Next Level for Atlanta’s Startup Community

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.

Angels

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.

Seed Funds

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.

Startup Hubs

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.

Peer Connections

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.

Entrepreneur Education

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.

Storytelling

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?

What’s Next

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?

3 thoughts on “Next Level for Atlanta’s Startup Community

  1. Hi David – long time reader but first time commenting. What are your thoughts about the potential contribution of Atlanta’s northern suburbs over the next 5-10 years? In particular, I’m curious about how the startup ecosystem can play to Atlanta’s natural advantages as a geographically diverse metropolitan area. My hypothesis is that there are many bootstrapped tech startups operating in the shadows OTP and many potential angel investors living OTP who are not connected to the local opportunities. Strong tech pockets exist in Alpharetta, Norcross, Marietta, etc. Can we leverage these to get to the next level of scale?

  2. As a first-time angel this year that would like to stay a regular angel, I see two additional areas that can help Atlanta. One is a market, or community: esports. The second is improving Atlanta’s angel digital presence, such as leveraging AngelList to bring more capital from around the world to Atlanta startups. I see AngelList or platforms like it able to help gather and organize the Atlanta-based Angels, too.

    Having lived in metro Atlanta for 95% of my life, I am excited about helping grow gaming (esports), a sleeping passion of mine from before college. Like many others in Atlanta, I have an extensive background in B2B product, and will continue to look at ways to contribute to Atlanta startups with that experience as well.

    More on esports – Many should have noticed the recent Atlanta Reign homestand, where thousands packed in to watch the Atlanta Esports Ventures owned (Cox Enterprises) Reign and 7 other teams battle it out in Overwatch over a weekend at the Cobb Energy Centre. Axis Replay, who just opened a facility for video games and esports in the last year was a sponsor. CEO Allie Young has been awesome at growing Atlanta’s spot in this industry. Angel and VCs have been involved here, with RIISE Ventures, Sig Mosley, and more. 4o4 Esports is another local gaming facility to keep an eye on.

    You can’t talk about Atlanta and esports without seeing Todd Harris mentioned, with SkillShot Media, and going back 15 years, Hi-Rez Studios and the games that have been created here, Smite, Paladins, etc. And to play games, you usually need a controller. KontrolFreek has been around for a decade now, and that leads you to Ashish Mistry, CEO, and of BLH Ventures.

    Kudos to TiE Atlanta for putting on an event earlier this year about the rise of esports, that featured Ashish, Allie, and Todd.

    A newer startup Shotcall, a GA Tech Create-X graduate team, is looking to do big things with the esports community, and more Atlanta angels will be involved helping here.

    Also, small shout out to Angel Lounge and Charlie P, that is a great place for angels share and learn from the each other.

    David, do you think there is opportunity at the upcoming Venture Atlanta to have more discussion about growing Atlanta?

    Thanks,
    Ben Alexander
    Full-time Product executive at PMG.net
    Member of Atlanta Technology Angels

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