Stephen Culp is a founder of Smart Furniture, Delegator, Causeway, Chattanooga STAND, a founding partner of the Chattanooga Renaissance Fund, and a believer in an entrepreneurial approach to everything.
As a former U.S. Naval Reserve officer, Peace Corps Volunteer and attorney, Stephen has served as a local advisor or director for the Company Lab, Trust for Public Land, CreateHere, Chattanooga 3D, RiverCity Company, the Chamber of Commerce, InnovateHere, the American Lung Association, the Theatre Centre, Chattanooga STAND, and Causeway, a nonprofit supporting civic entrepreneurism. In 2010 he represented the Chattanooga region as a Marshall Fellow in Europe, and in 2012 he will become a trustee of the Lyndhurst Foundation.
An NCAA Division I fencer in college, Stephen graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with Highest Distinction, ranked 8th in a class of 4,000. While studying abroad in 1989 and ‘90, he produced an on-site photo & audio journal of the political revolutions breaking out across Eastern Europe. Traveling in Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East and West Berlin (vs. sitting in class), he spent Christmas 1989 hammering pieces off the Berlin Wall, pieces he keeps to this day.
In 1992, after a short research project for the United Nations, Stephen joined the United States Peace Corps. While learning Hungarian and teaching high school in a small town in Hungary, his school and colleagues named him Teacher of the Year.
Stephen returned to the U.S. to earn a degree at Stanford Law School, also completing a graduate fellowship at the Stanford Center on Conflict and Negotiation, studying international terrorism. He worked briefly for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington, DC, and again as an Intelligence Research Specialist for the FBI Olympic Squad in Atlanta 1996, where he ran a leg of the Olympic torch relay.
Starting in 1998 in a Stanford professor's garage, Stephen set out to change an industry by inventing the first patented Smart Furniture®, pioneering the web-based “Design on Demand®” model. Applying the Peace Corps mantra to help others to help themselves, his goal was (and is) to put design directly in the hands of consumers, bringing custom design to a whole new market-- everyone. Today, Smart Furniture is an industry leader in innovation, personalized design, customer service, and marketplace ethics.
In 2001, Stephen moved Smart Furniture to the renaissance city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and remains actively engaged as Chairman. As one of the older members of a young team, he remains chief purveyor of stories that begin with “Hey whippersnapper-- in my day, we had to...” in order to keep all the talented whippersnappers in line.
Building on the belief in the power of people to help themselves, in 2008 Stephen co-founded Chattanooga STAND, one of the country's largest community visioning efforts, and in 2010 launched Causeway, a 501c3 organization designed to empower civic entrepreneurs, efficiently and transparently. In 2011 Stephen became a General Partner of the Renaissance Fund to foster local entrepreneurial growth, and (along with Delegator) helped launch the successful Gig City effort. In 2012, Stephen launched the "CF Smackdown", to help find a cure for cystic fibrosis patients like his daughter-- within the decade.
Stephen was born in Birmingham, Alabama, youngest of five boys, and is now, finally, married, to one of his heroes, Karen. Their baby, Lily, is the light of their lives. His other interests include technology, international affairs, athletics, and asking too many questions. He has climbed the Grand Teton in Wyoming and Mt. Kilimanjaro, is (or was) an avid surfer, and holds a black belt, occasionally competing in sparring tournaments. He appeared on the November 2004 cover of Inc. Magazine, won a penguin-naming contest at the Tennessee Aquarium, and used to speak several languages, but now they’re all mixed up in his head. Finally, Stephen can tell you what happens when you (1) roll a forklift perpendicular over a drainage ditch, (2) drive 30,000lbs of inventory across the country in a truck rated for 10,000lbs, and (3) drive away from a gas station with the pump still in the tank, twice.