Founder of The Company Lab Sheldon Grizzle said he never intended to be the leader of an entrepreneurial accelerator forever.
He helped create CO. LAB, and he led it for years with his next step in the back of his mind.
“My wife and I wanted to stay here, but I didn’t feel like [Chattanooga] was the kind of place I could start or work for the kind of businesses that would really excite me,” he said.
He came here for school at Covenant College and started his first business, SupportThisMinistry.com, in 2006. He raised money for that project and was moving forward with that idea, but when the time came for a second round of funding-“crickets,” he said.
“I had a growing business die on the vine, and that was a really painful process,” he said.
Then, he connected with leaders at CreateHere, a nonprofit that aimed to support creatives and entrepreneurs. But CreateHere soon closed down.
“I thought, ‘Maybe I can help create the playground I want to play on,'” he said.
He never really thought he was the right person to lead The Company Lab, but no one else he knew was in a position in their lives to do it.
So with support from an array of entrepreneurs and likeminded people, he took on the lead role at The Company Lab, which has since helped many successful businesses launch.
It’s also been named one of Tennessee’s nine regional entrepreneurial accelerators and hosted large, successful entrepreneurial events, such as the Gig Tank.
But, by the beginning of 2013, Grizzle’s “entrepreneurial itch” was becoming too strong, so he told other leaders at The Company Lab that he’d be transitioning out of the nonprofit world.
Grizzle’s relationship with the partners of Spartan Systems began years ago.
He said they were formative in what The Company Lab eventually became, and they were the first recipients of a grant from CreateHere and the Lyndhurst Foundation.
Eventually, they moved to Washington, D.C., to start Spartan Systems, which is a full-service digital consultancy company that partners with organizations that need impact-driven experiences on Web, mobile and social platforms.
As that happened, they reached out to old Chattanooga contacts, and Grizzle filled them in on his plans to exit CO. LAB.
Grizzle was being faced with the decision of starting something from scratch, which he had done a couple of times (and it wasn’t his favorite), or he could help create an investment arm of Spartan Systems.
“From day one on the Spartan Systems side, they wanted to build a great team that is paid for by consulting work, then leverage that to build their own products and take that to market, as well,” he said.
In December, Spartan Systems had only one employee in Chattanooga. Now, there are 13 here, 26 total.
The rest of Spartan Systems’ employees are scattered in places such as Washington, D.C., New York City, Boston and Europe.
Grizzle is managing partner of Spartan Ventures, which has already invested in a new startup called ReadyCart.
President of Spartan Systems Jesse Morris said that Grizzle is really humble and that he’s done a lot for Chattanooga’s entrepreneurial community.
“He’s the startup mayor of this time,” he said.
Now comes Spartan Ventures
Spartan Ventures, which is the investment arm of Spartan Systems, has four partners and a few different functions, Grizzle said.
The company takes the profit generated through consulting to reinvest in startups that need software development work.
The company’s leaders provide that work in exchange for equity in the startup, Grizzle said.
“We think consulting businesses are a great way to pay the bills,” he said. “But the only way to do wealth building is through having equity in things that become enormously profitable.”
Spartan Ventures employees may also provide advisory services to area organizations who want them to be board members, and they are looking toward social enterprise work, as well.
They’ve partnered with the Public Education Foundation to create a new platform that would be used to access educational content, Grizzle also said. They will be doing pilot testing soon.
“We know we can start things,” Grizzle said. “Now, we’ve got to go execute and build some ventures that change industries.”
ReadyCart is the first product from Spartan Ventures.
Grizzle is the co-founder of the new business, which bundles online do-it-yourself/how-to content providers with the products users need to implement those online tutorials.
“It’s a tool that bundles products that go together,” he said. “[Users] can very easily purchase all that stuff with one click.”
For example, on the ReadyCart site, a user could view a tutorial about how to make a bookshelf, then access a page that lists all the items needed to actually build the shelf.
Users can go through and choose what items they want. Perhaps they already have plenty of nails, so they just uncheck the box of nails, check all the other items and go straight to an Amazon checkout page.
So far, Grizzle and his team have recruited the content providers, and the business is still in private, “invite-only mode.”