It’s a beautiful Monday evening in December. Ivy Rueb, Thinkful community manager decides to take the first parking spot she sees and enjoy the scenery along tree-lined Spring St. She passes by a Barnes and Nobles and some cool loft apartments before entering into a large two story building with giant silver letters that spell “TechSquare Labs.” The decor and atmosphere are just what you expect from a tech incubator - concrete and steel softened by warm wood accents, Warby Parker doting millennials typing away on Macbook Pros, and a shared excitement that someone here might be onto the next big thing. What makes this scene particularly special for Ivy is that she didn’t have to move to Silicon Valley to walk amongst this cornucopia of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and engineers. This is all happening in her hometown of Atlanta.
“Atlanta is working its way up the list of top tech cities” says Jason Rubottom, CEO of Ally Commerce and advisor board member of Atlanta Tech Leaders. Jason’s e-commerce company employs approximately 40 and has raised nearly $10m in venture funding. With nearly $732 million dollars invested in Atlanta companies in the third quarter of 2017 alone, however, Ally Commerce’s success is anything but an anomaly.
To an outsider, Atlanta ascendance can be a bit of a mystery. How did a city known for producing hip hop artists, hosting Final Fours, and headquartering huge conglomerates like Coca Cola and UPS become the next big tech mecca? To answer this question, we asked 16 experts (CEOs, VC’s and other leaders) to weigh in on what makes Atlanta unique and what the future of tech in Atlanta holds.
What makes Atlanta special?
"Just look at Atlanta's history. In the 1800s, we were named Terminus, which was mile zero for the nation's transportation network and commerce. We've grown into a hub for industries as varied as logistics, financial services and cyber security. We are also home to the biggest brands -- with world-class talent coming out of the state schools and more smart capital setting up shop here everyday. It's a big Southern technology puzzle and all the pieces have finally clicked into place."
- Marc Gorlin, CEO, Roadie
“Atlanta is working its way up the list of top tech cities. There's a lot of untapped tech talent in Atlanta, which is also more affordable than other top tech cities. Historically there wasn't as much funding here, but even now that is changing. I think all of that is going to create a lot of growth in tech, from startups to mature companies.”
- Jason Rubottom, CEO, Ally Commerce
“Atlanta has fostered a very healthy tech ecosystem through the talent coming out of the high quality educational system such as Georgia Tech. Numerous tech incubators are also cultivating top tech talent in the city. This attracts venture and private equity capital to scale innovative high growth tech companies. The future for tech in Atlanta has never been more exciting.”
- Asif Ramji, CEO, Paymetric
“Atlanta has an undeniable spirit of hospitality and resilience, if we can play a part in that energy and legacy, we’re all in. Atlanta has always been an incredibly important city for our company in general; it’s where we were founded and home to our largest group of employees and technologists. It is why we continue to invest in the tech and startup community here – from our partnership with ATV to our hosting Girls Who Code and their summer immersion program.”
- Maigh Houlihan, Developer Evangelist, Turner
“Corporate involvement, diverse founders, and a cheap cost of living are the perfect storm of Atlanta's greatest strengths bolstering our startup ecosystem. The people here are what's special. They have hustle and a competitive drive, but fiercely support each other and welcome newcomers with open arms.”
- Tricia Whitlock, Director, Your Ideas Are Terrible
“Atlanta entrepreneurs are in a unique position to take advantage of new technologies like IoT, blockchain and AI that are reshaping every industry—from logistics and supply chain to film and entertainment. For companies testing and validating their products, Atlanta’s diverse economy gives entrepreneurs many case studies for unique applications of technology. Having the third highest concentration of global Fortune 500s and more than 20 corporate innovation centers in the city provides access to a broad global customer base to help companies scale their business faster.”
- Noelle London, Manager of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Invest Atlanta
“Atlanta is positioned to become the most inclusive innovation, entrepreneurship and investment ecosystem on the planet. The world will look to us to solve the macro issues related to the authentic diversification of the innovation economy. We have the historical precedence. Accelerated access to training, markets and money is key. Together, we must build an ecosystem for all for the benefit of all.”
- Rodney Sampson, Executive Chairman & CEO, Opportunity Hub; Investor, TechSquare Labs
“Atlanta, as a venture market, is white hot. But this didn’t’ happen overnight. The city’s venture market is benefitting from a number of factors that are necessary to create a vibrant startup ecosystem– world-class research and technology institutions, a robust pool of engineering talent, a friendly business and regulatory environment, the relatively low cost of labor, a solid base of local venture and angel investors, and a growing appetite for sophisticated risk-taking in the community. The other thing that is providing fuel for the Atlanta startup scene is that state leaders and private market participants have collaborated in thoughtful ways to create the necessary conditions for a startup ecosystem to thrive.”
- Mark Buffington, CEO, BIP Capital
“Atlanta is in a interesting position to be a tech center. Having GA Tech located here give us a special position in developing technical talent. We have clusters of cybersecurity, logistics, healthcare, sales automation and IoT companies. Cost of living, transportation and quality of life are also a plus for Atlanta.”
- Sig Mosley, Managing Partner, Mosley Ventures
“Right now there is a buzz around Atlanta about the future. We’re implementing the foundation for smart city initiatives, making the destination short list for big tech players, attracting global luxury corporations, expanding our incubator ecosystem and building a metro infrastructure to attract young talent across a variety of sectors. Atlanta is well poised to position itself as the innovation hub of the South, by stewarding our growing diverse and inclusive STEM base, and strengthening our academic, startup and business community partnerships.”
- Bronwyn Morgan, CEO, Subkulture Innovation
What does the future of tech in Atlanta look like?
“In many ways I think future of tech in Atlanta has arrived - I see it every day I walk through our offices. The Atlanta tech community has changed remarkably in the 9 years since we started the company, and I see it in places like ATV, Ponce City Market, Tech Square and the new Coda building. What I’d like to see in the future is more local venture firms to fund the many startups that have incubated around the city; while things have improved most successful tech companies still rely on funding from the west coast or northeast.”
- Kathryn Petralia, Co-Founder and COO, Kabbage
“Designated by Forbes as the #3 city poised to become a tech mecca, Atlanta has all the ingredients to be a top 5 global technology hub. Major corporations are already locating and expanding their IT operations here, universities are spinning out top tech talent, and entrepreneurs are building new companies around cutting-edge, technology-based solutions. In the near future, Atlanta will be synonymous with technology.”
- Jennifer Sherer, Vice President, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Atlanta Chamber of Commerce
“The future of tech in Atlanta is about skills. It won't matter where or how you acquire them, just that you have them. It’s not about the pedigree, and it’s also not about 'paper' skills on a resume --- its about demonstrable talent.”
- Edwin Marcial, Investor, Former CTO, ICE
“Atlanta has all the key ingredients to be a leading innovation hub with top-notch tech talent, world class research universities including the nation's largest and most diverse engineering university in Georgia Tech, a growing base of successful entrepreneurs and investors, and home to an increasing number of corporate headquarters and innovation centers. The future of Atlanta is about bringing the leaders of the technology community and the executives of our large companies that dominate their markets together to drive innovation and foster our innovation ecosystem. That's why we launched Engage. What entrepreneurs need most is access to markets and customers - and for that, Atlanta is the place to be!”
“I have the lens of a long history in Atlanta personally beginning with Peachtree Software, when there was no venture capital in the South, when startup was not a term, and resources for entrepreneurs were scarce at best. Each new generation of Atlanta tech entrepreneurs has built on the achievements of their predecessors, tracing back to Scientific Atlanta in 1951. Our long series of successful tech companies has created not only jobs, but careers, and they have launched many offspring. That is very much evident today, and the numbers compound with each new wave of brilliant leaders building companies of consequence. Georgia Tech as the anchoring institution for this wave of innovation has led, not followed, and continues to do so. The abundance of human capital in the Atlanta tech community portends a very bright future.”
- Ben Dyer, Partner, TechSquare Labs
“I’m very bullish about our tech community and moreover our staying power in the years to come. Specifically, this recent economic cycle has deepened our bench of investable talent (seasoned and new), cemented our areas of domain expertise, and attracted brand name capital and executive leadership to the market. I also believe that the contributions from this sector will become a more meaningful component of our economic growth and diversity.”
- Ashish Mistry, Managing Partner, BLH Venture Partners