Toni Gemayel and T.J. Weigel of Banyan, Damien Armstrong, DMD, of River City Dentistry, and Chris and Susanne Green of The Green Group/Introduction to the Internet are among this growing pool of young entrepreneurs fired up about the wealth of opportunities in Chattanooga. Recently, they discussed what—specifically—it was about our city that inspired them to locate their companies here.
By Mike Haskew
Photos by Med Dement
Toni Gemayel and T.J. Weigel | Banyan
A few months after their company claimed top honors during Chattanooga’s 2012 “GigTank” competition, Banyan CEO Toni Gemayel and COO T.J. Weigel announced the permanent relocation of Banyan to Chattanooga from Tampa, Florida.
Banyan makes software to help remove roadblocks for today’s researchers. Using a cloud-based control system, the company offers private, distributed research repositories to help researchers share and publish their work.
Gemayel and Weigel say a big incentive for their move was Chattanooga’s start-up culture. “The start-up community here challenges you to grow and succeed and it’s quick to offer help or make introductions,” Weigel says. “Our lead mentor and chairman, Mike Bradshaw, is also located in Chattanooga. Another big factor was the good company of the Lamp Post Group. If you’re ever stuck on a problem or want to talk start-ups, any one of the companies based out of the Lamp Post Group is willing and ready to help.”
Weigel and Gemayel say they’ve found the quality of life in Chattanooga to be outstanding—both enjoy spending their weekends whitewater kayaking and rock climbing. They also point to the city’s blazing internet speed (certainly a deciding factor in relocating Banyan) and its low cost of living. “I love being able to live downtown and ride my bike or skateboard or walk to work,” Weigel says.
To those considering relocating their companies here, the Banyan duo gives a confident thumbs up. “Chattanooga is a place on the rise. If you are a determined individual or business owner, we have resources to help you launch and grow your company.”
Damien Armstrong, DMD | River City Dentistry
A native of Bozeman, Montana, Dr. Armstrong graduated from Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio. He opened River City Dentistry, his first practice, here in December of last year.
“I spent a lot of time researching where I would start my practice, and I think Chattanooga lent itself as an ideal opportunity,” Armstrong says. “Chattanooga is the second-fastest growing city in Tennessee, second only to Nashville, and is growing at a healthy pace. It’s affordable for families and new industry and has a positive outlook for a practice. Starting from scratch is not always the easiest or fastest way to grow, but it is the only way I would have it.”
Impressed by comparisons of Chattanooga to Bozeman—specifically in regards to their vibrant outdoor lifestyles—Armstrong brought his fly rod and mountain bike here along with his dental expertise. “Endless outdoor activities are at our doorstep, and I love the mountains and rivers,” he said. “One thing Montana didn’t have that I love about Chattanooga is the beautiful seasons, especially fall!”
Armstrong says he was also lured by the area’s rich history. His aunt, Wilma Mankiller, was the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation, and he minored in Native American studies. “I’m half Native American, so to live where these tribes once thrived is something inherently special,” he says.
With the support of CapitalMark bank, whom Armstrong is grateful to for sharing his vision, River City Dentistry celebrated its grand opening and ribbon cutting on May 24. Dr. Armstrong’s practice employs three people and is now accepting new patients.
“I’m not married and settled here on my own. But now that I’m a local business owner, I’m happily married to Chattanooga,” Armstrong says. “I moved here with the intention to be in a place that accommodates the whole family, and I look forward to planting my roots here.”
Chris and Susanne Green | The Green Group/Introduction to the Internet
When Chris and Susanne Green were completing the adoption of their son Blake in 2011, they were looking to adopt a hometown as well. “Ours was not a business decision, but a quality of life and family decision,” explains Chris, who founded his own company, The Green Group, in Chattanooga the following summer.
“So, we made an Excel spreadsheet of everything we wanted in our new community,” Chris continued. “We threw open a map of the USA and started examining regions. We looked at economic potential, weather, the environment, infrastructure, culture, and other things.”
Needless to say, the Greens were on a fast track to Chattanooga after Blake was adopted in October 2011. They sold their house in December, quit their jobs in February, and arrived in the Scenic City in March.
Chris says he spent the first several months inviting “random Chattanooga people” out for coffee with the goals of understanding the city, establishing a network, and developing a business idea. The idea for Introduction to the Internet emerged when he discovered that many businesspeople did not understand the internet, and believed he could provide an introduction to a technology that they felt had left them behind.
“I sit down with key personnel and help them bridge the gap between what is and what could be happening online and their knowledge about it so that they can make informed decisions and chart a better path,” he explains.
Chris says Chattanooga’s growing reputation as a great place to live and work is well-deserved. “To us, it is progressive without losing its conservative heart. I’ve lived in a number of states and countries and know what I like in a home. Swinging too far in either direction does not seem to be a harbinger for long-term success.”