Yesterday in Chattanooga, Banyan, Babel Sushi, and Iron Gamer captured $160,000 in prize money at the demo day that capped the city's summer-long Gig Tank competition.
As I wrote earlier this week, Chattanooga is reaching out in multiple ways to make people aware of the possibilities its city-wide, fiber-based gigabit Internet access will enable. The Gig Tank program had as its explicit goal encouraging separate teams of entrepreneurs and students to think broadly and deeply about what kinds of applications gigabit-per-second connectivity makes possible.
Banyan beat out seven other firms for the $100,000 prize in the entrepreneurial section of the competition. The company's software enables researchers to track, organize, and share their work over a fast network -- version control with a dashboard for researchers.
In the student competition, the two-woman team calling their company Babel Sushi took the $50,000 prize. The company is developing a cloud-based, crowd-sourcing app that does near-real-time translation between languages.
The four media-focused entrepreneurial teams competed for a third prize, worth $10,000, sponsored by Warner Brothers Digital Media. The winner was Iron Gamer, a Chattanooga-based company offering a social gaming experience around interactive streaming content and live competitive events.
Demo days are becoming common everywhere as startup accelerators spread far beyond their traditional bases in Silicon Valley, Boston, Research Triangle, Austin, etc. -- as Gary Stock's recent dispatch from Kalamazoo confirms. Nibletz ("the voice of startups everywhere else") counts 300,000 startups outside of Silicon Valley, and chronicled the three demo days occurring in Tennessee alone this month: at Chattanooga, Memphis, And Nashville.
The Gig Tank demo day was singular in that significant prize money was involved, in addition to the incentives offered to the contestants. Each entrepreneurial team got $15,000 in seed money, and the students enjoyed free room and board. (The students had been recruited in a viral Internet campaign called the Geek Hunt.)
Banyan's three participants in the Gig Tank were Toni Gemayel, Travis Staton, and TJ Weigel. They are based in Tampa, FL and were on a road trip when they stopped in Chattanooga for lunch. A quick Google of the city turned up news about the Gig Tank, and they applied the next day. Gemayel noted later that the team is pretty competitive and probably would have applied even if there hadn't been any money involved. Yesterday afternoon, fresh from Banyan's win, Gemayel described the Gig Tank experience as "a two-year MBA rolled into three months."
Babel Sushi is Nicole Newman from New Jersey, attending Dartmouth College, and Cintia Kotsubo from Brazil, doing an exchange program at Tennessee Tech University. Kotsubo speaks English, Portuguese, and Japanese (and possibly a few other languages), and served as the input for a live language-translation demo the duo mounted. Before the invited audience of 500, the demo went wrong, but the pair recovered, made the audience laugh, and earned the judges' respect. The president of Startup Tennessee said that is what entrepreneurship is all about and that he would "back them any day," according to local news site Nooga.com. Babel Sushi got a standing ovation when their win was announced.
Iron Gamer is the third startup of founder Aaron Welch and partner Darwyn Siplin. The company is using Chattanooga's fast connectivity to serve multiple streams of HD video to participants and audience members in online gaming competitions.
The Gig Tank demo day felt like a watershed in the progress of this budding entrepreneurial city's campaign for mindshare among the geek demographic.