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March 01, 2012 | Tom Ballard

“Gig City” still accepting applications from entrepreneurs and students

(EDITOR’S NOTE: John Wilson of “Gig City” is encouraging entrepreneurs and students from the Innovation Valley to consider applying for this summer’s programs.)

Imagine living in a city with the nation’s fastest city-wide Internet – one gigabit per second to anywhere in the city, whether the location is a business or a residence.

This is a unique honor that the City of Chattanooga claims. But instead of simply boasting about its number one status in the nation, community leaders and organizations are aggressively pushing an initiative called “Gig City.” It is designed to ensure that significant economic benefits result from the gigabit technology that was deployed by the Electric  Power Board.

In February we posted a link to an article about “Gig City” that appeared in the Chattanooga Times Free Press. We have since had the opportunity to talk with several Chattanooga officials about the vision, particularly the parallel and complementary strategies they are pursuing to jump start new companies to take advantage of the gig-a-second network.

John Wilson, the person who is coordinating two upcoming competitions for “Gig City,” has long-standing ties to Chattanooga. His parents lived on Signal Mountain when his father was an executive with Double Cola. He proposed to his wife during a Christmas visit to the city in the 1980s. He spent time with the city’s electric bus start-up initiative in the 1990s.

About a year ago, Wilson became more fully aware of the city’s emerging gigabit capability. “I was struck with the opportunity that Chattanooga had” to capitalize on its unique status, he told in a recent interview. In fact, Wilson was so “fascinated with the potential” that the seasoned entrepreneur is commuting twice a week to Chattanooga from his home in Vinings, GA.

His current priority is quarterbacking something called “Gig Tank” which is described as “part start-up accelerator, part think tank, part contest – all plugged into The Gig.”

“Gig Tank” in many respects is a paraphrase of the motto of the U.S. Marine Corps – “we’re looking for a few good geeks.” In the case of “Gig City,” Chattanooga is looking for entrepreneurs and students from Chattanooga and elsewhere who want to spend time in one of two accelerator processes that will lead to the creation of companies that will locate in Chattanooga and take advantage of the gigabit network.

Wilson said that applications to participate in the two tracks are being accepted through March 20 at The top individuals or teams will be selected shortly thereafter.

“We will be running parallel tracks starting several weeks apart,” he added.

The first track, called the “Entrepreneurs Accelerator,” starts May 14 and is coordinated by The Company Lab. In this track, 10 teams will receive $15,000 to come to Chattanooga, develop their high-speed internet applications over a 13-week period, and test them on a live market. Successful entrepreneurs, industry specialists and investors will mentor the teams.

The second track – “Students Think Tank” – is focused on students who agree to come to Chattanooga for a nine-week experience starting June 11. Chattanooga’s Lamp Post Group will coordinate this component where students are asked to work individually and collaboratively to “imagine the future of the Internet when bandwidth is not a barrier,” Wilson said.

“The two tracks will run physically in two different locations, but the participants will come together weekly to network and participate in a program,” he added.

The “Gig Tank” summer event concludes on August 9 with a pitch event where the teams and individuals will present their ideas to a national panel of judges from the entrepreneurial and investment communities. Up to $300,000 in prizes will be awarded with $100,000 going to the top entrepreneur and $50,000 going to the winning student.

In addition to the two competitions, “Gig City” has several other initiatives focused on connecting with geeks and getting them to move to Chattanooga. The two initiatives are called “Geek Hunt” and “Geek Move.” An individual who nominates a geek to participate in one of the tracks gets $1,000 if the individual is selected. A geek who relocates to Chattanooga and stays five years will receive $11,250 toward the purchase of a home.

“This is incredibly forward thinking community,” Wilson said. “Tom Edd Wilson and the Chattanooga Chamber should be congratulated for hosting the initiative. This type of program is messy for traditional chambers, and they have handled the funds and accounting as well as provided key staff toward its success.”

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