Friday, August 1, 2014 · 10:26 p.m.
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In 2012, Chattanooga's gig made major headlines. (Photo: Staff)

At the end of 2011, leaders dubbed Chattanooga the "Gig City" because of its unique, 1-gigabit-per-second Internet speeds, and it seems the city hasn't been the same since. 

They created a business development competition called Gig Tank and offered cash prizes to the entrepreneurs and students who came up with the best idea utilizing the gig. 

And during the year, other similar events, such as Hackanooga, highlighted the gig and its city. 

After the announcement, there was a year of gig excitement that eventually slowed briefly when the value of the high-speed Internet came into question. 

But local leaders have continued to tout the feature and its benefits, and they recently announced the next Gig Tank competition. 

Gig coincides with economic growth
In September 2010, EPB and Alcatel-Lucent leaders announced that the only 1-gigabit broadband service in the country had become available citywide in Chattanooga.

At that time, EPB CEO Harold DePriest called the service “a groundbreaking commercial offering” that meant “tremendous opportunities for residents and businesses in the region,” in every arena from health care and industrial development to education, entertainment and communications technology.

And in the past two years, Chattanooga’s entrepreneurial community has flourished.

For example, Global Green Lighting, which uses smart grid and fiber optic technology, brought jobs to the area and has, in part, aimed to increase safety downtown.

Leaders with incubators and business development groups, such as The Company LabLamp Post GroupBusiness Development CenterUrban League of Greater Chattanooga and others, have helped create small businesses.

Chattanooga is hailed as a unique entrepreneurial hub. And the gig helped bring national attention. 

Gig excitement
Chattanooga's fiber optic network can deliver up to 1 gigabit-per-second speeds to more than 150,000 homes and businesses in a 600-square-mile area—and local leaders wanted to figure out how to harness that technology.

So, they created the Gig Tank competition. 

The effort was a public-private partnership that aimed to create jobs, capitalize on Chattanooga’s Internet services, spur innovative ideas and then implement those ideas in the Chattanooga market.

Leaders took applications for an entrepreneurial track and a student track. They offered cash prizes to anyone who found a "geek" who applied and was accepted to the Gig Prize contest. 

In March 2012, Chattanooga drew national publicity—MSNBC highlighted the Geek Hunt, and countless other publications took note of Chattanooga's entrepreneurial and technological scene. 

In June, Chattanooga was chosen as one of 25 others across the nation to partner in a White House initiative called US Ignite, which aims to promote United States leadership in developing uses for high-speed broadband Internet. 

By July, 11 student participants were in town working on projects for the Gig Tank competition. The worldwide search for the college students was dubbed the "Geek Hunt." When the hunt was over,  “geeks” joined the Gig Tank competition.

And then, in August, it was time for Demo Day—the event in which all the Gig Tank participants would pitch their ideas in front of hundreds. 

The biggest prize of $100,000 went to the entrepreneur team Banyan, a cloud-based control system for collaborative research. The product aims to make it easier for researchers at universities nationwide to share information.

Although it wasn't clear initially if Banyan would be working in Chattanooga, leaders recently announced they would be making the Gig City the company's home base. 

Babel Sushi, a real-time, free translation app, earned the $50,000 student prize. 

The Gig Tank event was, by most accounts, a success. Hundreds of people gathered at the Read House to watch Demo Day, and leaders said the event was like Chattanooga: vibrant and innovative. 

In addition to local media, several national media outlets covered the event, J. Ed. Marston, vice president of marketing and communication for the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, said, according Nooga.com archives. 

The chamber hosted a reporter from The Economist during Demo Day, and leaders also coordinated with ReadWriteWebShark BrandingBusinessNewsDaily, CIO magazineGigabit Nation, Develop in the Cloud and Nibletz.com, Marston said.

Gig dissolution? 
After Demo Day, for a couple months, the media coverage seemed to fade a bit, until October, when it came more in the form of criticism than praise. 

A resident questioned how much of an advantage the gig really gives Chattanooga, and a local entrepreneur expressed disappointment with access to high-speed service. That led a local newspaper editorial to question whether the promise of constant gigabit service is a hoax.

The criticism came after Gig Tank winner Aaron Welch said that he wasn't using the gig for his business.

At the competition, he and his team pitched the idea of Iron Gamer, a new social gaming experience through live competitive events and interactive streaming content.

Then, Welch opened Iron Labs, an interactive gaming center that recently moved into a storefront on Chestnut Street after securing it through Project: PopUp.

Although it wasn't the exact same project name, the idea seemed to be the same, and both ideas could have benefited from the high-speed Internet. 

But the gig is more expensive for businesses that will use a lot of it. Welch had hoped he could pay the “small business” price of about $300 a month.

EPB identifies two different levels of business—small business and professional use, according to archives. 

Small businesses are those that employ a few people, such as a law firm, boutique or dry cleaner. That product is used much like a residential product and costs $349.99 a month.

That’s what Welch expected to get, but EPB leaders said they don’t qualify as a small business because the gaming center would use the equivalent amount of resources as a large business.

And EPB has determined that the cost of those resources is $9,000 a month.

Welch tried to make a partnership deal with EPB to get the gig for free for six months, but EPB leaders decided the sponsorship wasn't the right fit. 

So, to some it seemed that the gig—which had been promoted as a small-business booster and economic driver—wasn't accessible to the very people leaders engaged in the Gig Tank competition.

Chamber President Ron Harr led the Spirit of Innovation Awards last month, when leaders also announced the second Gig Tank competition. (Photo: Staff)

Coming up—Gig Tank Two 
Last month, at the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's 12th annual Spirit of Innovation Awards, leaders announced the city's second Gig Tank Competition. 

"[The first] Gig Tank's success really demonstrates what Chattanooga can do," Jack Studer with Lamp Post Group said at the event, according to Nooga.com archives. "We'd like to officially announce Gig Tank 2013. It should come as no surprise—we're going to do it bigger and better." 

According to the Gig Tank website, leaders are currently taking applications for the student track. 

Leaders will start taking applications for the entrepreneur track in January, also according to the website. 

Disclaimer: Nooga.com is affiliated with the Lamp Post Group, but editorial decisions for this publication are made independently of the Lamp Post Group. 

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