Chattanooga's Ecosystem: 4 Strands of Entrepreneurial Support

To create a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem, it is important for communities to identify the unique assets they have to improve and expand their ecosystem. The Kauffman Foundation has encouraged cities to “create your own recipe by connecting existing ingredients in the community to construct an environment conducive to new business creation rather than building or acquiring them in an attempt to copy what another city has done.” Not all cities will have a research university from which to tap talent or an active investment capital community. Cities succeed when they recognize and capitalize on their own advantages.

A recent paper was released by the Kauffman Foundation, “Little Town, Layered Ecosystem: A Case Study of Chattanooga," the newest installment of its Research Series on City, Metro and Regional Entrepreneurship. This paper shares how the city of Chattanooga has benefited from taking advantage of its best traits.

Photo courtesy of Bryce Edwards via Flickr.

The paper outlines the four strands of organizations aimed at helping support entrepreneurship in Chattanooga, including:

  • The Innovation District, a public-private enterprise to create a specific space for entrepreneurial development
  • Public entities, including the mayor's office, an Enterprise Center and the Electric Power Board, which think strategically about how governmental infrastructure can facilitate entrepreneurial growth
  • Entrepreneurial support organizations that provide space, resources and expertise to startups
  • Foundations and a group of leaders who organized angel investment


Chattanooga collected support from a number of institutions to secure the launch of the Innovation District, a physical space to convene entrepreneurs and their support organizations. From the report:

“For entrepreneurship in Chattanooga, the Innovation District can help develop a level of density and connectivity that strengthens a growing ecosystem. The city considers density an important attribute of an innovation district. When entrepreneurs and their support organizations convene in the same space, rather than spread out across the city, they create more collision opportunities for peer learning. A dense, compact space of entrepreneurs also can develop mentoring relationships, expertise sharing, and physical space to work for entrepreneurs at different stages of their business. Chattanooga’s Innovation District is a deliberate attempt to foster this kind of ecosystem that perpetuates entrepreneurship and innovation into the future.”

The Innovation District was the product of the collaboration between the Enterprise Center, the Mayor’s office, and two entrepreneurship support organizations, along with foundation support.

Public Role

The Innovation District was coordinated by Enterprise Center, which is a “semi-public entity designated by the mayor to coordinate and lead the Innovation District and entrepreneurship.” The Enterprise Center was born out of the “Chattanooga Forward Task Force created by newly elected Mayor Andy Berke (2013–present), which focused on ‘gig, technology, and entrepreneurship.’” The Mayor’s Office helped the Enterprise Center to secure the purchase of the Edney Building, the site of the Innovation District. Without the strong backing by the Mayor, the creation of the Innovation District would not have been as smooth.

Entrepreneurship Support Organizations

The Enterprise Center engaged CO.LAB to be one of the first tenants of the Innovation District.  Rather than having to recruit a new accelerator for the space, the city designated CO.LAB, a previously standing organization in Chattanooga, as the Innovation District accelerator. The existing presence of the Lamp Post Group, another entrepreneurship support organization, in the area helped to anchor the Innovation District. The placement of these two organizations acts as another example of Chattanooga understanding that growth comes from capitalizing on existing advantages, not creating new strengths from scratch. CO.LAB and Lamp Post have a history of working together, as they have mutually supported events like GigTank, a tech accelerator.

Foundation Support 

The Benwood Foundation, and previously the Lyndhurst Foundation, have helped support the entrepreneurship community in Chattanooga for over a decade. CO.LAB is a grantee of the Benwood Foundation and has benefited from the generous support of the foundation. Lamp Post has been aided by the foundations and their work to catalyze the entrepreneurial spirit in Chattanooga.  


The city of Chattanooga is just one example of how a mix of institutions and assets can be used to support entrepreneurship. To learn more about creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem in your community, check out Kauffman’s Policy Digest on the subject. To read more about the example of Chattanooga, click here to read the entire paper.



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