By TJ Lane, Senior Account Supervisor, Write2Market
Even at the speed of technology, it can be difficult to challenge established notions. Silicon Valley has long been the juggernaut of tech development, and that reputation is firmly established. However, other cities and towns are beefing up technology development and vying for a piece of the attention garnered by the Bay Area. One such city is Atlanta, which faces a unique challenge: By all logical measures, Atlanta has long been a firmly established tech center — what it faces is a public relations and reputation hurdle.
Consider the following. Atlanta is home to incubators Atlanta Technology Development Center at Georgia Institute of Technology — the oldest and largest campus based incubator in the nation — and Atlanta Tech Village, which sold all 85 of its available desks in two weeks on Twitter. More health IT companies call Atlanta home than any other city in the world. Capital networking event Venture Atlanta has helped the city’s tech startups see over $13 billion in exits since its inception. Atlanta mobile software firm AirWatch employs over 800 people and has historically watched revenues grow 40% quarter over quarter.
Atlanta is clearly a hotbed of technology development. One of the core reasons this reality has not translated effectively into reputation is because most of the technology that comes out of Atlanta is not consumer facing; it’s back-end. Software and products that power business are born in the capital of the south, but the next ultra sexy personal electronic gadget is more likely to buzz out of Silicon Valley or New York.
This is why the Metro Atlanta Chamber, Midtown Alliance, Georgia Department of Economic Development, and Atlanta technology public relations firm Write2Market recently teamed up to create a technology familiarity tour for journalists in conjunction with the seventh year of Venture Atlanta. Journalists from outlets like Bloomberg, Yahoo!, The Economist, TechCrunch, and Black Enterprise visited Atlanta to better understand what makes the city such an epicenter of technology.
As part of the tour, Write2Market hosted a panel discussion for entrepreneurs and journalists, anchored by executives from AirWatch, Scoutmob, The Weather Channel, IdeaString, and Cloud Sherpas. This unscripted and lively discussion offered insight and perspective on what it is like to start and operate a technology firm in Atlanta along with what fuels the decision to locate there. Cloud Sherpas co-founder Michael Cohn described how quickly he was able to make the right connections in Atlanta and called the general excitement of the community infectious. “I met David Cummings right away and he took an hour and half out of his day to talk to me. The spirit of collaboration in Atlanta is amazing,” Cohn said.
What Makes Atlanta a Technology Magnet?
Panel members unanimously agreed that the cooperative nature of Atlanta’s tech community is one of its key defining aspects. At one point, moderator and Write2Market CEO Lisa Calhoun asked the room how many people had mentoring sessions with someone they don’t regularly do business within the last week. A quarter of the attendees and panelists raised their hands. IdeaString CEO Genevieve Bos added, “Everyone is so willing to share resources, knowledge and also emotional support, which can be just as important.”
Availability of qualified talent was also seen as a primary benefit of conducting business in Atlanta. AirWatch Chairman Alan Dabbiere explained that the culture of Atlanta’s talent base plays a large role in aiding retention. “In California, there’s a saying that every employee has three job offers by lunch. Here in Atlanta, you’ve got a culture of people that want to do something really great and they are more likely to stick with an idea through thick and thin instead of jumping ship if you don’t have an IPO in 90 days or constantly considering higher paying jobs.”
Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University serve as constant providers of home grown knowledge, but livability factors help bring in external talent.
The Weather Channel COO Chris Walters said, “Getting people to move here from New York or San Francisco can be a hurdle, but once you get them here, they don’t ever want to leave.”
Visiting from Philadelphia, TechCrunch writer Chris Velazco joked, “I’m ready to sign a lease here now!”
Atlanta’s tech community echoed many of the sentiments more traditional businesses cite as core benefits of conducting business in the city. The large number of daily direct flights to and from various destinations from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport was prominently mentioned, but general livability factors like the availability of high quality restaurants, moderate climate, walkable communities, and cost of living were all brought up as desirable factors for locating in Atlanta.
Paramount to surviving as a startup is access to capital. Atlanta is home to several funding groups like Atlanta Technology Angels and Total Technology Ventures, but location is no longer seen as an inhibitor to obtaining money.
Dabbiere said, “Capital moves, and it’s rather easy to move; the hard part is building an idea and making the capital want to come to it.”
Cohn corroborated that notion, adding,
“We received funding from Queensland.”
An Emergent Leader in Tech Development
A nagging issue for tech startups is difficulty connecting with larger companies. Advising against going straight for the multi-billion dollar companies, Tavani said, “Building a startup off elephant hunting is tough.” Instead, he advised young firms to target one of the many medium sized local companies as a first step. “With such large teams and long sales cycles, behemoth companies tend to take too long for nimble startups,” Tavani explained.
Startup companies can also target larger companies that may not seem so obvious, but are willing to partner with them. WIKA Instrument Group Marketing Manager Jason McClain, one of the attendees, said,
“I’ve heard from every single one of you today something that would benefit my company.”
WIKA Instrument is a $1 billion worldwide manufacturer of pressure gauges headquartered in Germany, and McClain indicated that entrepreneurial ideas are welcome even in traditional sectors like manufacturing.
With such a robust tech community, Atlanta’s days as an unrecognized leader in technology development may be coming to a close.