By Mary Helen Montgomery
One morning this fall, a group of small business owners and community leaders gathered at the INCubator on the North Shore. Unsure of what to expect from the day, and not knowing many people in the room, participants of the Innovation Ecosystem Tour Day took seats at separate tables and looked quietly over the day’s packed schedule. Mayor Coppinger greeted the group, and participants then shared a bit about themselves.
Innovation Ecosystem Tour Day gives locals a chance to learn more about our growing economy, including the resources and organizations that support Chattanooga entrepreneurs and small businesses. The half-day program, organized by The Enterprise Center and The Chamber of Commerce, has run four times, hosting 65 participants.
After the first stop at the INCubator, participants head to The Edney Innovation Center, the front door of the Innovation District for presentations from support organizations including Society of Work, Co.Lab, KIVA, Launch Chattanooga, Compania, Chattanooga 2.0, Tech Goes Home, the SBDC, and finally Floor FIve, a free event space for the entrepreneurial community to gather.
The creation of Chattanooga’s Innovation District in 2015 was a crucial step in strengthening connections in our innovation ecosystem. Since then organizations and individuals have collaborated and connected in ways that have helped ideas and businesses grow. However, it’s clear that not everyone is included in this ecosystem, and the Innovation Ecosystem Tour Day is a strategy to make the Innovation District more inclusive. Participants are nominated, either by ecosystem partners or previous participants.
Tenesha Irvin, a real estate agent who grew up in Chattanooga, was nominated by Co.Lab CEO Marcus Shaw.
“I (attended because I) wanted to see how the city has progressed, Irvin says. “I remember when things were ideas, and now to see them actually thriving is cool.”
Corey Petree, a loan officer for Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise who is interested in developing affordable housing and investing in property, found value in connecting with other participants.
“To me a lot of the value is in the networking,” Petree says. “I already met several people with similar goals.”
Energized by all the new information, participants spent the last hour of the day with neighbors from Innovation District businesses sharing drinks and snacks while exchanging information about what they are working on and how they can get connected after the day.
With different reasons for having attended, and working on a variety of initiatives around Chattanooga, participants leave better connected to people, businesses, and resources that will help their community and their own initiatives and grow to the next level.
The next tour is on March, 12, 2020. Nominate yourself or someone you know to participate!