Last week I was talking to an entrepreneur and the topic of the Atlanta startup community came up, specifically ideas to grow the community faster. Looking back over the last seven years, we’ve made substantial strides by adding Techstars Atlanta, Atlanta Tech Village, Backed by ATL, Engage, Atlanta Startup Village (14,000+ members!), several seed funds, two IPOs, four unicorns, and much more. Only, even with our continued success, there’s a feeling we haven’t accelerated the growth of the overall community enough to reach the next level.
In brainstorming what’s missing, several ideas came to mind:
Diversity and Inclusion
Programs like Startup Runway and It Takes a Village are helping address the diversity and inclusion challenges in the region but we need more, much more. Say there are 3-5 groups working on this for the startup community, we likely need at least 15-20 to make a big impact.
Looking at recent angel deals over the last 24 months, there are roughly 10 local angels that lead deals regularly (defined as 5+ deals historically). For every one that’ll lead and put a deal together, there are another 10 that participate because they trust the lead. With 10 lead angels and 100 secondary angels, there just aren’t that many regular angels. Many more startups raise angel money each year, but it’s almost always from a first time angel that isn’t a regular. We need at least 100 regular lead angels and 1,000 secondary angels — much work to be done.
We’ve seen several local seed funds emerge including Valor Ventures, Knoll Ventures, and Tech Square Labs with a couple unannounced ones in the works. Seed funds are an important part of the community as they have committed capital that has to be deployed in a designated time period, as different from angels who might never do another deal. In addition, a strong seed fund community provides more support to angels helping them see a potential funding path forward, especially due to Series A rounds becoming what used to be Series B rounds. With 5-7 local seed funds today, we likely need 15-20 to achieve the next level of scale.
The Atlanta Tech Village is now seven years old and helped establish the startup center of gravity in Buckhead. The ATDC has been the startup hub in Midtown for decades. Downtown has the excellent Switchyards. Now, Atlanta is booming around the Beltline’s East Side Trail and growth in the Perimeter is robust, making both areas logical spots for more startup hubs.
Atlanta is a very inviting, informal town for entrepreneurs. Groups like the Entrepreneurs’ Organization and Young Presidents’ Organization have strong local chapters. Only, there’s a gap in peer connections for tech entrepreneurs to network with and learn from each other, as separate from the long standing existing ones that focus on tech executives and service providers. The best example to emulate is Mindshare in Washington D.C.
Imagine you’re a first-time entrepreneur and have just quit your job to create a company. Where do you go next? Showing up at a startup hub and plugging into the community is likely the best answer. Only, it’s a hodgepodge of events and programs, serving a variety of audiences. We need stronger programs geared directly towards helping tech entrepreneurs get going — bootcamps that cover the most important topics.
Easily the most nebulous, and possibly important, is how to tell the Atlanta startup ecosystem story better. Lots of B2B successes across MarTech, cyber security, FinTech, and health IT is excellent, yet doesn’t paint a memorable picture. B2B is the strength, but how do you make it exciting? Austin and Boulder are regularly mentioned in the national press. How do we get Atlanta on those same lists for startups?
Atlanta has rapidly become an R&D hub for companies headquartered elsewhere, and that serves a roll in recruiting talent to the region, but the real opportunity is growing the startup community with locally headquartered companies. Local startups invest more in the community, build greater wealth, and develop the next generation of entrepreneurs at a faster rate.
To get to the next level as a startup community, it’s going to take a substantial number of new success stories, many more organizations helping a variety of entrepreneurs, and a greater level of local investment. Atlanta has the basis of the platform, and with hard work plus a little luck, will be able to get there in 5-10 years.
Let’s make it happen.
What else? What are some more ideas?