Less than a month after Mike Bradshaw was promoted to head the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC), the veteran business manager and educator faced what he says has been the biggest struggle of his life.
At age 69, Bradshaw was diagnosed with throat cancer.
After 35 days of radiation treatment and remote work this summer and fall, Bradshaw returned to his office in early November and was welcomed back with a whiteboard of appreciative notes from students messages.
"You're one of the best professors I've ever had," one student wrote. Bradshaw says such encouragement and the thrill of helping students build their careers keeps him going.
"Being around young people and watching them learn and grow is really exciting and keeps me young," he says. "There are awesome times ahead for Chattanooga's startup community and UTC's aspiring entrepreneurs, and that keeps me going."
As a teacher and business coach at both UTC and The Company Lab (CO.LAB) for nearly a decade, Bradshaw has promoted the idea of capitalizing on change and market opportunities to nurture and grow businesses.
Bradshaw says he is once again learning to embrace change.
The entrepreneurial spirit
Bradshaw has been an adjunct professor teaching entrepreneurship courses at UTC since 2009. But his academic career came after decades of work in business where he had picked up most of his education and his bachelor's and MBA degrees along the way.
After high school, Bradshaw began studying engineering at Virginia Tech, and didn't end up getting his bachelor's degree from Georgetown University until he was nearly 40 years old. Bradshaw was a first-generation college graduate in his family when he graduated in 1994 from Georgetown University first in his class and with summa cum laud honors. Bradshaw later earned his master's degree from UTC in 2007.
Entrepreneurial interests guided him early on, as he dropped out of Virginia Tech to work as a dishwasher and cafe line cook before managing to talk his way onto a motor yacht as chef. After spending almost four years in the late 1970s at sea cooking on three different yachts, Bradshaw built the business connections to become a chef, and ultimately the owner of his own restaurant, known as Bradshaw's in suburban Washington D.C.
After selling the restaurant in the late 1990s, Bradshaw teamed up with entrepreneurial investor, Kevin O'Leary at The Learning Company for more than a decade, producing hundreds of adult education and productivity titles, including TIME Magazine on CD-ROM, with CNN video content; World Book Encyclopedia; BodyWorks; and Calendar Creator. The Learning Company was the largest consumer software company in the world before it was sold to Mattel in 2001.
Bradshaw came to Tennessee in 2004 to help launch a cable TV system in Marion County, and for nearly 15 years, from 2006 to 2021, he was director of the Jensen Hughes Academy providing technical training. During nearly four years of that time, Bradshaw stepped aside from his daily work at Jensen Hughes and served as executive director of CO.LAB, overseeing accelerator programs and other efforts to nurture and grow more startup and growing businesses in Chattanooga.
Dr. Thomas Lyons, the chair of excellence in entrepreneurship and a professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at UTC, says Bradshaw was an ideal fit to head the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, with his personal experience and community connections.
The center, which works with students across all disciplines, provides not only teaching in a classroom but the opportunity to use that knowledge in real life businesses. The center is housed within the James Mapp Building on M.L. King Boulevard and includes a classroom, maker space, team and mentor rooms and space for accelerator programs.
"Any student or faculty has access to the Hatch It and maker space and we work to help students across various disciplines to work with local businesses at the center," Lyons says.
The Hatch It Lab at the center is a makerspace with 3D printers, tools and other equipment to help students create and develop their business ideas. Lyons says UTC is working to help students with both classroom and practical applications of business and technical skills with courses, internships and special programs at the center.
"With his extensive entrepreneurial background and dedication to fostering innovation, Mike is poised to lead the center into the next phase of growth and success," Lyons says.
Merging business and academia
As the first entrepreneur in residence for the center, Bradshaw launched the Urban Vision Institute (UVI) to match UTC students with local startups needing help and advice to grow their businesses.
Walter Lindsey, the founder of a local security firm known as Unity One East Inc., says Bradshaw helped his firm identify and market itself to more business prospects. Working and learning from other entrepreneurs in the UVI program "was worth its weight in gold" to build connections and support for his business, he says.
"Mike is a great leader and UVI was very helpful in growing our business," says Lindsey. "I would recommend this program to anyone trying to expand their business."
After only five years of operation, the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship was recognized this summer as a finalist in the global The Triple E Awards, sponsored by the Accreditation Council for Entrepreneurial and Engaged Universities in Germany.
Bradshaw says he hopes to build on the center's early success and is preparing to launch programs "to help students develop their business ideas outside the traditional classroom environment."
"Entrepreneurial skills will serve our students for their entire careers, whether they intend to start a business of their own or not," he says.