published Sunday, April 13th, 2014

Spartan Systems: Pair of serial entrepreneurs return to Chattanooga after six years away

Benjamin Wald, right, and Tyler Jenks are founders of Spartan Systems, a software development company on Rossville Avenue.
Benjamin Wald, right, and Tyler Jenks are founders of Spartan Systems, a software development company on Rossville Avenue.
Photo by John Rawlston.
  • photo
    Spartan Systems is a software development company located on Rossville Avenue in the Southside area of downtown Chattanooga.
    Photo by John Rawlston.
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  • photo
    Steve Veltkamp works at Spartan Systems.
    Photo by John Rawlston.
    enlarge photo

TIMELINE

2007 Benjamin Wald and Tyler Jenks found Knetwit

2008 Knetwit moves to Chattanooga

2009 Knetwit shuts down

2011 Wald and Jenks found Spartan Systems

2014 Spartan Systems moves to Chattanooga

A pair of technology entrepreneurs who got an early taste of Chattanooga and decided the city wasn't for them have moved back six years later with a new company, new game plan and new enthusiasm for the Scenic City.

Benjamin Wald and Tyler Jenks are managing partners at Spartan Systems, a product development company that builds online, mobile and social platforms. Wald and Jenks founded Spartan Systems in Washington, D.C., in 2011 -- it's the pair's second company -- and have operated virtually for three years, growing to 26 employees.

But now, 12 of those employees will work at Spartan System's new headquarters on Chattanooga's Southside.

"One of our passions is working with the startups in Chattanooga, which is white hot right now," Jenks said. "Which is a big part of the reason we're back here and decided to put Spartan's headquarters here."

It's not the first time Wald and Jenks have landed in Chattanooga. In early 2008, the then 21-year-olds moved their startup, Knetwit, from an incubator in Michigan to Chattanooga, following a couple of key employees. Jenks and Wald dropped out of college together to start Knetwit, which aimed to be a knowledge sharing site for college students -- sort of a mix between Facebook and Wikipedia, where students could upload their class notes for other students to use.

The site promised to pay for each upload and revenue came from the site's ads. The idea prompted Bloomberg Businessweek to name Wald and Jenks as finalists for the year's best young entrepreneurs in the country.

But soon after raising $5 million in venture capital and moving south to Chattanooga, Knetwit went south in all the wrong ways. By 2009, the end was inevitable, and Knetwit folded.

"It's tough, failing," Wald said. "It's humbling, and makes you question a lot of things. That was a really difficult time for us."

In 2009, Chattanooga didn't have enough going on to keep Wald and Jenks in town. Wald took a job in Arlington, Va., as the executive director of a nonprofit. Jenks went back to college and finished his degree. But they never lost touch, and in 2011, they decided to jump back into business, launching Spartan in D.C.

"Spartan was our way of learning from the experience we'd gone through and doing something totally different," Wald said.

The company focuses on developing software and websites for companies in the healthcare, E-commerce, financial services industries, as well as for companies focused on social impact. But Spartan Systems also develops its own venture products in-house.

"So as we launch an E-commerce product, for example, we can do it very efficiently because we've launched 30 other E-commerce platforms," Wald said.

The pair will split time between Washington, D.C., and Chattanooga, despite the new headquarters in Chattanooga.

"While there is a lot of great opportunity in Chattanooga, we don't depend on finding all of our clientele in Chattanooga," Jenks said. "Out there we can command better rates, find bigger opportunities, and bring it back to Chattanooga for actual execution."

He added that he and Wald plan to invest in Chattanooga's startups and are impressed with how much more entrepreneurial activity is going on in Chattanooga now compared to six years ago.

"A lot of the reason for coming back is sort of as a thank you and nod to the Chattanooga community," Jenks said. "Now we're more equipped to help support the effort and the entrepreneurial explosion that's just starting to happen. The trail of gunpowder is going toward the powder keg very quickly."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com.

about Shelly Bradbury...

Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...

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