published Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

'Gig City' searches for Internet geeks in Chattanooga and beyond

Brad Rogers, a fiber-optics technician with Adesta LLC, opens an optical network terminal at a Signal Mountain residence before connecting EPB television, internet and phone service.
Brad Rogers, a fiber-optics technician with Adesta LLC, opens an optical network terminal at a Signal Mountain residence before connecting EPB television, internet and phone service.
Photo by John Rawlston.
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Chattanooga officials continued their push to rebrand Chattanooga as "Gig City" with a nationwide talent search for entrepreneurs and students who can create something that takes advantage of the fastest Internet speeds in the United States.

Up to 25 techies will compete for as much as $300,000 in cash and seed capital by building the best application for the city's gigabit Internet speeds, currently available throughout the city.

Called the Gig Tank, the start-up accelerator is similar to the local 48-hour launch program, where entrepreneurs are pushed to flesh out an idea in a short length of time.

Participants in the contest will have access to Chattanooga's gigabit network to test their ideas with real-world users, as well as access to a growing pool of developers, designers and investors.

The nation's fastest Internet has been available in Chattanooga for more than a year to 150,000 homes covering 600 square miles, but few efforts to directly capitalize on the technology have emerged.

Few users have signed up for the service, which Chattanooga's city-owned utility, EPB, built alongside its smart grid with a $111 million federal stimulus grant.

However, Chattanooga isn't alone in searching for applications for lightning-fast Web speeds.

Kansas City, where Google is still in the process of building a gigabit network, is "grappling with how to leverage Google's project to give Kansas City an economic edge over other markets," reported the Kansas City Star in early November.

Google has yet to even put a price on its network connection, the Star reported, even as Kansas City residents launch a "Gigabit Challenge."

But though Chattanooga is more than a year ahead of the competition, it finds itself in the same predicament: Lots of speed, few ideas.

Before finalists can compete for the Chattanooga prize in the May contest, they first must be found.

So Chattanooga officials are launching the "Geek Hunt," a Facebook and Twitter race to see who can tag "the geekiest, most brilliant friends in their social network," according to the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.

Best of all, tagging a geek's picture can earn money for the user.

"If you're the first person to tag a genius student or budding entrepreneur who applies and is chosen for the Gig Tank, we'll pay you a $1,000 finder's fee," said Jack Studer, partner at venture incubator Lamp Post Group. "We want to find the smartest and brightest tech geeks, so we're going straight to social media to hunt them down."

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about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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