By Cheryl Toomey, University Relations Graduate Assistant
When Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke was invited by the UTC chapter of Sigma Xi to discuss technology and the future of Chattanooga, he was inspired by the scientific research society’s motto.
“The motto of Sigma Xi is companions in zealous research. And I thought, how fantastic is that line?” said Berke. “It says a lot about what is going on here and what we can do with it. UTC is an important part of our community. If we’re going to get better at driving innovation, incorporating our technology, at making sure we have the entrepreneurship that will lift everybody up in the community, we have to be companions in zealous research. I look forward to doing that with you.”
Education at all levels benefits from technology, and technology is fueling business in Chattanooga. Chattanooga is the first city to offer one-gigabit-per-second fiber Internet service to residents and businesses alike. That’s the fastest Internet speed available in the Western Hemisphere.
“The great thing about technology, about where we are in our city, is that this is a place where we can say we’re first. This makes a real difference both in terms of our capacity and what we can do but also in the way that we think about ourselves, being at the forefront of a particular way of doing things,” said Berke.
Chattanooga’s Internet speed, natural beauty, and thriving community all contribute to the city becoming a hub for aspiring entrepreneurs.
“People from around the country are coming to Chattanooga to say, ‘What’s going on here and how can we be more like you?’ That’s a fantastic opportunity. We have to translate this opportunity into success. The best way to do that is through entrepreneurship,” said Berke.
Chattanooga has several programs designed to spur entrepreneurship, and UTC students are frequent participants in these programs.
“You tie particular areas to entrepreneurship to universities to things in the community and try to create energy and buzz and ideas that lead to things that are unknown. When it comes to innovation, it’s very difficult to predict how things are going to happen. What we can do, especially in government, is to try to create the conditions where private industry and the University and others help these great ideas come to the top,” said Berke.
GIGTANK is a business accelerator that aims to foster startups that use Chattanooga’s gigabit-per-second Internet speed. It connects entrepreneurs with tools, capital, contacts, and customers to help bring their ideas to life.
GIGTANK accepts ten startups for the summer long program. All participants share workspace in the heart of downtown Chattanooga and, in partnership with The University of Tennessee Chattanooga, have access to housing throughout the summer. GIGTANK is driven by mentors to help startups produce new products using Chattanooga’s high speed internet, with the hope that these entrepreneurs will remain in Chattanooga.
The conclusion of GIGTANK is a Demo Day and Roadshow, where startups present to investors, strategic corporate partners, media and other influencers in Chattanooga and around the U.S. In 2012, Demo Day had over 500 in attendance. Top performing teams will be taken on a cross-country investment tour as well, including Silicon Valley and New York City.
“The gig, and our technology, is really driving entrepreneurship. We have to take advantage of this. There are great ways that we have to incorporate UTC into this process. UTC is really an important part of what we do here in education. It has to be the best of the best we can make it for the future of our city,” said Berke.
Before he became mayor in March 5, 2013, Berke was elected to the State Senate in 2007 and was reelected to a second term in 2008. He worked on key legislation including First to the Top and Complete College Tennessee and he served on the Senate Education Committee. In 2012, he was honored by the Tennessee PTA as the Legislator of the Year and he earned the Tennessee Education Association’s Friend of Education Award for his commitment to improving public education across Tennessee.
“We have to be more seamless with UTC as a city. We have a great opportunity with the new Chancellor to build that up more and to find new ideas, but also other ways to say UTC can be more of the fabric of the business portion of our community, to bring UTC students downtown, and to create the connections that are important,” says Berke.
Berke has been a long-time supporter of The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where research in technology is ongoing and campus entrepreneurs are finding ways to tap into Chattanooga’s technological success. Student success is a top goal for the University and the Chattanooga Mayor.
“UTC presents a great opportunity and we want the best for UTC. It’s really important that you all see Chattanooga as a place for entrepreneurship and a place that has that zealous research opportunity,” Berke added.