Last month ATDC announced a new ATDC Select membership level and I’ve started to get questions and comments about what it means. Before proceeding I should add that my thoughts in this blog are my views and opinions, not necessarily those of ATDC!
ATDC has gone through a lot of changes in the past 2 years. It has grown from 40 companies to more than 500 early stage companies ranging from concept stage to venture-funded and revenue generating companies. While that is unquestionably great for the Georgia economy and technology community, it has also been a challenge for ATDC to try to provide support to that many companies without diluting what has made it a leading accelerator for the past 30+ years.
The ATDC Select membership group is new, but it is actually what much of the technology community already knows ATDC to be – an incubator that Forbes magazine recognized as one of the top 10 incubators in the world. The ATDC accelerator has helped launch over 100 successful companies that have raised over $1 billion in outside financing. The companies residing in the incubator have raised over $40 million this year alone.
The way I see it – the ‘Select’ membership isn’t what’s new – it’s the focus on developing scalable programs for the open membership that was launched 2 years ago that is new.
Some will insist a largely taxpayer funded organization should provide ‘equal access to all’ and the Select program is exclusionary. I disagree.
The over riding mission of ATDC is economic development. A few years ago the US Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration released a report stating that incubators are an effective and efficient way of creating jobs. The study found incubators are “More effective than roads and bridges, industrial parks, commercial buildings, and sewer and water projects.” In fact, incubators provide up to 20 times more jobs than local infrastructure projects at 1/20th of the cost!
But that is only true if the incubator is able to provide the coaching, services, and space that make a difference in the success of the start-ups they are supporting. ATDC has limited resources – money, space, and team members. The best use of those taxpayer funded resources is to apply them to the technology start-ups that are poised for rapid growth and can most benefit from the support, and build programs to help the broader start-up community get to that point.
That does not mean ATDC is trying to ‘pick the winners’ – anymore than an advanced class in a public school is picking the students most likely to succeed. ATDC will evaluate companies for the Select program by looking at the team, the technology, the market, and most importantly the ‘fit’. Since these are often new technologies and new markets, it’s a highly subjective and in-exact science. ATDC helps companies grow rapidly and ‘graduates’ them when they are sustainable companies. If ATDC team members don’t think they can help them get to the point they are fundable and sustainable, they can’t help them succeed.
This also doesn’t mean that ATDC won’t continue to focus on the open membership companies. Quite the contrary. The broad technology community will find no bigger champions than Stephen Flemming, the VP of the Enterprise Innovation Institute that oversees ATDC and Nina Sawzuck, the GM of ATDC. Stephen championed the effort to open up ATDC membership two years ago – and he remains committed to serving the broader community.
ATDC will continue to develop programming, coaching, and networking opportunities for all ATDC members. The hope is many of them will progress to becoming ATDC Select Members. The goal for both groups is the same – coaching, connecting, and community for Georgia’s technology entrepreneurs.
The new ‘Select’ membership group will launch on January 3rd, 2012. I think it’s a great move. Will there be start-ups that could benefit from ATDC and are qualified to be part of the Select group that don’t get in? You bet. I’m sure ATDC will be looking for ways to increase it’s resources to expand the program to serve more companies. But for the companies that are chosen for the Select program, ATDC will be able to provide the customized level of support to help them succeed. More success stories are good for Georgia’s economy. More successes will attract more venture investment in Atlanta, create more jobs, grow the local talent supply, and benefit the entire technology community. The Select designation will differentiate those companies and signal to partners and the investment community that those companies are getting help and mentoring that will help them succeed.
The initial ATDC Select companies I’ll be supporting are Brightwhistle, Digital Assent, PlayOn Sports, Provider Web Capital, SecureHealthPay, Simple C, and Soneter. All great companies with terrific CEOs – I look forward to working more closely with them.
Kudos to Stephen and Nina for making this happen.