (Project Music)

* Sing and Spell - Knoxville (MediaWorks)

The state's top accelerator program rolled through Chattanooga on Wednesday as part of its weeklong "TENN Roadshow" aimed at giving eight participating startups chances to network and find potential investors.

Among the companies: Chattanooga-based Branch Technology and Company Lab "Will This Float" winner Innovasan Corp. of Knoxville.

Branch, which has the world's largest free-form 3-D printer, plans to build homes and large structures through additive manufacturing.

"Architects are amazingly frustrated" with traditional options, Branch founder Platt Boyd told the audience at the Innovation District's Edney Building. The new technology allows for customization without extra cost, he said.

The company plans to build the first-ever 3-D-built house, a demo, in Chattanooga. So far, 750 applicants have submitted designs.

This spring, a jury of architects and engineers will decide the winner in a visionary category (a notable design that's probably difficult to execute) and a grand prize category (the design that will get built). There also will be a people's choice category, voted on by the public.

For now, the company is partnering with a dozen architectural firms across the country to investigate the industry's needs. It's also meeting with local architect groups, including in Chattanooga on Feb. 17.

Branch moved from Alabama to Chattanooga after participating in Co.Lab's GigTank accelerator last summer. The company has raised about $1.4 million so far and is in the midst of raising another $1 million, Boyd said.

Since its 2014 Float win, Innovasan, which aims to stop fluid-medical-waste pollution, has built a basic version of its machine, said Jeff Hubrig Jr., one of the company's founders. It's not yet suitable for clinical settings, though.

A "top-100 academic institution is an early adopter to trial the product," Hubrig said, but declined to name the institution.

Innovasan went through Co.Lab's accelerator last year in Chattanooga and learned of the TENN there.

"It has really helped us focus our execution," Hubrig said. Innovasan is looking for partnerships and to raise funds in the spring.

Participants had to have gone through one of the state's regional accelerator programs — such as those offered at Co.Lab — to be considered for the TENN master accelerator.

"This is the next step to grow their business," said Michael Ponce, Launch Tennessee's marketing manager.

Indeed, new companies need help to gain footing and then grow, entrepreneurship experts say.

"It's hard to get the kind of attention you need to get doors opened," said Mike Bradshaw, Co.Lab's executive director.

The startups aren't charged a fee to be part of TENN, and their transportation for the roadshow is taken care of in a huge and shiny black bus, not unlike those musicians use for tours.

"It's great: we can work, we can talk," said Sam Crockett, an Innovasan founder. "It's a moving conference room."

Launch Tennessee, a public-private partnership, turns to sponsors to help pay for the program. UBS headlined this year.

Later Wednesday, the startups headed to Nashville. Memphis follows. They've already been to Kingsport and Knoxville. The program started last fall and goes through the spring. In addition to the roadshow, TENN offers a curriculum, and the teams come in monthly for workshops.

Also, in late February, Branch Technology will head to the San Francisco Bay area to meet with investors, along with two other Chattanooga companies — RootsRated and Variable — that have been part of Launch Tennessee programs.

It didn't make sense for all the startups in TENN, some of which are in early stages of development, to go to California, Brock said.

"We want to make sure it's really targeted meetings," he said.

But in March, many of the TENN companies will head to New York to meet with investors.

Mitra Malek writes about innovation, with a particular interest in the environment and wellness. Contact her at mmalek@timesfreepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @MitraMalek.


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