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Nathan Derrick, co-founder of SupplyHog, talks about the challenges and successes of the internet building supply company that has been in business since 2010.

'One percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration," is how Thomas Edison defined genius.

The same could be said for getting an Internet startup off the ground.

At least for SupplyHog, a 10-employee Chattanooga business that bills itself as "the online marketplace for everyone in the building materials industry."

It was the toast of the Internet startup scene here in 2010, when SupplyHog (then called Nopone) won the Company Lab's "Will This Float?" competition that's morphed into today's Gigtank competition for fledgling online companies.

SupplyHog's CEO and co-founder Nathan Derrick went on to spend time in Philadelphia and Mountainview, Calif., at Internet "accelerators" that help startups find investors.

SupplyHog still hasn't turned a profit, Derrick said. But he believes 2016 will be the year.

"We've been starting up for a while," Derrick said recently at his office off Rossville Boulevard. "We've been at this for five years now."

The business aims to be the platform that the "little guys" in the hardware and building world use for E-commerce, or electronic commerce.

Derrick thinks a contractor who's working on a house should be able to use SupplyHog's smartphone app to order materials and have them delivered to the doorstep.

"This is just an idea that makes sense," he said.

The inspiration came years ago. Derrick grew up in Etowah, Tenn., and he remembers watching customers leaving big box home retailers and thinking they could have gotten a better deal at his family's building materials business or some other mom-and-pop supplier.

"If I could have got to those guys, I could have saved them 20 percent," Derrick said.

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SupplyHog, an early star in Chattanooga's startup world, still rooting around for winning formula

One difficulty SupplyHog has had, he said, is getting people in the hardware business and the building trades interested in the online world, since many of them prefer having orders faxed or called in.

"It's one of the last remaining industries that hasn't yet adapted," said Derrick, who only started using the Internet himself in 2005.

That's changing though, Derrick said.

SupplyHog moved $4 million in product in 40 states last year, he said.

SupplyHog is a "scalable" startup, or one that could become huge once it takes off. To that end, SupplyHog is talking with officials at member-owned hardware cooperative that has 3,800 stores about handling their E-commerce.

"That would put us in great shape," Derrick said.

In the meantime, SupplyHog already is doing that on a smaller scale — including for Green's Eco Build & Design, a home building supply store at 1510 Riverside Drive that carries regionally-sourced and environmentally friendly goods. SupplyHog only charges Green's $30 a month to put its inventory online for sale.

"It's working great," Green's co-owner Tyler Smith said. "For us, it's another avenue to get our names out there and get people looking at our products."

While Green's has a website, it's too much work for the business to do E-commerce on its own, Smith said, in addition to running the "brick-and-mortar" store.

SupplyHog is housed on hallowed startup ground: in the former headquarters of Access America, a transportation and logistics company that was one of Chattanooga's most successful startups with sales estimated at $600 million when it was sold in April 2014 to Coyote Logistics for a reported $125 million.

Access America's principals went on to create the Lamp Post Group, a venture "incubator" in the Loveman's Building downtown that has some 20 startup businesses in its portfolio — including SupplyHog.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or www.facebook.com/MeetsForBusiness or twitter.com/meetfor business or 423-757-6651.

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