Meet 5 Business Owners Who Now Call Chattanooga Home
All the economic and commercial development going on around Chattanooga is exciting, but those who live here because of the natural beauty want to guarantee it will remain aptly named the Scenic City. Enter, Clea Klagstad. Klagstad owns and operates Circadian Consulting, an environmental consulting firm that works with the commercial development community to ensure that both the project and the environment are protected.
Klagstad grew up here but eventually left to pursue her master’s degree and gain experience in her field. She knew there was a startup community in town, but never thought she’d own her own business. After some time, Klagstad realized there was much she missed about home. “There is a huge recreational component to Chattanooga that other cities are lacking. The whole city is a playground. Plus, the people and the community are really great. The culture here is just very open and friendly. I missed it when I lived in other places.”
After leaving her job and moving back to town, Klagstad began to think about starting her own firm. Chattanooga’s startup community resources really helped foster her dream and make it a reality. “When I knew I could get that support, I kept going,” she says. “There are lots of volunteer-taught classes that help you learn the things you need to know in order to run your own business.”
Klagstad was pleasantly surprised at how welcoming the local business community has been. “I expected to have to work harder to make business connections. I even expected some push back, but everyone hops right in and helps out. Particularly, the Small Business Development Center, INCubator, and the Chamber have been so helpful,” she says.
Circadian Consulting wasn’t backed by any investors; there was no trust fund or inheritance. Without having to make any sales calls in the first year and a half, the startup firm is already in the black. Klagstad’s success is not completely surprising to her though. “It has gone as I expected, mostly because of the people of Chattanooga. I thought they’d be helpful and receptive, but their generosity has far surpassed my expectations. I feel very lucky to be here.”
Photo by Rich Smith
A cyclist, Dr. Songkhla Venza and her family fell in love with Chattanooga for its outdoor recreation. “There are few things in life as nice as being downtown, finishing up a great breakfast with the family, and then a mere 10 minutes later coasting on beautiful trails that seem like they’re hundreds of miles away from civilization.”
After visiting the city for several organized races over the years, the Venza family decided to make the move to Chattanooga. A skilled dentist, Dr. Venza felt she could find success opening her own dental practice. After months of hard work and preparation, she opened Four Bridges Family Dentistry, which offers comprehensive, emergency, and cosmetic dental care. “Chattanooga is a great town with lots of wonderful people and families. The city is still growing, and as people move here, they need more health care providers they can trust,” Dr. Venza said.
Understandably, being a transplant to Chattanooga with no established support system was a challenging start. But once she got settled, Dr. Venza says the community and other local businesses have been nothing but positive. “One of my main goals since coming to the city and starting my own practice has been to become not just a business in Chattanooga but a business that is a part of Chattanooga. This sort of thing is outside my comfort zone,” she continues, “but the reception I’ve received from other business owners when I stop by to introduce myself has been absolutely phenomenal.”
It doesn’t take long for newcomers, Dr. Venza included, to realize there is something different about the community. There’s a rare but sweet citywide quality. “It’s a community that is interested in helping each other succeed, which was a bit unexpected coming from previous cities that had less of an ‘us’ mentality,” says Dr. Venza.
Given the support other businesses have shown her, she enjoys spending her free time paying the kindness back to other local spots. “Who knew there could be so many good biscuits in a single city?!”
Photo by Terry Henson
As he drove a moving truck across the country, back to Chattanooga after a 10-year hiatus, Dakin Cranwell was already making phone calls to put his next venture into action. “I could see a lot of changes happening in Chattanooga, so I wanted to return home and, on some level, be a cultural influencer to help guide Chattanooga toward a wholesome future,” Cranwell recalls. “I owe it to myself to push Chattanooga a little further, but I owe it to Chattanooga not to miss its heritage and history.”
Upon his return to the city, Cranwell assembled a dynamic team of individuals to create DakinWorks, a food and beverage agency as he likes to call it. The agency – comprised of Cranwell, Ashlee Lawrence, Ian Flannery, Jesse Hutchison, and Erica Scoggins – intends to open multiple concepts over time. The first, American Draft, is a self-service beer hall that opened in January in a train car at the Chattanooga Choo Choo. “The first pour-your-own-beer bar in Chattanooga and likely the only pour-your-own-beer bar in a train car in the world,” laughs Cranwell. Being at the Choo Choo, while unique, has provided its own challenges. “There’s this preconceived notion that the Choo Choo is touristy, so it has been harder to get to locals. I think right now we tend to be about 60% tourists and 40% locals. I’d really like to see that level out to 50/50,” Cranwell explains.
Thoroughly enjoying life back in Chattanooga, Cranwell is taking advantage of access to lots of recreation, a vibrant art scene, and an excellent food scene. He feels there is a lot of talent within the city and is excited about the growth potential. “In the local food industry, there is a tremendous desire to raise the bar,” says Cranwell. “Now is a good time in Chattanooga to try out some wacky concepts. It’s a fluid market so some might work, some might not. There’s still a chance to become a mainstay.”
As an adolescent, Cranwell felt he could never go out without bumping into someone he knew, and he dreaded it. However, it seems adulthood and entrepreneurship have turned the tables. “Now, I’ve never felt so welcomed into the fabric of a society. Running into the people you meet along the way, I love that – as long as I’ve had my coffee.”
Photo by Rich Smith
(above) Henry Blue (left), Jonathan Wilson (right)
Following the completion of their six-month program with Techstars, a business accelerator based in Boulder, Colorado, the Spoken founding team had a decision to make: grow their business in Boulder or move toward the East Coast. Cofounder Henry Blue had heard through the grapevine that Chattanooga had unbelievably fast internet, an excellent tech community, and a nationally acclaimed Startup Week, and fortunately, the grapevine was right. So he and cofounder and CTO, Jonathan Wilson, took the risk and moved their company to Gig City in 2016.
As a digital company, Spoken uses live instructors and artificial intelligence bots to provide English language instruction to people around the world via their preferred messaging app (think: WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger). With such a tech-based business model, an affordable city with a robust tech community was enormously important to the success of the company. “Moving to Chattanooga was simple. We’re in the Edney building, and the community that has organically sprung up around that ecosystem has made it super easy to network and make connections,” says Blue.
Aside from their own growth, Blue says the growth around Chattanooga as a whole has been impressive – a testament to the vitality and desirability of the town. “I think it’s indicative of a healthy situation and strong economic growth,” says Blue.
He and Wilson admire the plentiful amenities Chattanooga boasts while still enjoying the perks of living in a relatively small city, like little to no traffic and a central location. “Because of the overall size and city structure, we end up spending more time together because we’re all in close proximity. It’s so good from a team cohesion standpoint,” Blue says. Being near larger cities such as Atlanta and Nashville has made other aspects of startup life like recruiting and fundraising easier too.
Coming from an outdoor mecca like Colorado, the two were actually unaware of the phenomenal outdoor recreation opportunities Chattanooga offered but were thrilled at the discovery. In addition to the outdoor offerings, Blue says there’s a vast array of leisure activities that are interesting for those in the tech world. “This city offers a quality of living that is so great.”
Photo by Rich Smith
In 2015, when Platt Boyd decided to move his company, Branch Technology, and his family to Chattanooga, he knew it was a good idea – he just didn’t realize how good. “Chattanooga has been amazingly supportive. It’s one of the most welcoming places I’ve ever seen. You kind of expect it to be this cloistered city with a ‘you’re not from here’ mindset. But it’s not like that at all, it’s very refreshing,” Boyd explains.
Several factors brought Branch Technology, a company that uses 3D printing to prefabricate architectural components that can take on almost any shape, to Chattanooga. The team visited in 2014 and in 2015 for GigTank, CoLab’s tech-based accelerator program designed for B2B and B2C startups, and leaders could feel the cohesiveness of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Pair that with the city’s excitement and knowledge about 3D printing as well as the company’s desire to be closer to Oak Ridge National Laboratory for a collaborative project, and the decision was clear. “It just made sense. Chattanooga is a great place to put down roots and grow a business,” explains Boyd.
And grow they have. Branch Technology moved here with three employees, 5,000 square feet of office space, and one 3D printing robot. In just three years, they’ve expanded to 35 employees and are graduating into a new 40,000-square-foot location that will house 10 robots. “Chattanoogans get behind things that are pretty bold, and I love that. Private companies and public institutions working together to make things happen … you can tell that’s been significant in the history of the city. Seeing that cooperation and how well it works, it is so uncommon,” reflects Boyd.
Boyd has also been impressed on a personal level. Moving a family of six, at a pivotal time for some of them (high school is already tough in a lot of ways, and more so if you’re starting over!), is not usually a crowd-pleasing decision. However, Boyd says all four of his children have told him how glad they are to be living here. “We spent 17 years in our previous location, and it never really felt like home. We’ve only spent three years in Chattanooga, and it already feels like home.”
Photo by Terry Henson