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Rob Bradham

Aimed at spurring more entrepreneurship, Dalton, Ga., is starting up an innovation incubator downtown along with a competition where people can pitch business ideas to potential investors.

The Dalton Innovation Accelerator (DIA) is going into the historic, six-level Landmark Building on Hamilton Street where about 1,800-square-feet of space will be carved out to hold entrepreneurs and the services to help them grow their ideas.

Rob Bradham, the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce's chief executive, said the accelerator — a first in the city — is not just aimed at high-tech companies, but more broadly at entrepreneurs.

Companies located in the space will have access to mentors and other successful business people from whom they can learn, he said.

"It will put entrepreneurs in the same space so they can learn from each other," Bradham added.

Also, a competition dubbed PitchDIA is slated for May 15 where entrepreneurs or teams can compete for prizes and try to woo investors. The winner will take home $5,000 in cash and more than $15,000 in services.

Prizes also will be awarded for the second and third place teams, Bradham said. In all, a total of $30,000 in prizes will be offered, he said. Entrepreneurs interested in PitchDIA can apply by March 1. Semifinalists will be chosen and announced on March 30.

Bradham said the accelerator effort is similar to Chattanooga's Edney Innovation Center downtown, which is the center of the city's Innovation District.

Stacey Roach, a chief operating officer of a Dalton technology company and a DIA co-founder, said the focus is to reignite that area's entrepreneurial spirit.

He cited the array of manufacturing in the Dalton area and entrepreneurship that spurred it.

"Hopefully, we'll tap into some of that and turn it into powerful businesses," Roach said.

Barry Slaymaker, head of strategy for Dalton real estate investment company Barrett Properties and another DIA co-founder, said he and Roach had talked about a concept and decided to formalize it.

"What can we do in this area to really help build the entrepreneurial energy in town?" he said they asked themselves.

Barrett Properties owns the Landmark Building and it's donating space for the accelerator, Slaymaker said.

Bradham said an accelerator was identified during planning for a five-year strategic plan crafted by the Chamber called "Believe Greater Dalton."

"We identified six strategies we need to focus on," he said. "One is to build on the innovation and entrepreneurship in the floorcovering industry."

Through consolidation, the floorcovering sector has a lot big companies, Bradham said.

"We want to keep growing to build the next generation of small business," he said, adding that the accelerator will not just focus on the floorcovering sector.

Roach, COO of Inventure IT, said one of that venture's partner companies won a pitch competition in Savannah, Ga., so he's familiar with the concept.

"Having been part of those and watched those, we were interested in getting involved in helping facilitate [PitchDIA]," he said, adding he's hopeful there's "a lot of cool ideas that come out of it."

The Landmark Building dates to 1912, Roach said. An earlier building that burned dated to the 1880s, he said. Since the mid-1980s, the site has been mostly office space, Roach said.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318.