Getting Started in Atlanta’s Startup Ecosystem

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author. 
 
As a native of Atlanta, I learned about the city’s innovative history in inclusive economic policy formation by Mayors like Maynard Jackson and Andrew Young in the 70’s, 80’s and I’ve seen the Administration of our current Mayor, Kasim Reed, increase its commitment to building a stronger and more diverse entrepreneurial ecosystem by its support of programs and initiatives like the Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, CodeStart, Techhire and Engage.
Since my tech company was acquired seventeen years ago, I have watched Atlanta’s startup scene transform into the inclusive innovation and investment ecosystem that it is today.  Sure, we may not have the biggest startup weekend or festival on the planet, but our startup community is creating new jobs, yielding a higher economic output, an increased tax base and new wealth creation that wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for Atlanta’s growing startup ecosystem.
If you are building your startup in Atlanta today, here are five tips to help you get started:
 
 

1. Maximize Problem/Solution Fit

For the most part, the local startups that are making the most headway - defined as those getting into accelerators, and incubators, building strong teams, developing customer pipelines and receiving funding -  have figured out a solution to a real problem in a company’s supply chain or a person’s everyday life. Dr. Paul Judge, Cofounder of Pindrop, Luma and TechSquare Labs can often be heard encouraging college students and would be entrepreneurs to build a product that companies or people actually want to buy versus building something that is just cool. In Atlanta, I recommend that all technology startups join ATDC, short for Advanced Technology Development Center. ATDC offers classes, coaching, community and capital connections for idea and early stage entrepreneurs to develop a minimum viable product that addresses and solves a problem or need that exists. They also stay connected with some of these companies as they grow and scale.

2. Maximize [Startup Ecosystem] Product/Market Fit

Atlanta’s startup ecosystem offers a lot of entrepreneurial centers to build a company, including nearly 100,000 square feet of spaces (Open For Business, The Gathering Spot, Russell Innovation Center, TechSquare Labs) that have African American ownership. We also have a growing number of accelerator and incubator programs like TechStars, Flashpoint, Engage and The City of Atlanta’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative focused on product type, industry, stage of company and diversity.
Marc Andreessen defines product/market fit as being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market. Maximizing what I call “startup ecosystem product/market fit” is just as important. For example, if you’re building enterprise technology software solutions, then you should work out of TechSquare Labs and Atlanta Tech Village. If you’re building a consumer based product, then you should be at Switchyards. If location near a college or university matters, then spend more of your time in TechSquare or Morehouse College Entrepreneurship Center. If geography matters, then there’s Strongbox West in West Midtown and Elevator Factory on the East Side. Ultimately, it’s important to build your product and company in a space where you can be around like minded startup entrepreneurs, mentors in residence, programming and events that are relevant to your respective startup journey.  Saying that you are working out of your house or garage just doesn’t cut it anymore. You have to invest in the ecosystem to benefit from the ecosystem.

3. Sell To Corporations

If you are building an enterprise solution, Atlanta is the place you want to be as it is home to 18 Fortune 500 companies that are open to doing business with companies of all sizes. Corporation like Delta Air Lines, Southern Company, Home Depot, LexisNexis, NCR and AIG also have existing or planned corporate innovation initiatives and labs. Ten corporations just invested in a public private partnership advanced by The City of Atlanta, Georgia Institute of Technology and Tech Square Ventures to form Engage, a $15 million accelerator and venture fund. (For the record you can also build a successful consumer facing startup here; high growth companies like Luma, Monsieur, Southern Culture Foods and LookLike are doing just that).

4. Be Intentional About Your Diversity

Given Atlanta’s history when it comes to advancing human, civil and economic dignity for all, it is critical that startup founders continue to advance the proven thesis that diverse teams produce better products and have a higher economic output. This is accomplished in part by recruiting and hiring diverse talent from the local colleges and universities like Spelman, Morehouse, Clark Atlanta University and Georgia State to the same degree you recruit from Georgia Tech and Emory. It’s also important to hire and vet technical talent from non-traditional coding schools that have intentional diversity initiatives like CodeStart, Techhire and Tech Opportunity Fund. As your startup grows, expand your diversity initiatives by creating supplier diversity programs with organizations like the Georgia Minority Supplier Development Council and Georgia Minority Business Development Center to provide qualified women, veteran, LGBTQ and minority owned vendors and suppliers the opportunity to do business with your company.

5. Apply to Atlanta Startup Battle

Occurring every 90 days, Atlanta Startup Battle is the freshest and most unique pitch competition in Atlanta. With 100+ ideas, 2 days of competition, a $100,000 investment on the line and the opportunity to build a company with two of Atlanta’s most successful entrepreneurs, the top participants develop their ideas with seasoned mentors and present to investor judges, real VCs from Atlanta and Silicon Valley, all in an effort to help Atlanta build, scale, and fund the next generation of outstanding tech companies. Allen Nance, creator and host of Atlanta Startup Battle, often says, “entrepreneurship is not little league and everyone one doesn’t get a trophy. Only one startup walks with the $100,000 trophy, so bring your A-game”.

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