Roy Exum: Guess Who’s New In Town?

Monday, July 31, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

In 2004 a guy named Mark Zuckerberg started this social networking site on the Internet that you know as Facebook. Today it has over 2 billion (with a ‘b’) users every month and is the largest social media website in the history of the world. Back when Facebook was unheard of, Mark coaxed his older sister into helping him get it started. Her name is Randi.

Randi has since started Zuckerberg Media, which should mean absolutely zilch to 98 percent of the eyes that are reading this. But it is a big sensation in Silicon Valley right now and, as if it matters, Randi is 35 years old and worth over $100 million. So what? Ho hum.

But wait!

An article that just appeared should mean everything to us, this most especially in light of the fact Chattanooga just placed 30th on the list of the "Worst Cities in the United States" and, if this doesn't make you swell up with pride, you need to get an app for "sweller check."

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NYC, LA, SF? Bah!

By Randi Zuckerberg

As the mother of two young boys, our options for having a fun, interactive dining experience are pretty limited. It generally comes down to one of three choices: Chuck E. Cheese, Benihana or eating at home. And if my husband and I want to sneak an opportunity for the kids to learn something new into their meal, two of those options are scrapped entirely (hint: the ones with the animatronic mouse and stove at your seat).

That means out of the entire 24,000+ restaurants, delis, and cafes in New York City proper we have only one place to go for interactive, educational dining with our kids, and in all honesty, it involves a lot of time and preparation that isn’t always possible on a busy weeknight. Now if that’s the case in New York City, I can only imagine that options are just as limited (or even more!) in less populous cities.

I traveled to Tennessee to keynote the Chattanooga Women’s Leadership Institute IMPACT Conference earlier this year and my mind was blown. I met some of the most interesting, innovative, and creative people I’ve met since my early days in Silicon Valley. Here this city was, struggling to recover after GE closed all three of its factories, laying off thousands, and still, amidst all that despair and change, the startup culture was thriving and people were excited about the future.

How, you may ask? Well so did I…

When the iPhone launched 10 years ago and mobile apps were shooting out from all corners of the Earth, you could count the startups in Chattanooga using one hand. Three years later, in 2010, the city claimed the title of first municipality to install a citywide gigabit network—a design which Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke parlayed into a Field of Dreams "if you build it, they will come" idea to attract the tech community to the city. You would’ve been smart to place your bets on Mayor Berke, because seven years later Chattanooga has added an extra $850 million to the local economy, despite the factory loss.

There’s no doubt that Chattanooga is bustling again. The "Gig" (as Chattanoogans fondly call their high-speed internet service) has helped generate over 3,000 new jobs in the area. And, let's face it, if you're a startup based out of New York City or San Francisco, you're going to be footing a pretty substantial bill for office space—and it may not even be that much space to begin with.

Now imagine you're a startup like Chattanooga's own Branch Technologies, working on 3D-printing benches, homes, and more... you're going to need a bit more than a corner desk in a downtown co-working space. For startups that need a large and affordable area to work in, the lower rental costs in Chattanooga provide even more of a draw!

An entire 140-acre section of downtown Chattanooga—better known as the Innovation District—brings startups, nonprofits, and government entities together. And the Tomorrow Building—the first co-living/working space in the Southeastern states—opened its doors in December, providing housing and a built-in sharing community to those working in the startup scene.

All of this plus being voted the ‘Best Town Ever’ by Outdoor Magazine and rated one of the 'Lowest Cost Cities of Doing Business' by Forbes, led me to choose Chattanooga as the perfect modern environment to launch my newest venture, Sue’s Tech Kitchen—a pop-up restaurant that brings families together to immerse themselves in food and science.

I thought to myself: if tech-driven dining experiences were so few and far between in Manhattan, then the need for inexpensive family-friendly STEM experiences in a still-recovering city could be even greater. Add a burgeoning startup culture and you’ve got one great beta-test location.

Some may think Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York are the only cities to launch anything tech-related, but for me, it’s more exciting to create an experience for kids outside of major cities, where the newest and most technological experiences don’t always arrive first. I want to introduce all children to the limitless aspects of coding and gadgets that they're going to need throughout the rest of their lives, and "all children" means kids off the coasts, too.

Who knows, maybe one day the person who figures out how to colonize the moon will attribute their love of technology to that time she learned to code using candy while dining with her family at Sue’s Tech Kitchen. A mom can dream, right?

Sue’s Tech Kitchen launched this week at the Tomorrow Building on Georgia Avenue in Chattanooga.

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Randi Zuckerberg believes in being a three-dimensional woman of many titles. She is the Founder & CEO of Zuckerberg Media, a boutique marketing firm and production company. Prior to founding her own company, Randi worked at a tiny internet company you may have heard of, called Facebook, where she created and ran the social media pioneer's marketing programs from 2005-2011.

She is the author of two books: Dot Complicated, a NYTimes Best Seller, discusses Randi's personal journey on the front lines of Facebook and her thoughts on how technology is changing our lives. The book inspired a weekly business radio show "Dot Complicated with Randi Zuckerberg" on SiriusXM. Dot, a children's picture book, features an energetic, techy girl. In collaboration with Jim Henson Productions, Dot will air as an animated children's TV show on NBC Sprout this September.

Randi is a television host and producer. In 2011, she was nominated for an Emmy Award for her innovative blend of online/TV coverage of the US elections. In 2012, she executive produced a docuseries on Bravo about Silicon Valley's startup culture, and you can currently see her starring in "Quit Your Day Job" on NBC's Oxygen, where she mentors and invests in entrepreneurs. She also regularly appears on the Today Show.

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What do you say to that? Welcome to town!

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