Innovators invited to spin solutions at Co.Lab competition

John Pless - EPB

New competition

The Company Lab is launching a new local entrepreneurial competition. › What: Reverse Pitch › When: March 29, 5:30-8:30 p.m. › Where: The Edney, 1100 Market St., 5th floor, Chattanooga

photo Tia Capps, communications director for CoLab.
photo The Company Lab's Mike Bradshaw welcomes attendees before Branch and Innovasan make their pitches Wednesday at the Company Lab, located on the 5th floor of the Edney Building in Chattanooga. listens, at left.

It's often easier to come up with a solution when you know what the problem is.

That's some of the logic behind The Company Lab's new "Reverse Pitch" competition, wherein innovators are invited to design ways to tackle projects that several big organizations are trying to get going.

"Experiences like Reverse Pitch give entrepreneurs an opportunity to get a deeper view of problems that industries are working to solve," said Tia Capps, spokeswoman for the nonprofit organization. "These perspectives are important because they give startups a way to work on scalable solutions that could ultimately become profitable for them."

Launch Tennessee, which helps fund Co.Lab, hosted the city's first reverse pitch competition during Startup Week in 2014. Turnout was strong, so Co.Lab thought it made sense to take a stab at a standalone event.

Reverse Pitch, on March 29, will feature projects by Co.Lab, EPB, The Enterprise Center and Mozilla's Hive Chattanooga.

Co.Lab, which focuses on growing Chattanooga's startup community, has been tracking the local interaction of entrepreneurial resources and economic outcomes. It's looking for a team to launch a programmable data-visualization project that allows startup communities in other parts of the country to do the same kind of investigation for themselves.

"Entrepreneurial ecosystems are ghostly things," said Mike Bradshaw, Co.Lab's executive director. "They're difficult to describe, and their effect on the community they inhabit is even harder to quantify. How do you make something that's not really physical easier to see? One way is to take the information we have about the people and companies in our startup community and apply data visualization techniques to it."

Such as: the movement of people into and out of companies, the companies that form and dissolve over time, and the concentration of those companies in geographic areas.

"The patterns that appear in the data will paint a picture, one that will help us understand what an entrepreneurial ecosystem is, why it matters, and what things can be done to keep it healthy and productive," Bradshaw said.

EPB is looking for a way to encourage people to avoid using electric power at peak times, an industrywide issue. The ideal team would be skilled in software development and understand design and behavioral science.

EPB said it will commit up to $25,000 for initial project development and proof of concept. Additional funds might be available for the development of a full-scale model.

The utility already has a couple of products in place that address time-of-use issues, but they're "relatively traditional," spokesman John Pless said. It's looking for fresh perspective.

"We would like to see how someone from outside the industry might tackle the challenge of encouraging folks to shift power usage away from peak times with something fun," Pless said. "If we like the ideas that come our way, we're willing to pay for them to be developed, so that we can offer them to our customers."

Contact Mitra Malek at Follow her on Twitter @Mitra Malek.