Gig Tank brings exponential technologies to the city
Gig Tank 2015 is under way. Sort of. This year’s edition of Gig Tank, the accelerator for startups developing business applications needing the ultra-high bandwidth network that began growing here with Chattanooga’s Gig, began earlier in May with a virtual assessment phase.
Eight out of 14 teams will be onsite for the summer, starting next week, and the remaining six will participate virtually, holding dual citizenship in other accelerators at the same time. Twelve teams will focus on high-bandwidth applications that need the Gig, and two will focus on 3-D printing.
All teams will be in Chattanooga during the last week in May, including a meet-and-greet reception in Miller Plaza that is open to the public on May 28 from 5:30 to 8 p.m.
(For profiles of the Gig Tank startup teams and more information on Gig Tank 2015, visit thegigtank.com.)
In this lull before the storm becomes non-virtual, I sat down with Gig Tank director Alex Lavidge, a repeat player in the startup game who was most recently with Variable, Inc., the Chattanooga-based maker of the Node sensor array.
Our conversation about innovation was all over the map, including flying cars, food replicators, 3-D printed homes and bringing out the innovator in everyone.
Lavidge speaks fluent innovation, moving easily from the idea of “exponential technologies”—the big game changers like smart phones—to the impending arrival of a new food economy based on machines like the “Star Trek” replicator; technology that creates fresh food from dehydrated materials and replaces grocery stores because your digitally connected pantry automatically reorders supplies that are delivered by drone.
Skeptical of grand vaporware visions, I snark, “So, where’s my flying car?”
But Lavidge has a disarming answer: “I’d be hard pressed to say there were entrepreneurs in the business community who said that’s going to be the future.”
Investors are interested in technologies that are investment-ready, not revolution-ready. The stuff that makes good copy in the media doesn’t necessarily make a good investment, one where the investor can see a fairly quick path to a return on investment.
“These things don’t just happen overnight,” says Lavidge. “Apple is already working on the iPhone 11, we just haven’t heard about it yet. Virtual reality was predicted to be huge back in the late ’90s-early 2000s, but it came down to timing.
“The inflection point hadn’t been developed yet. Some very good analysts have said 2016-17 is going to be the tipping point where we’re going to see two-to-three billion dollars of sales for VR headsets.”
Technology-based change is a subtle dance. Those virtual reality predictions in the late ’90s sure looked a lot like the tech world saying VR would be real the day after tomorrow. But when the potential partners circling each other on the dance floor include companies that need money and investors that are doling it out, the big ideas flying around in the media-sphere may have more in common with mating behavior than predictions.
And when that money mating dance is under way (really, all the time now) the outcome is relevant to more parties than the lovebirds who are directly affected.
According to Lavidge, the established Chattanooga companies that are involved in Gig Tank as mentors and partners aren’t doing it out of the goodness of their hearts.
“They recognize that 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies are going to be obsolete in a few years and innovation is changing at an exponential rate, affecting all industries,” he says. “You can’t spend too much time making sure you’re entrenched in conversations about how that technology is going to be affecting your business.”
The metrics of success Co.Lab has established for Gig Tank this year go beyond seeing participant teams receive investment funding. Another version of success would be if Gig Tank participants were offered positions in a larger company.
“The big idea is alignment,” says Lavidge. “It’s not just about talking to investors and entrepreneurs. It’s about talking to everyone in the community and finding ways that this exponential technology shift—if it isn’t already—will soon be affecting them in more ways than they realize.
The premise is getting local, national and international brands all in the same room that have different objectives for being interested in exponential technologies and high-bandwidth applications, from talent acquisition to making investments to being a customer to wanting to learn.”