Driver-less trucks, drones within warehouses and droids that deliver Jimmy John's sandwiches.
They all could be coming to Chattanooga this summer — or at least the developers of those ideas.
More than 120 teams from around the world have applied to participate in a three-month accelerator program focused on the newest and best ideas in shipping and logistics. In the week ahead, Ted Alling and the other organizers of the Dynamo accelerator hope to narrow the list to the top 10.
Those selected to participate will come to Chattanooga in July and work for three months to turn their innovative ideas into workable businesses to pitch to investors by October.
"We truly have some groundbreaking ideas from all over the world, and I can't think of better place to help start a business," Alling told entrepreneurs last week during a talk in the Edney building, the hub of Chattanooga's Innovation District. "People here really want you to succeed."
Chattanooga has already been the breeding ground for a variety of successful logistics companies. Two of America's biggest long-haul trucking companies — U.S. Xpress Enterprises and Covenant Transport — both started 30 years ago shortly after the deregulation of trucking. Over the past half century, Kenco has grown into the nation's biggest privately owned warehousing company.
Alling and his college fraternity brothers from Samford University brought a technology focus to the industry in 2002 when they launched Access America to help better schedule and handle freight shipments. Without any trucks of its own, the logistics handling firm grew to more than $490 million in annual sales before being sold two years ago to Coyote Logistics, which was acquired last year by UPS for $1.8 billion.
Alling and his partners, Allan Davis and Barry Large, are pumping part of the proceeds from their lucrative business sale back into other startup companies. The trio are helping create a new $12 million venture fund for logistics and they hope to put much of that money into the best businesses emerging from this summer's Dynamo program.
"We like early stage entrepreneurs," Alling said, "and we know logistics."
The trio who helped organize Dynamo have had experience working with startups since they started Lamp Post in 2010 to help entrepreneurs with advice, office space and working capital to try out their ideas. Lamp Post has invested a combined $30 million over the past six years into 22 companies — 15 of which are still going and many which help support other logistics companies.
Located within a day's drive of nearly half the U.S. population, Chattanooga is a logistics hub already and the Dynamo organizers want to secure that positions by turning Choo Choo city into a 21st century logistics hot spot.
"We've planted the flag, I think, in Chattanooga," said Large.
But to help recruit applicants for the Dynamo program, Alling spent most of the past month going beyond a single day's drive to reach out to entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, New York, London and Chicago
"Logistics has gotten faster, smarter and more automatic. But what's next?" the organizers ask in a promotional video about Dynamo.
The mentors for the Dynamo program in Chattanooga this summer will include more than 75 business leaders and startup veterans. Jon Bradford, the head of Techstars in London and co-founder of F6S and Tech.eu, is coming to Chattanooga to help with the effort.
Part-time mentors include top logistics experts from GE Ventures, Binary Capital, the Kenco Group, U.S. Xpress and Shiphawk, CBL & Associates, Disney, GrowthX and others.
The accelerator will be housed at Lamp Post Group's 6,000-square-foot space in the Loveman's Building on Market Street downtown, and will run from July 6 to Oct. 4.
Contact Dave Flessner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 757-6340