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Photo contributed by CO.LAB / Marcus Shaw is the chief executive officer of CO/LAB.

The CEO of a nonprofit organization that acts as a catalyst for Chattanooga's growing startup culture will leave his role in the first quarter of 2021.

"Chattanooga is always going to be part of my portfolio of interest and impacts," said Marcus Shaw, who has led CO.LAB since July 2017. "The end of this year also is the end of our strategic plan. We built a three-year strategic plan and met and exceeded those expectations, so I think it's time for another step, and I would love to support somebody else in taking that step."

A national search for a new CEO has begun, and Shaw will remain in his role until that person is identified, said George Brown, chairman of CO.LAB's board of directors.

"Marcus' leadership has lifted the profile of CO.LAB and brought national attention to Chattanooga's entrepreneurial ecosystem," Brown said in a statement announcing the change. "His enthusiasm for growth and commitment to excellence for founders and business owners has become an integral part of CO.LAB and will remain a part of the organization's DNA."

In the last three years, CO.LAB has supported over 380 companies, which have created over 1,000 jobs and raised nearly $100 million in capital, according to an announcement from the organization. Seven CO.LAB alumni have been accepted into the TechStars Accelerator. In September, CO.LAB was awarded a $300,000 Build to Scale grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce to launch a regional evergreen investment fund for high-growth companies to narrow the gap in early stage funding in the area.

About CO.LAB

Chattanooga’s Company Lab, or CO.LAB, launched in September 2010 with the support of predecessor organizations including CreateHere and the Chattanooga Renaissance Fund.

In 2018, the CO.LAB Capital Network launched, and has since provided access to capital for dozens of local businesses through partnerships, including Kiva and Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union's IdeaLeap program. Also in 2018, Steve Case's Rise of the Rest Tour came to Chattanooga, which led to an investment in local startup FreightWaves.

"The Rise of the Rest was huge for us," Shaw said. "It showed the strength of Chattanooga in freight logistics, and FreightWaves has gone on to do really incredible things."

(Read more: Chattanooga named as one of best places to start a business by Inc. magazine.)

One of the most important elements of the work of the group over the last few years has been the emphasis on diversity and equity in access to capital, Shaw said.

"We have done incredibly well at bringing people into the ecosystem," he said. "When you look at total engagement, at folks participating in programs, we are fighting above our weight — we're above 50% participation from women and underrepresented minorities, but it takes intentionality.

"We have to be unapologetically intentional about finding ways to be more inclusive and reaching students, underserved communities, women and people of color."

Shaw, who has worked in engineering, finance and diversity and inclusion roles during his career, is returning home to the Washington, D.C., area to be closer to family, he said. But he'll stay involved at CO.LAB to ensure a smooth transition, and will remain a booster for Chattanooga, he added.

"I don't want to make it feel like I'm just leaving Chattanooga," he said. "I'll be engaged with the city and growing that network."

Contact Mary Fortune at mfortune@timesfreepress.com. Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.

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