Cook: The geeks shall inherit Gig City

Cook: The geeks shall inherit Gig City

February 6th, 2012 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

Put it on your calendar: For 100 days this summer, some of the smartest people in North America will live, work and play in Chattanooga, their frontal lobes buzzing like beehives as they bear down on one central question so important it may determine our future as a city.

What the heck can you do with a gig?

Chattanooga has the fastest Internet speed in North America. This Usain Bolt-like broadband speed is known as gigabit and is 50 times faster than the Internet at your home.

Our status as a Gig City has made headlines across the globe, yet so far, we're not too sure what to do with it. It's kind of like having an Indy car in your garage, but you can't find the car keys.

"So we created a geek hunt," Charlie Brock said.

Yes, you heard him: geeks. Bill Gates. Steve Jobs. Lisbeth Salander. The folks sitting next to you in high school math: As you sweat through your No. 2 pencil, they're working nuclear physics with one eye shut.

Brock is head entrepreneur of Company Lab, a Main Street think tank that encourages entrepreneurship in Chattanooga and is searching high and low -- all around the world -- for the most intelligent tech-inventors to come to the 100-day Gig Tank competition this summer.

The challenge: Create the most exciting, vital and useful application or invention that's based on our city's gig capabilities.

"We feel like we've got an 18- to 36-month head start on the rest of the country," said Brock. "We need to get people here and figure out how to take advantage of the opportunity we have that we may never have again."

So Brock and other Chattanooga leaders put together the Gig Tank. Filling the room, he hopes, will be big thinkers from across the globe, toiling over how to create the most amazing and exciting applications and chasing after $150,000 in prize money.

"Alcatel Lucent is offering $100,000 in prize money. Cisco will be part of this, the National Science Foundation and the Annenberg Innovation Lab," said Brock. "People are now engaged with us that, two years ago, never would have returned our phone call."

The Gig Tank will be like a mosh pit for ideas, each of which could radically transform our daily life in Chattanooga. Don't picture absent-minded professors, pacing around Main Street, bumping into telephone poles while staring at clipboards and talking about flex capacitors and Marty McFly.

"We've heard from people all around the world, particularly students from MIT, Stanford and Cornell," Brock said. "They may think of solutions we've never even considered."

Think about what happens when the best thinkers are given access to our Barry Bonds-strength Internet and decide to work on traffic congestion, crime prevention, education, health care and energy issues.

"The best and brightest will be working on apps around something we have that nobody else in the country has," said Brock.

The deadline for applications -- they'll accept 15 students and 10 teams -- is March 1. If you "tag" a geek -- identify to Brock an innovative thinker who winds up participating in the summer Tank -- you'll get $1,000.

Those accepted will receive free housing, complete access to the gig, top mentors from around the United States and, Brock hopes, a heck of a good time in Chattanooga.

"We hope they have such a great experience and what they develop is so dependent on what we have here that they will stay here as the only place they can work," said Brock. "This is a chance to put Chattanooga on the map regionally and nationally with entrepreneurs."

That's really it. The future of Chattanooga will depend on intelligence. If we can attract the smartest people in the most creative fields, then the 21st century will begin to unfold here. We won't be playing catch-up.

We need to create a Geek's Occupy Movement. We need the most visionary thinkers -- the smartest cats in the room -- to occupy our town. And that happens when an infrastructure -- like the nation's fastest Internet -- is built to support them.

In return, Chattanooga explodes with innovation and creativity, kind of like the lines in a Jackson Pollock painting: everything, everywhere.

It's like the next Waterfront Renaissance for our city.

David Cook can be reached at