Eye on ‘Gig City:’ How Startups Thrive in Chattanooga

Chattanooga, Tenn., might not look like an entrepreneurial spot, nonetheless it is proving to become a great launching pad for more new ventures. Just ask Matt and Tiffany Rogers.

The couple, who already owned Everyday Eclectic, a home-based soap and candle-making company, made a decision to jump into starting another business. They first considered tea, but settled instead on soda.

"We love handcrafted products, especially foods," says, Matt, 33. "We really saw the excitement people [in Chattanooga] had around food entrepreneurs and smaller businesses generally."

Matt coaxed friend and colleague Shawn Clouse, 38, into joining the project, and in July 2011, Pure Sodaworks premiered as a cart with six flavors made of 100 % natural ingredients at the Chattanooga Market.

Shawn Clouse (from left to right), Matt Rogers and Tiffany Rogers went from peddling their all-natural sodas out of a cart to owning a quickly burgeoning enterprise.

The weekly market, which is modeled following the roughly four-decade-old Saturday Market in Eugene, Ore., has shown to be crucial for startups like Pure Sodaworks. For a nominal fee, vendors can connect with have a booth at the Sunday marketplace, which runs from April through December. On the average week, the nonprofit marketplace attracts 120 to 150 vendors and thousands of attendees.

"Chattanooga Market can be an incubator of sorts, a method to do a proof concept on an artistic product or a food product," Matt says. "You have a good idea or the methods to produce it, then immediately, you may take it down to the marketplace and see how it can with consumers."

In what of the Chattanooga Public Market’s executive director Chris Thomas, it’s a "cool, cultural community hub." And it’s really picking right up steam. In 2012, $2.5 million in direct vendor sales traveled through the marketplace, in comparison to $700,000 five years before.

"It’s an excellent feeling," says Thomas, 44. "People actually want to support their neighbors." Further, he adds, you start with a booth at the marketplace reduces a fresh company’s risks, since owners can miss the overhead mounted on opening a brick-and-mortar store. "Where else is it possible to market your concept to 20,000 people on confirmed day for $20?"

Thomas and his team are taking the same approach with Chattanooga Workspace, a arts-focused co-working space locally. The positioning opened in January with an increase of than 35 private studios.

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Chattanooga is a tech hub in the making since EPB, a community-owned provider of energy to the region, introduced a fiber-optic network this year 2010. The Department of Energy awarded EPB $111.5 million in stimulus funds to build up its smart grid network, and by the finish of 2012,170,000 homes EPB services could actually access the technology.

Pure Sodaworks’ handiwork in bottles

Chattanooga, now dubbed "Gig City," suddenly laid claim to the fastest web connection in the united states -at a download speed of 1 gigabit another, or 200 times faster compared to the national average. That helped pave just how for aspiring entrepreneurs to go in and launch their startups.

Pascal Finette, director of the open innovation group at Mozilla, traveled to Chattanooga last August to guage a think tankcompetition called GIGTANK. "I love the energy in Chattanooga. I like their grassroots entrepreneur spirit. It’s an excellent place," he says. Still, he’s skeptical that the tiny Southern city has what must be done to become a major tech player. "Everybody really wants to recreate Silicon Valley," he says. "The task is normally density of talent, and that is a problem. Chattanooga is not actually on the map for a number of people."

Ok, so that it may not be another Silicon Valley. But Chattanooga has shown to be a good home base for Pure Sodaworks. Following its successful debut at Chattanooga Market, Matt and Tiffany, 35, knew they’d have to spend money on bottling. So, they considered Kickstarter to find some money.

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Pure Sodaworks raised $23,111 — besting its goal by a lot more than $3,000 — in a single month using its campaign. The young founders opened their Coolidge Park storefront last May. "Those were some scary times," Matt says. "It had been definitely a slow trickle… But everybody rallied within the last fourteen days, and we surpassed our goal."

In October 2012, the custom-made bottling machine that the Rogers had ordered arrived from California, and the business started bottling six flavors. Currently, the team of three owners and three part-time employees is wanting to develop enough stock to allow them to start supplying restaurants. Roughly 40 have previously committed to carrying the merchandise.

Though Chattanooga has been good to Pure Sodaworks, the founders desire to eventually move beyond its borders. "We’ll really be pushing hard when it comes to potential regional distribution — NEW YORK, Georgia, maybe even Whole Foods if we are able to," Matt says.

What’s the trick ingredient of the startup hub in your area? Tell us in the comments below.

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