It wasn’t the Gig that initially drew GigTank entrepreneur Toni Gemayel and his team to Chattanooga. It was their appetites.

“We were driving through Tennessee on a road trip and we needed lunch,” Gemayel said. “We stopped at the Pickle Barrel and thought Chattanooga seemed pretty cool.”

It didn’t take long for the college-students-turned-web-developers to Google the local tech scene. After a little research, the Florida natives learned about Chattanooga’s unique connectivity and the GigTank program. They applied the next day with their startup project, Banyan*, which they hope will solve big-data problems for researchers and scientists working in labs, universities and hospitals across the globe.

Gemayel, 22, credits his sister with the idea.

“We were talking on Christmas Eve last year, and she was complaining that she couldn’t access research at the lab where she works,” Gemayel explained. “She asked if I could make her something that could be used to share data more easily.”

In just two days, Gemayel built the first version of Banyan. Since December, he’s been developing it alongside childhood friend TJ Weigel, 21, and Travis Staton, 23, who attended the University of South Florida with Gemayel and Weigel.

They might be young, but Banyan isn’t their first business venture. In 2009, Gemayel and Weigel founded, a development agency that builds websites for clients ranging from small startups to major universities.

In addition to putting himself through college and establishing his own company, Gemayel carved out time to work as an analyst for a Las Vegas-based venture capital company.

Staton, who majored in design at USF, also built his own business while in school.

“I started a letterpress shop that I ran out of my parents’ garage,” Staton said. Using three cast-iron, 100-year-old printers, he created business cards, wedding invitations and other print materials for clients who tracked him down on the internet.

Staton’s former company serves as an interesting contrast to his current involvement with Banyan. But after seeing his fair share of “bridezillas,” he decided to close up shop and apply his affinity for design to web-based development.

Given their recent startup experiences, the three teammates said they’re well aware of the challenges that they face as young entrepreneurs.

“Work-life balance is very difficult to achieve,” Gemayel said. “You become so obsessed with your idea that other things tend to fall by the wayside.”

Work is a little easier in Chattanooga, thanks to the Gig. Gemayel said that potential clients located in the UK are connected by fiber optics, so it’s helpful to test Banyan at similar speeds.

Bandwidth aside, they remain appreciative of what actually brought them to Chattanooga in the first place.

“We have yet to go to a bad restaurant,” Weigel said. “The food in Chattanooga is unbelievable.”


*former working title “Biostash”