Making Waves and Whiskey: FreightWaves and Chattanooga Whiskey Tie for Spirit of Innovation Award

The Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce and a volunteer-led committee recently honored both Chattanooga Whiskey and FreightWaves as 2019 Spirit of Innovation Award recipients, the second tie in the award’s nearly 20-year history.

The Chattanooga Chamber champions member businesses and promotes regional economic growth. Our mission demands we lead efforts which create a healthy business climate, including promoting and celebrating innovative business practices.

Innovation drives the financial success and global competitiveness of local industry. By highlighting successfully implemented innovations, we celebrate what makes the Chattanooga region an ideal place to build businesses, products and processes of the future.

The Spirit of Innovation Award applauds local innovation that drives economic growth, positive impact and a resilient economy. A volunteer-led committee of community business and tech leaders selects Spirit of Innovation Award finalists who meet these criteria:

  • The company or organization maintains a meaningful presence in the Chattanooga region through company headquarters or the innovation being developed here.
  • The innovation is demonstrably new or different from what exists in the marketplace.
  • The innovation has generated (booked and received) sales revenue of at least $50,000 by the application due date.
  • The innovation had its first sale no more than 3 years prior to the application due date.

Once the committee selects finalists, site visits and a thorough rubric guide the award recipient selection. The rubric evaluates the organization’s market validation and analysis, product innovation, business model, financial projections, talent, commitment to supporting our community and more.

“Our two recipients are very different and represent two very different industries. They both exemplify the true spirit of innovation this award recognizes and celebrates,” says Dan Gilmore, Spirit of Innovation Award committee chair. “Chattanooga and the surrounding area are home to a diverse range of driven and innovative people and organizations. It's no surprise that our six outstanding finalists include companies representing the logistics, medical and workplace technology, outdoor activities and distilling industries.”

Chattanooga Whiskey and FreightWaves were selected from among six finalists.


FreightWaves leads in freight and logistics news. By providing real-time data to logistics markets and contextualizing it into useful stories and information, FreightWaves helps companies make informed, up-to-date decisions critical to global supply-chains.

Within the freight industry, most shipping decisions are made within 48 hours, and typically rely on data that is, at best, weeks if not months old. By using dated information, logistics companies experience slow-downs and problems that could’ve been avoided with up-to-date data. 

FreightWaves solves that problem. Founder Craig Fuller knows the freight industry, and knew that to run as efficiently as possible, logistics companies needed access to real-time information about shipping. 

“I was born with diesel in my blood,” Fuller says. His father, Max Fuller, founded US Xpress, one of the largest trucking companies in North America. Before FreightWaves, Fuller founded and managed the Xpress Direct division of US Xpress Enterprises, and later founded TransCard, a fleet payment processor sold to U.S. Bank. 

In 2016, he established FreightWaves, which began as an online blog for freight industry news. Now they employ over 145 industry experts, from journalists to software engineers, all with the goal of faster, better information gathering and exporting. 

FreightWaves’ SaaS platform, SONAR, gives users valuable insights into freight markets through near-time data analyt­ics, the first ever of its kind. Of all the data in SONAR, 93% of it is proprietary to FreightWaves and showcases trends in 135 different markets around the country, giving users more context and insight into market dynamics and directions than ever before.

“The team that is sourcing our data, selling our data, building our software and communicating the value of the platform have all come from the front lines of freight and logistics,” he says. “They understand the value and importance of having deep, time-relevant information given to the people making quick freight decisions.”

Aside from seasoned industry workers, FreightWaves’ success comes from being based in Chattanooga. 

Often called the Silicon Valley of Trucking in the logistics community, Chattanooga is not only a hub of transportation and tech innovation, but two of the world’s leading trucking companies were founded here. 

“Being based in Chattanooga, the greatest city in the country for freight, we have access to an experienced and talented logistics community to build around,” Fuller says. 

FreightWaves is the first of its kind in the freight industry, and has become the leading source of information for logistics market participants. The Spirit of Innovation Award indicates their importance to the freight industry. 

“It’s an honor to be recognized alongside some amazing companies,” Fuller says. “FreightWaves seeks to be a leader not only in our industry, but in our city. We feel strongly that this is only the beginning for FreightWaves and Chattanooga.”

Chattanooga Whiskey

Chattanooga Whiskey’s story began in 2011 with a mission to bring back whiskey to the people. Founders Tim Piersant and Joe Ledbetter innovated from the start, changing the law to make it legal to produce their product in Chattanooga. In 2011, Piersant and Ledbetter launched a community-powered Vote Whiskey campaign to change Prohibition-era laws from the 1920s and 30s prohibiting the production of spirits in Hamilton County.

“The fact that we were founded as having to innovate (from the beginning) definitely inspired us to continue with that being part of our DNA,” Piersant says. “Changing laws set us on a trailblazing path that we never wanted to get off of.”

Following the success of the Vote Whiskey campaign, Chattanooga Whiskey became the first distillery in Chattanooga in a century, located in the heart of downtown. The Experimental Distillery on Market Street opened in 2014 followed by the opening of the larger-scale Riverfront Distillery in 2017.

With over 100 different barrels maturing in their aging cellar, every visit to the Experimental Distillery is an exploration of the past, present and future of hand-crafted bourbon. In 2015, Chattanooga Whiskey began the process of crafting a signature style of Straight Bourbon Whiskey called Tennessee High Malt. The process of producing this whiskey involves three specialty malts and an extended fermentation process followed by special aging process designed to produce a whiskey unique to Chattanooga.

Soon after distribution began in July of this year, Chattanooga Whiskey 91 and CASK 111 received gold and double gold medals from the 2019 SIP Awards, an international spirits competition.

“It’s taken us eight years to get to this point where we can finally say that 100 percent of what Chattanooga Whiskey sells is 100 percent Chattanooga-made,” Piersant said “That’s taken a lot of our time, energy and resources just to get here.

“The transition from both product and package has been a daunting one. Now it’s really about focusing on producing that product the best way we possibly can.”

After bringing whiskey production back to Chattanooga after 100 dry years, Chattanooga Whiskey continues to innovate in the modern market while keeping alive our area’s history of distilling premium spirits.

Piersant said he and his staff were honored and humbled to receive the 2019 Spirit of Innovation Award, which he sees as a testament to almost a decade after the company began its journey.

“To be eight years in and for Chattanooga to acknowledge the innovation that Chattanooga Whiskey as a company is so proud of, we feel loved,” he says. “We just want to say thank you for acknowledging that and that it wouldn’t be possible without the support of this community.”

Other Topics

If you were to take a quick survey of national headlines, you’d encounter gloom and doom-type discussions around commercial real estate. Much of this is thanks to the popularity of remote work, a trend accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic.   As…

Protege Chattanooga is a nine-month program that matches early-to-mid-career professionals with a red-carpet list of regional leaders. The end goal? Unforgettable connection among young professionals paired with a viable, noteworthy mentorship with real-world leaders.   It's all by design, as the…

To coincide with Earth Day weekend, Leadership Chattanooga's 40th annual class made history, spending the day doing what had never been done in program history.  One giant day of service.   Some 40 members of the 2023/2024 graduating class split into…

The Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's annual Small Business Awards sheds a light on local companies that serve as examples of excellence within our community and help us build a thriving Chattanooga. This week, we announced our winners at the…

When people hear the news – Melody Shekari was named the new head of the Women's Fund of Greater Chattanooga – they often say the same thing:  She's a perfect fit.  "A lot of people say it fits who I…

On April 18, Fleurette Fitch – a 21-year employee of Shaw Industries – was honored at a Washington DC gala for her outstanding manufacturing career. That evening, the Manufacturing Institute recognized Fitch as a Women MAKE Award honoree for her…

Sign up for weekly updates.