On Friday, local entrepreneur Bijan Dhanani had nothing more than an idea, but 48-hours later he and his team have a new foundation aimed at improving Chattanooga.
“Our biggest success was finding the first group of 10 trustees,” he said. “Friday we had nothing, then Saturday, we had a year’s worth of funding.”
With the help of Joda Thongnopnua and Tavis Salavar, Dhanani created the UnFoundation, an organization that gives out mini-grants to anyone who has a good idea about how to improve Chattanooga.
Each month, the UnFoundation’s trustees-each of whom are giving $100 a month to fund the organization for a year-award $2,000 to the best project.
The application process is short and easy, Dhanani said.
An anonymous family foundation also pitched in to help fund the UnFoundation, bringing the total monetary commitment to $36,000 so far.
The UnFoundation won the social innovator award, which the crowd chose, Sheldon Grizzle, co-founder of the Company Lab, said.
That prize means $17,000 worth of business services-from legal and account to website design and marketing-for the UnFoundation.
“Everything that we would need and have to pay thousands of dollars for, we got for free,” Dhanani said.
It isn’t surprising to Dhanani that his idea gained traction, because Chattanoogans want a way to contribute to their community, he said.
The turnout at the latest 48-Hour Launch is more evidence that local residents want to improve their city, Grizzle said.
Organizers are still tabulating numbers, but Grizzle estimates that the last event, which was in April, had between 200 and 300 people.
Over the weekend, as many as 400 people participated, he said.
More successful projects also came out of this weekend than the spring event.
At the April launch event, 20 teams pitched ideas and 13 moved forward throughout the weekend. Of those, nine were completed and pitched on demo night, Grizzle said.
“This (weekend) we were kind of baffled by the number of people that actually stuck it out the whole weekend and finished,” he said. “It was really cool to see.”
Slawsa: A local combination of slaw and salsa. Slawsa won a business service package worth about $15,000.
Job Ninja: A student-focused jobs website. Job Ninja won a business service package worth about $14,000. It also won a free spot in the Springboard accelerator program.
Neighborhood Watcher: A location based community communication and awareness tool (phone app and website) for you and your neighbors.
Wireless computer desk: Created by a UTC student, this desk has hollow legs and other features that allows wires/cables to run through it, offering aesthetic appeal and less mess. The creator Paul Thompson won a spot in the Springboard class.
Source: The Company Lab
Twenty-eight people pitched ideas on pitch night and 25 made it through the weekend to demo night, he said.
Out of the April launch event, there are four out of nine businesses that are still in motion, he also said.
Chattanooga resident Chante Newcomb and her team decided at the last minute not to pitch Let’s Get Foodie, a food review start-up, although she finished what she set out to accomplish for the weekend.
“We decided the project needed a more sustainable business model in order to grow to the capacity I had set for the project,” she said. “We are currently reworking ideas.”
But those involved in 48-Hour Launch say that figuring out what works and what doesn’t for a business is part of the point.
And Newcomb and her team decided to stay and help other teams.
The event was held at several Southside locations and most participants slept only a few hours a night.
“The spirit was chaotic at times, but very inspiring,” Newcomb said.
She also received some invaluable advice from other entrepreneurs, although she would have loved to see more local digital marketing firms, graphic designers, and app developers in attendance to help.
Dhanani said there is no better way for an entrepreneur to start up a business than participating in 48-Hour Launch.
And there is no better place to do it than Chattanooga, he said.
Although some criticize local efforts to get businesses started or to create change-saying that follow-through is sometimes lacking in Chattanooga-Dhanani thinks he is in the right place at the right time.
There is something exciting happening in Chattanooga, he said.
“This is a serious entrepreneurial environment and there are a lot of supporters here,” he said. “There is a palpable energy in the air. You could feel it at the pitches.”