September 11, 2012 By Sarah Rich
With access to ultra high-speed Internet, startup capital and free lodging for more than three months, what types of applications or tech ideas could be created? Chattanooga, Tenn., wanted to find out.
The city launched Gig Tank in May, a challenge deemed “part startup accelerator, part think tank and part contest” for entrepreneurs and students to spend the summer in Chattanooga and develop ideas for applications based on the gigabit per second broadband access available in the city. Chattanooga has branded itself the “Gig City,” based on the super-fast Internet connection speeds unveiled in late 2010.
The event was overseen by the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce. Two winning teams were chosen by a 12-judge panel at the conclusion of the contest in August. Local technology professionals served as mentors to assist the teams. Teams were divided into catagories: entrepreneurial and student.
The top entrepreneurial team came from Banyan — a Tampa, Fla.-based tech startup — which created an ultra-high bandwidth data sharing platform for scientific researchers. That effort earned Banyan the contest’s top prize of $100,000, said J. Ed. Marston, vice president of marketing for the Chamber of Commerce.
Banyan’s data-sharing platform is designed to let scientists share massive data sets between proprietary tools and applications. “It doesn’t matter if you’re using a Microsoft product or an Apple product to do your text editing, [Banyan’s] application serves as a platform for allowing the massive data sharing across whatever applications the scientists may be using,” Marston said.
The top student team earned $50,000 for creating Babel Sushi, a crowdsourced language application that translates conversations nearly in real time. “That was done by a couple of young women, and their concept was basically live translation of spoken language,” Marston said. “They did a demonstration in which the presenter was speaking in Japanese and it was being translated in real time into English.”
The event attracted angel and venture investors interested in the possibility of launching ideas developed during the event into full-scale businesses, but no official agreements between investors and participants have been put into place yet, Marston said.
According to the Gig Tank’s official website, each team selected to participate was offered $15,000 in investment capital as well as free lodging in Chattanooga for the duration of the competition.
A total of eight entrepreneurial and 11 student teams participated in the contest but worked on separate tracks. Both tracks of the contest spent 14 weeks developing their applications and building out business plans.
Robyn Ready, one of the panel’s judges and a project manager for the X Prize Foundation, said Banyan and Babel Sushi were clear front-runners for the competition.
“We were interested in a well thought-out plan from the teams in terms of what it is they were trying to do, their target, their audience and we were looking for as complete a plan as possible,” Ready said. “Not only that, but we were also looking for information in terms of why would you need or why would you locate in an area that has a gigabit network? What about your particular proposition requires the gigabit network?”
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