If you spend any time around the Atlanta startup community you’ll no doubt wind up hearing comparisons between Atlanta and other startup hubs like Silicon Valley, New York, Boston, Austin, etc. In fact, we have a bit of a “little brother” complex to those regions.
Without a doubt, other hubs have some real advantages – particularly access to capital and deep networks. But we have a lot going for us here in Georgia as well. We arguably have a greater abundance of many of the key ingredients for a successful ecosystem than the regions we compare ourselves to. We have a track record of successful tech startups and a growing talent pool of entrepreneurs. Three leading research universities – Georgia Tech, UGA, and Emory – are within easy driving distance of each other. We have EII, GRA, and VentureLabs to help commercialize technology from those universities. Technology Square is emerging as Atlanta’s Sand Hill Road or Kendall Square and is home to ATDC (an incubator Forbes named one of the top 10 in the world), Flashpoint, and Hypepotamus. There is a base of local angel investors. TAG, StartUp Lounge, ATA, StartUp Chicks, and numerous other organizations support Georgia’s entrepreneurs. ATV is an exciting recent addition to the startup community sure to attract a hub of activity in Buckhead. And we’ve already established leadership positions in transaction processing, information security, mobility, and healthcare IT.
In the past few years we’ve seen several organizations and economic development efforts focusing on improving connections and taking to the bullhorn to tell our story. But there’s one area we should be a lot more focused on – one thing that can truly differentiate Georgia and Atlanta as the entrepreneurial capital of the Southeast. It’s a strength we’ve touted for years – our strong base of Fortune 1000 companies. We can make this the best place to start your business by bringing our startups and established companies together.
There are few more meaningful ways to help a startup than providing introductions to early (paying) customers and commercialization partners. Now is the perfect time to focus on this. Large companies are increasingly focused on innovation, and awareness of local leaders of the importance of startups in job creation is rising. We give tours at ATDC weekly to executives, community leaders, and government officials looking for ideas on how to expand entrepreneurial activity in Georgia.
Startups go to Silicon Valley and Boston for access to capital, established startup ecosystems, and experienced entrepreneurs. Our competitive advantage should this is the best place to get your first customer and access the networks of our regions business leaders.
We started doing this at ATDC with great success. Last year we launched a program at ATDC called Industry Connect. The program invites CEOs, CTOs, CIOs, and Senior Executives from Fortune 1000 companies to engage with ATDC companies by becoming paying customers, making an investment, or becoming a strategic partner. We are very direct in asking them to make a commitment to engaging with our startups. In the first year of the program we hosted more than 15 companies and connected them with more than 50 startups. So far this has resulted in at least a half dozen deals ranging from $20k to $200k, and our companies tell us they expect more deals to come from these initial engagements. We already have 6 companies scheduled in 2013.
Our EIRs and Startup Catalysts work with the companies to understand their strategic needs, coach the companies for their presentations, and facilitate engagement and follow-up. We’ve learned that not only do our startups need help in learning how to engage with large customers, but also the industry partners look to the EIRs and Catalysts for help in structuring engagements that don’t fit their normal procurement processes. Even the “no’s” provide valuable customer discovery opportunities for the startups that participate. We are leveraging Georgia Tech to provide introductions to big companies and several of the companies participating have been the result of introductions from CEOs of ATDC startups – sharing their networks to help other ATDC companies.
While we should continue to work to improve access to capital, connecting the startup ecosystem, and get the word out – we have a unique opportunity to leverage our strength in big business and as home to 15+ Fortune 1000 companies. We can do this better than Austin or RTP to be the clear leader in the Southeast. More than anything else we could do – it will create more successful startups and exits, attract more capital and venture firms to Atlanta, solidify our identity as a tech startup hub, and provide a clear reason for startups to locate and stay here. In honor of the Falcons – “Rise Up Atlanta” – let’s make this happen.