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Jack Studier stands Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016 in Co.Lab in the Edney Building.
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Jack Studier stands Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016 in Co.Lab in the Edney Building.

Jack Studer went to Princeton, got his first job after college as an investment banker with Credit Suisse doing mergers and acquisitions in Silicon Valley, and later co-founded a document security software company called DraftSpace.

His family owned the Sequatchie Valley Coal Co. in Dunlap, Tennessee, about 40 miles northwest of Chattanooga. After it closed, his father, Jim Studer, was tapped to help launch the Skyline Coal Company in Dunlap.

"Writing some software's easy compared to that," Jack Studer says.

Studer is the new executive director of the CompanyLab, or Co.Lab, a nonprofit startup "accelerator" that supports entrepreneurial growth. It's headquartered on the first floor of the Edney Building at the corner of 11th and Market streets, the hub of Chattanooga's downtown Innovation District.

"From idea to business," is Co.Lab's motto, and it offers a range of programs to those who walk through its doors: from Co.Starters, a nine-week program for beginning entrepreneurs to Gigtank 365, a boutique startup accelerator created so entrepreneurs developing ultra high-bandwidth business applications can test their ideas on Chattanooga's 10-gigabit, metro-wide fiber optic network.

Studer took the reins from Co.Lab's previous leader, Mike Bradshaw, who moved upstairs to the ninth floor of the Edney to be director of the Jensen Hughes Academy, a safety engineering and risk-based science consulting company.

No big changes are in the works at Co.Lab, Studer said. At first, he just plans to review how things are working.

"There's not like an agenda," he says. "If there is a plan right now, it is to take stock."

Before Co.Lab, Studer was chief operating officer of Torch, a Chattanooga company that developed a router to manage kids' Internet use.

Before that, Studer was one of the principals of the Lamp Post Group, a venture incubator in the historic Loveman's Building in downtown Chattanooga that's backed by Ted Alling, Barry Large and Allan Davis, a trio of businessmen who became millionaires in their mid-30s when they sold their startup trucking and logistics company, Access America Transport, in 2014 to Coyote Logistics.

Studer returned to Chattanooga in 2010 to be near family and put down roots. He met his wife, Caitlin, in New York City, when he divided his time between New York, California and London during the launch of DraftSpace. It was acquired in 2008 by an Indian company, Copal Partners, in a deal that had Studer living in India for six months during the transition.

Studer, who grew up on Signal Mountain and attended The Baylor School, said his decision to come home was partly due to the economic downturn — and partly a needed break.

"I hadn't taken a vacation in five years," he said, remembering that he thought, "You know what? Let's just hit the pause button."

"When I came back, I never thought I'd stay long," he says.

But he likes Chattanooga's entrepreneurial scene and attitude, and he and Caitlin are now parents of two daughters: Kate, 3, and Maggie, 1. Studer also likes being near his family; his parents own a roughly 1,000-acre cattle ranch near Dunlap that offers hunting and fishing.

While it was fun to live San Francisco and New York, Studer said, "I worked so hard, I never really got to enjoy it. I like it here."

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