Startup week showcases entrepreneurs in Chattanooga, which boasts the lowest business startup costs in the country

Marcus Shaw, Co.Lab executive director, opens up the "Will This Float" event at Miller Plaza in October 2018.
photo Stephanie Hays, project manager for Startup Week Chattanooga, talks to participants in the lobby of the Fine Arts Center at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga prior to a presentation by Gary Vaynerchuck, founder of VanerMedia in 2015.

Startup Week, like its sponsor The Company Lab (Co.Lab.), tries to turn creative ideas into successful businesses by helping entrepreneurs with what Co.Lab Director Marcus Shaw calls "the formula for success."

It starts with innovation, grows to entrepreneurship and then graduates to economic development, Shaw says.

During the week of October 19-25, Chattanooga will highlight all three stages of the entrepreneurship development chain with more than 100 events in and around Chattanooga's Innovation District. The week-long celebration recognizes the next generation of emerging companies as well as those who helped them become successful along the way.

Begun in 2013, Chattanooga's Startup Week is designed to inspire, nurture, showcase and celebrate the success of small businesses. Startup Week includes the Chamber of Commerce's Spirit of Innovation awards given to the most successful growing small businesses in town; $50,000 of awards by the Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union for its Idea Leap grants for startup companies, and Co.Lab's annual awards for top startup businesses, change-makers and ecosystem builders.

Startup Week 2019

Startup Week begins “Maker Day” at the Chattanooga Public Library on Oct. 19 and includes the the Teacherpreneur pitch night on Oct. 20, the annual “Will This Float?” business pitch competition on Oct. 21, the Spirit of Innovation awards on on Oct. 23, the Startup Awards at Miller Plaza on Oct. 24 and more than 100 other events. More information and a complete schedule for Startup Week is available online at

Along with the awards programs, dozens of discussion sessions, training programs and networking events are planned.

"There's a lot of activity and a lot to talk about in Chattanooga," Shaw says. "In just the past five years, we've added an Innovation District; world-class investors like Steve Case are calling us the 'Silicon Valley of Freight,' and we've seen over $200 million in capital raised by entrepreneurs and startups right here in Chattanooga."

Key to Chattanooga's success, Shaw says, is developing or recruiting high-potential talent and offering such persons inexpensive real estate and a selfless and resourceful eco-system.

photo Co.Lab Executive Director Marcus Shaw.

"If you have really smart young kids, really cheap property and really well-endowed, older and wiser advisers - people like me who have a little bit of gray hair - all of a sudden you get a pretty innovative and robust economy," he says.

One of Chattanooga's biggest advantages is its relatively low costs for starting a business. The online financial website SmartAsset analyzed 80 major U.S. cities for the costs of office space, labor, utilities, filing fees and legal and accounting fees. For the fifth consecutive year in 2019, Chattanooga boasted the lowest cost of any city in the country.

photo Vice President of Business and Commercial Services Tommy Nix speaks during the Idea Leap Grant kickoff breakfast at Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union in May 2019.

"The average cost of payroll is especially low," Ben Feier, a financial writer for Smart Asset, says about Chattanooga."The estimated cost of hiring five full-time employees at the median annual salary is $219,440, the lowest amount in this study."

Although downtown Chattanooga has gotten more expensive with its recent growth, Shaw said Chattanooga costs are less than half of those in Silicon Valley.

"By having an office in Chattanooga, you actually get about two to three times longer run rate on your capital here than you would in a place like San Francisco," Shaw says.

Cities with lowest startup costs

SmartAsset analyzed the costs for starting a business in 80 cities across the country, including filing fees, office space rentals, utilities, legal and accounting fees and payroll for five employees. The cheapest cities, and the estimated costs for a startup with a 1,000-square-foot commercial office and five full-time employees are:1. Chattanooga, $241,9012. Wichita, Kansas, $243,3253. Greensboro, North Carolina, $246,5734. Columbia, South Carolina, $246,8335. Little Rock, Arkansas, $247,7876. Lexington, Kentucky, $248,9097. Knoxville, $249,4978. Memphis, $249,5529. New Orleans, $250,78910. Louisville, Kentucky, $252,507Source: SmartAsset

Another key asset for Chattanooga has been the small business nurturing provided at the Hamilton County INCubator on the North Shore - the state's biggest such business incubator - and Co.Lab, which was one of Tennessee's first business accelerators created to help nurture startup businesses.

Co.Lab's success led to the creation in 2013 of the statewide LaunchTN with nine similar accelerators across the state. Charlie Brock, a former executive entrepreneur at Co.Lab., and founding partner of Four Bridges Capital in Chattanooga, headed LaunchTN for its first six years and used the success of the Co.Lab to build the state program.

"While there has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur in Tennessee, the immense challenges of starting and growing a business remain," Brock said when he stepped down from LaunchTN last year. "There is significantly more work to be done to achieve our vision to make Tennessee the most startup-friendly state in the nation."

Brock and others praise Startup Week for helping to encourage and promote business startups in Chattanooga and, in the process, recruit more needed talent and capital to the city.

Tim Moore of Co.Lab said Startup Week involves several thousand persons over the entire week, including startup founders, thought leaders, community supporters, investors, and technologists.

"We want to showcase the very best of Chattanooga – its can-do attitude, its innovative spirit, and above all its people," he says.