published Sunday, August 12th, 2012

Think fast: High speed web snares ideas, Draws investors to 'Gig City'

Tony Cain presents his Visuall project to the audience during Thursday's Demo Day on the last day of the summer-long GigTank competition. Each entrepreneurial team pitched their ideas to a panel of judges in hopes of winning a $10,000, $50,000, or $100,000 prize. Eight teams participated in the entrepreneur event and five student teams of college-aged competitors competed in the student division. Banyan, a project centered on cloud-based version control for collaborative research, won the grand prize.
Tony Cain presents his Visuall project to the audience during Thursday's Demo Day on the last day of the summer-long GigTank competition. Each entrepreneurial team pitched their ideas to a panel of judges in hopes of winning a $10,000, $50,000, or $100,000 prize. Eight teams participated in the entrepreneur event and five student teams of college-aged competitors competed in the student division. Banyan, a project centered on cloud-based version control for collaborative research, won the grand prize.
Photo by Jake Daniels.

Bright ideas

Thursday ended a summer-long competition between eight entrepreneur teams to build a game-changing business centered around Chattanooga's unrivaled gigabit Internet speeds. Here's what the competitors said about their businesses:

Banyan

(Entrepreneur winner — $100,000)

Idea: Cloud computing system allows researchers to share massive amounts of data in real time, promoting collaboration

Why use the gig? Today, researchers use online file sharing services, and sometimes mail hard drives, to share terabyte-sized data such as DNA maps. Banyan stores that data in the cloud, instantly updating work on every researcher’s machine without downloading files all over again.

Why is this a game changer? Researchers will be able to collaborate efficiently while documenting their work, facilitating faster development while easily highlighting which scientists deserve grant funding.

Future: All three of Banyan’s cofounders plan to return to their Tampa Bay, Fla., home where they will to continue development and hope to find more talented technology professionals.

Iron Gamer

(Warner Bros. Digital Media Award winner — $10,000)

Idea: Bring the excitement of professional video game competitions to amateur gamers with locally-focused online competitions

Why use the gig? Video games often require massive amounts of data transfer, so Iron Gamer will host its servers in Chattanooga to quickly route information from one player to another.

Why is this a game changer? Tens of thousands of video game fans attend competitions every year, but only a fraction of them play. Iron Gamer will host smaller-scale competitions, creating a minor league-style network involving casual players.

Future: The company has its headquarters in Chattanooga and will focus its first growth efforts in the region.

Argentab

Idea: Tablet computers which help nurses efficiently record data and learn processes vital to caring for and billing elderly patients

Why use the gig? Digitizing medical records is difficult because pen and paper is more versatile than computers. Gigabit speeds coupled with tablet mobility allow massive data transfers between nurses, hospitals and government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, saving time and money for all involved.

Why is this a game changer? Certified Nursing Assistants provide the bulk of elderly care but have high turnover. This system will allow new nurses to efficiently learn necessary services while streamlining data flow between caregivers and government programs.

Future: Argentab’s co-founders are from Derry, Ireland, but plan to travel between home and Chattanooga to continue development using the gig.

Ariagora

Idea: Create a form of music stock market where independent artists connect with fans who want to support their work and labels who want to lessen the risk of their investments

Why use the gig? High connection speeds help speed transactions

Why is this a game changer? Record labels and fans will be able to make small investments in artists they want to succeed. Their investments will appreciate as the music gains popularity, connecting fans and artists financially and mitigating risk for labels.

Future: Ariagora will launch a beta version of their platform when pending federal legislation comes into effect allowing the process.

Corpora

Idea: Pull public data from social media to give an immediate snapshot of disease outbreaks or the success of marketing campaigns

Why use the gig? Servers are Corpora’s main cost. With gigabit Internet speeds, the company can use servers more efficiently, reducing its costs by a magnitude of 170.

Why is this a game changer? Companies and government organizations can instantly check the thoughts of groups they’re concerned about. That allows health agencies to be proactive against disease outbreaks and companies to intelligently spend marketing dollars.

Future: Corpora plans to move to a market such as New York City with a dense base of potential customers. It may keep its servers in Chattanooga to take advantage of the gig.

HD Fantasy Sports

Idea: Allow fantasy sports users to interact through video

Why use the gig? Faster Internet speeds allow for more and higher-quality video streaming

Why is this a game changer? Competitive fantasy sports players will be able to elaborately trash talk one another, an integral part of the game for 71 percent of participants

Future: HD Fantasy Sports plans to focus on growing user and advertiser bases before launching for the 2013 NFL season.

Tikk.it

Idea:Put control of ticket sales in a band’s hands, reducing fees for fans and maximizing an artist’s revenue

Why use the gig? Higher speeds will help the online service run smoothly

Why is this a game changer? Artists will set their own ticket prices. Those artists and the venues where they play will gain a better understanding of their fan bases and expected show attendance.

Future: Tikk.it hopes to raise $250,000 to fund its next stages of its development.

Vigia

Idea: Help emergency first responders on college campuses communicate with victims using cell phone cameras and GPS capabilities

Why use the gig? Data and images are transmitted quickly, clearly and consistently, helping rescue pros make informed decisions and aiding evidence collection after a crime is committed.

Why is this a game changer? First responders will receive a wealth of information in-transit to the site of an emergency. Founder Anthony Guglielmo expects campuses to gain insurance benefits from its use and attract safety-conscious students.

Future: Vigia hopes to raise $500,000 to get the business going. The company expects to be cash positive after securing one of the schools it’s already working with from trial to paying customers.

Just above the historic wood-paneled lobby, in the ornate mirrored ballroom, a man is dancing in a grass skirt and coconut brassiere.

He's seductively swaying to Kermit the Frog's rendition of "Kokomo," as an army of investors looks on with a combination of grins and confused looks.

The final presentation at Chattanooga's GigTank is off to a hilarious start.

"The line between children's show and engaging presentation is not narrow, yet it is being crossed," tweeted Travis Ray Staton, co-founder of contest winner Banyan.

But the international audience didn't travel to Chattanooga for a typical corporate presentation. They came here for a surprise, for something completely new.

Companies rise and fall every day, and investors are always searching for tomorrow's Steve Jobs or the next Facebook.

"Being in Chattanooga today is like being in Silicon Valley in the '80s," said Bill Wallace, project director for U.S. Ignite.

Judging merely by the talent in the city on Thursday, he wasn't far from the truth.

Executives from Warner Brothers, Mozilla, IBM, Cisco and Alcatel-Lucent spent the day with investors from all over the U.S.

They trekked to the Sheraton Read House to find out what entrepreneurs can do with gigabit speed on the Internet and financial incentives ponied up by local groups.

Jared Nixon flew in from California to check out the GigTank pitches. He regularly invests in startups with his partners at Shark Branding, one of whom is a judge on the ABC show "Shark Tank."

"I'm impressed with everything overall," he said on Thursday. "All these ideas were pretty fleshed out."

Nixon came to Chattanooga to see what the gig was all about.

"Look at all the money that's already here," he said in a room full of venture capital and angel investors. "I think you're on the right track. It's kind of a best-kept secret. Now it's time to pull the curtain back."

The Contest

Thursday's contest was simple. The best idea gets cash -- and probably an investment.

On a neon-lit stage backed by a giant screen, inventors made their pitch to a panel of seasoned pros.

Emrys Landivar pitched Ariagora, a company that allows fans to fund and subsequently profit from music albums.

Kyle Grasser told investors about Tikk.it, his idea to bypass Ticketmaster and allow bands to sell directly to fans.

UTC student Tony Cain wants to take augmented reality technology to the next level.

The dozen or so entrepreneurs developed these ideas over the summer with unlimited bandwidth and start-up cash from Chattanooga investors.

As the only place in the Western Hemisphere with citywide gigabit Internet, Chattanooga has a distinct technological advantage -- for now.

"Kansas City is coming," said Roy Keith, board member at The Company Lab, referring to Google's efforts to offer gigabit Internet out west.

Officials want to capitalize on Chattanooga's current advantage, showcasing the city's entrepreneurial spirit while the world is still watching.

But Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield isn't worried about other cities catching up. He sent Kansas City officials invitations to come check out Chattanooga's GigTank.

"It wasn't entirely tongue and cheek," he said. "Anything they come up with, we're happy to jump on that and steal ideas."

The team

Colleges, non-profits, government officials and local companies kicked in cash, expertise and hundreds of hours of mentorship to propel the GigTank forward.

The GigTank program could mark the start of a larger cycle of innovation and investment in the Scenic City, which would create jobs, said Michael Burcham, head of Startup Tennessee.

"If you don't have a pipeline of new companies, you likely don't have a pipeline of new jobs," Burcham said.

Some of these startups will fail, as they always do. But that's the way these things work, said Tim Kelly, who owns several car dealerships and is an investor in the Chattanooga Renaissance Fund.

"Most of these will fail, but its fair to say that at least one of them won't," Kelly said. "The subtext here is that there is a genuine entrepreneurial culture here in Chattanooga."

However, entrepreneurs still need someone to invest in them if they are to succeed. They can't invent the next Groupon without money.

Investors come in different shapes and sizes. Some are looking for early-stage projects that only need $10,000. Others are waiting for a safer, more developed company that would be a good candidate for a multi-million dollar investment.

The gap

If Chattanooga is to retain these entrepreneurs, it needs so-called angel investors that are willing to spend several hundred thousand dollars to propel a project to profitability, said Alexis Tarumianz, an investor in startup company QuickCue.

"Getting that $300,000 to $400,000, that's the tough part," Tarumianz said. "That's the gap. When we fill that gap in this town, we'll be roaring."

The GigTank may have gone a long way toward filling that gap, said Deborah Magid, director of software strategy for IBM's venture capital group.

"If they're successful, that creates new jobs, and that creates a culture of risk-taking rather than a place where people are complacent," Magid said.

Most cities would kill for the type of interest investors are taking in Chattanooga right now, she said.

"The gig has become really well-known, not only in the local community but world-wide," she said. "And there are several companies here that we think are fundable."

At the end of the day, startup company Banyan won the $100,000 prize for its plan to aid researchers in coordinating their work. A team working on real-time voice translation won $50,000, and a group of gamers with a plan to coordinate local tournaments won $10,000.

"It's the end of the program, but now the really hard work begins," said Sheldon Grizzle, air-traffic controller at The Company Lab, which organized the event. "It's not whether you have a prize, it's whether customers and investors validate the idea by buying your product."

The future

The next step is securing funding. Banyon, for instance, needs $650,000 to move forward.

In the next several days, it's possible that they will, said Keith Gregg, chairman of Brentwood, Tenn.-based JRG Ventures.

"A good majority of the companies are ready to get their funding," Gregg said.

For organizers, it's time to start the whole process over again.

"It's not just a one and done thing," said Allen Davis, a partner at the Lamp Post Group. "We don't know yet what we're going to do, but it'll be even better next year."

Even if only a few of the entrepreneurs decide to keep their business here, the city still benefits, said Jack Studer, another partner at the Lamp Post Group.

"That's the great thing about all this," Studer said. "If they go back to wherever they're from, well, who wouldn't want to have a Chattanooga spokesperson going back to MIT?"

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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