Two very recent USF St. Petersburg graduates and a third man who is still in working toward his diploma have founded a startup software company with a $100,000 cash prize. It is tale of happenstance now moving toward a potentially huge market: scientific research.
"It's a pretty big market," said Toni Gemayel, the partner without a college degree. "The U.S. spent $100 billion on research last year. You've got China and the UK also spending billions of dollars."
The product is called "Banyan," a cloud-based program that allows researchers to work together across time zones and national boundaries. Collaborators can make changes to the main body of data, or branch off on new research without affecting the main body, and everybody can see everything going on.
Gemayel whipped up a prototype after his sister Kristina, a medical researcher, expressed a frustration over Christmas break.
"I thought it was really inefficient how researchers were working together," she explained. "The fastest way they could communicate was via email."
Months later, her brother took a road trip with just-graduated T.J. Weigel. In Tennessee, they heard about a competition called "Gig Tank," which was set up to incubate ideas utilizing gigabit Internet bandwidths.
Just being accepted included a $15,000 stipend and three months' lodging. Gemayel and Weigel recruited Travis Staton, another fresh graduate of USFSP, and in August the trio won the $100,000 cash prize.
That is the seed money for the startup that now has one employee and operates out of a small rental home near the USFSP campus. There are beta clients in ten countries around the world.
"We've introduced it to a couple of different research universities that we collaborate with, and so far, everyone thinks it's a pretty spectacular idea," Kristina Gemayel said. The company's first news release claims the U.S. alone produces 1.5 million research papers a year, with an average of ten collaborators each.
The name is also local, coming from downtown St. Petersburg's large Banyan trees. Banyans are actually individual trees that grow into one.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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