Michael Castellano and Garrett Schaefer have been moving at a dizzying rate all week, probably all month, perhaps since arriving at GigTank in late May after coming from Silicon Valley, where making a living, particularly of the startup variety, demands breathtaking stamina and a steadfast belief that you're The Next Big Thing.
It's a steamy mid-July afternoon, but Co.Lab's offices are cool. The room is cramped and buzzing with a quiet energy, like the pressure from a storm before it cracks open the sky. Demo Day, Gig Tank's denouement, is less than a week away, on July 28, when startups get a chance first to woo investors and then to win over the public.
Finishing a salad, Castellano, the 30-year-old CEO of Engajer, consults a local filmmaker on video production for one of his company's clients, Providence College. Garrett Schaefer, Engajer's 31-year-old project manager, taps away at a keyboard. Co.Lab is home base for 14 startups from across the country going through its business accelerator program, GigTank.
"Here's what comes to mind for me: a virtual tour of the athletics department," says filmmaker Robert Ashton Winslow, one of many local human resources Co.Lab has recruited to help the startups. Castellano listens. The clock is pushing 1 p.m., when the Engajer duo is scheduled to meet with their mentor Tony Perri.
A 20-second walk takes Castellano and Schaefer to Co.Lab's conference room. Perri comes in a minute later. Talk starts swiftly regarding spreadsheets, payment methods and DocuSign. Order forms and invoices.
"Are both necessary?" asks Perri, a Chattanooga marketing professional who meets with the team regularly.
"The order forms spell out what they are buying," Castellano replies. "A lot of people need invoices to pay us."
Schaefer takes notes on his laptop, or at least looks like he is.
"If I had a magic wand, it would all be done online," Castellano concludes.
A Santa Clara University graduate, Castellano launched Engajer in 2012, years after starting his first video-production business in his dorm. Engajer, based in Menlo Park, Calif., builds interactive videos that allow viewers to choose what they want to see, in the order they want to see it. It also offers analytics so that customers that have Engajer videos can use viewing patterns to their benefit.
The startup already has raised $1.8 million and is looking to raise another $3 million. Its software developers are in India, and four employees are in Menlo Park.
Engajer is one of GigTank's more mature startups by any measure and by the admission of Co.Lab. Its clients include business heavyweights LiftMaster, the company known for its garage-access systems, and CoreLogic, the publicly traded financial and real-estate data company.
What Is GigTank?
GigTank is an accelerator based in Chattanooga for startups developing ultra-high-bandwidth business applications. Hosted by Co.Lab, the nonprofit organization formally known as The Company Lab, the annual program brings innovators from across North America to Chattanooga each summer to develop next-generation companies. All GigTank startup teams and specialists receive free housing from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, free workspace and on-the-ground guidance from industry experts and national thought leaders in broadband and entrepreneurship.
What is Demo Day?
GigTank culminates with Demo Day, during which startup teams pitch their business concepts to investors, along with the media and the public. This year, the event features a keynote address from Robert Tercek, a global thought leader on digital media innovation and a former executive at MTV, Sony and the Oprah Winfrey Network.
When: Tuesday, July 28
2 p.m. Registration & VIP/Investor Preview
3 p.m. VIP/Investor Pitch Session
5 p.m. Public Registration, Networking & Dinner
6 p.m. Public Pitch Showcase
8:15 p.m. Keynote Address by Robert Tercek
8:50 p.m. Award Presentation
Where: Girls Preparatory School, 205 Island Ave., Chattanooga, 37405
Registration: Free, www.thegigtank.com
Unlike past years, GigTank's 2015 cohort, the fourth, was curated to reflect a broad range of entrepreneurial ambitions, skill sets and geographies. GigTank leaders scouted for and selected teams to be part of the program. Castellano and GigTank's director, Alex Lavidge, formerly with Chattanooga startup Variable, were business acquaintances.
The trio in the conference room are now headed for The Tank, Co.Lab's smaller meeting space, just down the hall; a different group needs the conference room. When they arrive in the frosty-glass and brick-walled space, Castellano and Schaefer sit across from each other, with a seat for Perri next to Schaefer -- same as in the conference room. "We like to surround him," Schaefer jokes before Perri steps in a few seconds later.
"I like this room better," Perri says.
"It's more cozy," Castellano agrees.
It's about to get cozier.
Castellano has a 1:30 p.m. interview with Tom Ballard of website Teknovation. When Ballard arrives, activity splits to either side of the small table. On one side, Castellano commands his silver laptop to open a video Engajer created for a California state political candidate, so that Ballard can get a feel for the non-linear video experience. "You're in the driver seat," Castellano tells Ballard.
On the other side, Perri and Schaefer go over operational issues, though it's hard to catch more than fragmented sentences with Castellano filling in Ballard on Engajer's genesis.
By 2 p.m. Schaefer is getting anxious because that's the hour for a daily check-in with the crew in Menlo Park. He and Castellano have to head back to the conference room, so the trio stand to leave. But Ballard wants a photo. They shuffle back to the table and sit down again, talking so their interaction can be documented by the camera, which Ballard declares is not working, after several clicks turn the viewfinder black, and then black again.
Castellano invites Perri to The Daily Standup call. It is a focused update on what each team member is doing. Then, by 2:25 p.m., Castellano and Schaefer are headed to Cornerstone Community Bank a mile or so away. They feed the parking meter a few coins and are inside by 2:30 p.m., for a meeting that Rick Hitchcock at Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel set up, though it was Perri who made the connection for Engajer.
Engajer would be happy to get a line of credit to cover short-term needs, but banks are not typically jazzed on lending to startups. Castellano knows this, but sees no downside in spending an hour with with a senior lender who asks questions you'd expect of one: Can you send me 2013 and 2014 tax returns, a balance sheet and projections? Absolutely, Castellano replies.
The day's work is far from done, and it's 3:45 p.m. There's another call at 4 p.m., a reoccurring scrum, and Castellano will be on more business calls, while Schaefer responds to emails. Later tonight they will head to RanDesign Media in Ringgold, Ga. Engajer forged a production partnership with the company after arriving at GigTank. Castellano spent the day looking like a mascot for his company, in a bright orange t-shirt that spelled "engajer" in white letters. For good reason: At RanDesign he'll film a new follow-up "engajer," as the startup calls its videos, about itself, which features him in company gear. Dressed for the evening as well, he's sure not to need time to change.
Contact Mitra Malek at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MitraMalek.
GigTank 2015 teams
Adagio - Chattanooga
Adagio is developing an online platform for multi-channel audio applications, bringing new possibilities for web-based collaboration and rich media experiences. Initial applications include a web-based collaborative multi-track recording studio and an interactive music education tool.
The Ark Labs - Florence, Ala.
The Ark Labs is a platform that improves water efficiency in residential homes. The technology leverages artificial intelligence software in conjunction with smart devices to conserve water.
Axon Dynamics (formerly CanSoft Communications) - Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
Axon Dynamics is a network solutions provider that is creating a vendor-neutral network orchestration platform. The company is bringing the future of software-defined networking and network function visualization into today.
BDI Labs - Huntsville, Ala.
Believe, Design, Innovate Laboratories (BDI Labs) is an electronics engineering company focused on the Internet of Things. The company's leading product, the MediaBit, is an HDMI device that tracks TV usage to generate statistics on consumers' viewing habits. Those measures include content reports, as well as viewing duration, time stamps and more.
bluField - Nashville
bluField, Inc. has developed a brand-agnostic, patent-pending, interconnected system of Bluetooth beacon networks that creates a high-resolution grid of a real-world geographic area. With its ability to "connect the constellation of beacons," bluField delivers active content to Bluetooth-enabled devices based on users' location and behavior.
Branch Technology - Chattanooga
Branch Technology 3-D prints buildings using novel extrusion technology, conventional construction materials and large-scale robotics. The company is taking 3-D printing to a new level, creating mass customization of prefabricated wall panels to democratize design freedom for normal construction projects.
Engajer - Menlo Park, Calif.
Engajer is an interactive video platform that accelerates sales, customer support and training by enabling users to quickly connect with the content they choose. Deep analytics track each viewer's interaction, compiling prioritized leads for effective campaign management while integrating with standard marketing automation.
Evolvr - Knoxville
Evolvr develops interactive virtual reality content to enable real estate groups and their clients to immerse themselves in potential properties. Stereoscopic 3-D images and video are captured and composed into customized virtual reality experiences.
GigTank-UTC Fellowship Team - Chattanooga
In partnership with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, GigTank annually devotes one spot in its program to a team of local researchers and students. This year's team is developing a transformational big-data platform connected to an array of sensors integrated with innovative mobile devices capable of performing real-time analytics. This smart system has wide applications in rehabilitation care and sports injury and will also leverage Chattanooga's gigabit network and GENI rack.
Matter Cafe (formerly Local Flows) - Oxford, UK
Matter Cafe envisions a future where local fabrication is fed by rich, local materials markets. The company believes that open data is the key to this future. Matter Cafe is a platform for user-generated data on new and experimental materials for digital fabrication. It provides communities with tools to collect material data locally and share it globally.
Paradrop - Madison, Wis.
Paradrop is a software platform that brings the cloud closer to home. The company is pioneering technology for smarter routers in the home and office, focusing on the latest groundbreaking trends that are evolving the Internet today.
Perfomatix Innovations - Atlanta
Perfomatix Innovations is a global IT solutions provider and the creator of MFORCE, a complete mobile workforce management and service request platform. MFORCE helps organizations optimize the service request management process and improve overall workforce productivity, response time and customer satisfaction.
PlanIT Impact - Kansas City, Mo.
PlanIT Impact is a Web application that allows architects and planners to better understand how a building or respective area will impact the environment. The tool generates early performance calculations related to energy and water usage, stormwater infiltration, greenhouse gas emissions, transportation, building mix, quality of life and potential ROI.
VortexT - Oak Ridge
VortexT(R) apps are designed to solve the challenge of information overload that professionals are facing today in virtually every field of business. The Vortext(R) healthcare app, the "Information Overload Solution for Healthcare Professionals," is the first in what will be a series of mobile applications powered by disruptive big-data analytics technology developed at one of the nation's leading science laboratories, Oak Ridge National Lab.