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Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Kathy Ford, president and chief product officer of Rhinogram, gives her pitch during the HealthTech Accelerator Demo Day at Unum in June 2019. Rhinogram won the 2020 Startup of the Year award Thursday during Startup Week. The business connects patients, clinicians and office administrators through confidential, text-based interactions in real time.

A Chattanooga-based company that helps 5.5 million people access health care through text messages won both the Startup of the Year award and the High-Growth Company of the Year award on Thursday.

"Everybody needs and deserves to get care, and this platform enables that," said Kathy Ford, the president and chief product officer for Rhinogram. "There are certainly a lot of challenges happening in health care right now and we're so grateful to be able to contribute to solving some of the problems that exist."

The Startup Awards were part of an annual week-long showcase and celebration of Chattanooga's entrepreneurial community. Startup Week moved online this year.

[Read more: Chattanooga CBD startup and 2020 Spirit of Innovation winner Landrace Bioscience grows its influence.]

"It's super exciting for Chattanooga right now because we're really emerging as our own health care IT and health care innovation hub," Ford said during the virtual recognition event.

The COVID-19 pandemic drove demand for virtual medical visits, and Rhinogram was positioned to meet that need, Ford said. Rhinogram does not require a mobile app or portal to download.

2020 Startup Awards

Startup of the Year / CO.LAB High Growth Company: Rhinogram, Kathy Ford and Keith Dressler

Tennessee Small Business Development Center Rising Star: Gate 11 Distillery, Bill and Wanda Lee

Society of Work Coworker of the Year: Operation Get Active, Pete Woolcock

Causeway Changemaker of the Year: Roe Anderson, Girl Stance

INCubator Goldfinch of the Year: The Bitter Bottle, Kaleena Goldsworthy

Enterprise Center / Tech Goes Home Volunteer of the Year: Kathy Mindell

Charlie Brock Ecosystem Builder of the Year: Lakweshia Ewing, We Over Me

"Our solution has been able to provide a tool so patients can easily and safely get the care they need in the way they prefer," she said.

The Startup Awards also recognized businesses across the local entrepreneurial landscape, including Gate 11 Distillery, which was named the Tennessee Small Business Development Center's Rising Star. Bill Lee said the business was focused for a while on producing hand sanitizer, but has recently gotten back to its original mission.

"We're pretty much focused back on our distilled spirits," he said. "I'm making a batch of rye whiskey tomorrow."

Susan M. Freeman Enterprises was recognized as the LaunchCHA microbusiness of the year.

"This month I celebrated nine years in business, and Launch has been with me all the way," she said. "I am a health insurance company, and my passion is the overall well-being of individuals."

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

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