Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Emily Tomas, marketing director for Hoff & Pepper accepts the Goldfinch Award for the company. The Startup Awards, the culminating event of Startup Week 2021, was held at the First Horizon Pavilion on October 21, 2021.

Chris Wood and Douglas Lee, who learned the art of coffee brewing at a shop in Hattiesburg, Mississippi while students at the University of Southern Mississippi, decided after college to use those skills to create their own coffee business in Chattanooga.

"We used to come to Chattanooga all the time for vacations so we decided we should live where we love and we knew this was a great town for helping entrepreneurs," Lee said.

Three years after opening a Be Caffeinated drive thru coffee shop in an abandoned Central Park location in Red Bank, the 27-year-old entrepreneurs now have three coffee shops and are looking to add even more. Although Chattanooga has dozens of coffee outlets, Lee and Wood pride themselves on the smiling faces, personalized service and local food offerings they provide at their Red Bank, North Shore and Chattanooga State campus outlets.

That customer focus helped Wood and Lee win the Startup of the Year award during this week's week-long celebration of entrepreneurship. Be Caffeinated won the people's choice award based upon public voting during the Startup Week award program, which featured a parade by the Howard High School bank in the First Tennessee Pavilion Thursday night.

"This award means so much, and solidifies the fact that we are headed in an amazing direction with amazing people," Lee and Wood said in a Facebook post after winning the award. "Moving forward our pillars will continue to be to cultivate kindness, foster community, be happy and be caffeinated."

Chattanooga Football Club team members hand out the soccer-ball-shaped award to eight entrepreneurs Thursday night. The awards program capped a week of seminars, celebrations and demonstrations on growing small businesses.

This year's Startup Week, which followed an all-virtual event a year ago during the pandemic, drew more than 1,000 participants this week, ranging from entrepreneurs eager to start and grow their businesses to veteran business and technology experts offering their help in building Chattanooga's entrepreneurial eco-structure.

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2021 Startup Week honorees

"We're super happy with the turnout and even more impressed by the engagement we've seen at all of our events this week," said Lindsey Cox. CEO at The Company Lab which organized the week-long celebration and learning lab for new and expanding businesses.

The Rising Star of the Year award was presented to Cheryl Saucier, who started Mountain View Low Vision Services in 2019 to offer a variety of products for people with vision loss. Saucier recently opened a brick-and-mortar store after serving a growing number of customers over the past two years and she is looking for future growth to serve an aging Chattanooga population and others with vision challenges.

Saucier had the clinical experience and technical knowledge after working for 25 years as a low vision therapist at Southeast Vision Rehabilitation, Signal Centers and other agencies. She turned to the Tennessee Small Business Development Center to learn how to start and grow her service and product expertise as a business.

"Cheryl was one of our best clients at recognizing when she needed help and taking advice to help her business grow," said Lynn Chesnutt, managing director for the Tennessee Small Business Development District in Chattanooga. "Startup Week is another example of how Chattanooga works to help businesses get started and thrive."

Launch Chattanooga, which has been helping entrepreneurs start local businesses for the past decade, was also recognized during the Startup Awards with the recognition of Launch Chattanooga founder Hal Bowling as the winner of the Charlie Brock Ecosystem Impact Award, which is named after former Co.Lab. director and Launch TN head Charlie Brock.

Contact Dave Flessner at or 423-757-6340.

Startup Week winners

* Be Caffeinated won the Startup of the Year award based upon public voting

* Mountain View Low Vision Services won the Rising Star Award by the Tennessee Small Business Development Center Cheryl Saucier)

* Hoff & Pepper won the Goldfinch of the Year presented by the INCubator

* Joyce Watson won the Volunteer of the Year award presented by The Enterprise Center + Tech Goes Home

* Carlos Garcia of LogistiXInc won the Latino Entrepreneur of the Year award presented by Lapaz

* Text Request won the High Growth Company of the Year award presented by The Company Lab

* She Trucking won the Micro Business of the Year award presented by Launch Chattanooga

* Hal Bowling won the Charlie Brock Ecosystem Impact Award presented by the Startup award committee