published Friday, August 10th, 2012

Startups capture gig prizes for use of high-speed Web (with video)

The team members behind Banyan, T.J. Weigel, Travis Staton and Toni Gamayel, left to right, accept their $100,000 prize Thursday. The summerlong GigTank competition culminated in the GigTank Demo Day, where 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 comprised 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.
The team members behind Banyan, T.J. Weigel, Travis Staton and Toni Gamayel, left to right, accept their $100,000 prize Thursday. The summerlong GigTank competition culminated in the GigTank Demo Day, where 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 comprised 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.
GigTank holds demo day, $160,000 given away
GigTank, a group of local businesses encouraging entrepreneurship that takes advantage of Chattanooga's 1-gigabit-per-second Internet speed, hosted the first-ever demo day Thursday. The demo day featured eight groups of entrepreneurs pitching their ideas to potential investors, as well as five student groups. With funding from Warner Bros., the Lamp Post Group and CO.LAB, more than $160,000 was given away for the best ideas.
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TJ Weigel may speed up the search for the cure for cancer.

And hasten discoveries in particle physics. Maybe even help solve the energy crisis faster.

After 100 days in Chattanooga working tirelessly in the city's GigTank competition, his company came out on top and walked away Thursday night with a $100,000 prize.

"Some of these groups are so damn good," he said moments after he was handed the oversized check. "Before they announced the winners I was shaking."

Weigel's company, Banyan, was up against seven other medical, entertainment and public safety-focused companies to see which could come up with the best business model centered around Chattanooga's gigabit Internet speed, unrivaled in the United States.

Banyan unites researchers across the country, allowing them to work on one massive research project simultaneously. The ability to collaborate on a project shared amongst the computers of everyone involved will cut countless hours wasted downloading and repeating research already completed.

"The tools that they have to share and collaborate on their data are surprisingly primitive," said Toni Gamayel, one of Banyan's co-founders. "Even when this process is going smoothly, it's slow and inefficient."

A genome mapping project, for example, can take up a terabyte of space, or more than 1,000 gigabytes. It would be faster for a researcher in Chattanooga to put the data on a hard drive, go to the airport and fly it to California than it would be for the average download.

Banyan will take advantage of gigabit network speeds to store the massive amounts of data in the cloud and allow collaborators to look at whatever they want, whenever they want and track what changes are made.

Banyan still hopes to raise another $650,000 to get the project off the ground, but this prize goes a long way toward reaching that goal. The group plans to move back to its Tampa Bay, Fla., hometown and hire additional staff to keep the progress going.

In the future, Weigel said he'll be recommending Chattanooga to every tech startup he meets.

"Chattanooga will always be in the back of my mind," he said.

Nicole Newman, a New Jersey native, may be moving to Chattanooga soon. She was part of the separate student GigTank competition. Her company, Babel Sushi, won a $50,000 prize Thursday, and she hopes to continue the work in the Scenic City.

"I feel like they're trying to become the next Silicon Valley," she said. "I think it'll happen."

Babel Sushi wowed competition judges from tech leaders such as IBM, Cisco and Mozilla with its real-time voice translations. The company uses the gig to feed its translating service context clues to help understanding.

Chattanooga natives Iron Gamer also came out of the competition with some money. The amateur video game competition network earned $10,000 from Warner Bros. Digital Media for its goal of creating communities centered on video games, particularly in places like college campuses.

Several angel investors and venture capital groups from across the country were among hundreds on hand Thursday to see what Chattanooga had to offer, and several investors were impressed with what they saw.

Keith Gregg, chairman of Brentwood, Tenn.,-based JRG Ventures, said Chattanooga is just scratching the surface of what can be done with its gigabit technology. He expects the city will drive innovation and attract major technology companies in the near future.

"Keeping the energy level past this is paramount," he said. "If you do that, you will be successful."

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