Alpharetta is much more than Atlanta’s neighbor to the north. As the best small city to start a business and a trailblazer in technology, if you think Alpharetta is running out of fuel, think again. Not only do 600+ tech companies call the city home, resources, like the Alpharetta Technology Commission and newcomer, Digital Ignition, want to throw the city into overdrive.
The navigator behind Digital Ignition is Steve Schilling. A seasoned member of Metro Atlanta’s tech community for the better part of two decades, Schilling is also head of Convergent, a leading provider of location-based digital experiences. His plan for Digital Ignition is to transform the hub into equal parts co-working space and incubator. He hopes it will attract entrepreneurs and technologists to a place where they can jump into a proverbial melting pot, where innovation can bubble to the top.
Hypepotamus recently caught up with Schilling who gives insights on the vision for Digital Ignition and how he hopes to create a strong southern tech sector.
Who are the major players behind Digital Ignition and why launch the incubator?
We’re leveraging resources and space at Convergent to foster the growth of North Georgia’s tech community, where collaboration, cooperation and innovation can thrive. Convergent’s parent company, Ballantyne Strong (NYSE MKT: BTN), which is a holding company with diverse business activities, is further supporting Digital Ignition’s efforts by providing the venture funds Digital Ignition will use to make select strategic investments.
Tell us about the space and the resources you will provide to the city’s early-stage tech companies.
Digital Ignition is housed inside a 45,000-square-foot open co-working space and features meeting rooms, event space, training rooms, lab facilities, an outdoor patio with gas grill and a fantastic kitchen and community room. Located just off exit 12 on Georgia 400, the spaceship-like facility is surrounded by five wooded acres with walking access to the Big Creek Greenway. With regular networking and training events, it’s the ultimate place for North Georgia, early-stage and digital media companies to learn, share and grow.
Why did you decide to launch Digital Ignition in Alpharetta?
Alpharetta is Convergent’s headquarters and is quickly becoming its own technology hub. Now home to more than 600 tech-based companies, Alpharetta was recently recognized by Forbes magazine as the number one place to relocate in the U.S. The area has an abundance of talent, knowledge and experience. It is rapidly growing but is missing that something special to bring it all together. The community needs a solid foundation.
What do you hope to accomplish in the first year?
We want to create that foundation. We want to be the instrument through which the diverse resources, activities, companies and individuals of the area can come together in a way to create something special. In the long run, we hope to be the launching pad for North Georgia’s next big success story, but we are happy to start by creating a community … a gathering place for technologists and entrepreneurs to collaborate, support one another and create.
There are several co-working spaces and hubs cropping up all over Georgia. What makes Digital Ignition stand out?
We believe that Digital Ignition is much more than a co-working space. However, we don’t see any of the other incubators or co-working spaces to be competitive. They just aren’t in Alpharetta, and we are. Our goal is to use our facility and resources to grow a thriving tech community, strategically invest in those where we can add value, and build a supportive community based on collaboration, cooperation, and innovation.
How is Alpharetta positioning itself as the “Tech City of the South?”
We can’t speak for Alpharetta, but we are happy to share our perspective. Alpharetta and Forsyth County are beautiful places to work and live, with a low cost of living, and they are very business-friendly, so you see the explosion of growth they are experiencing. Hopefully, the business and technology communities will work together to continue to enrich the area, support one another and foster continued growth. Tech has always birthed more tech, and as long as the environment is right, the new tech grows and the cycle continues. We hope to be a small part of that life cycle in Alpharetta.
How can Alpharetta, Atlanta, and surrounding areas work together to seal ourselves as the “Silicon Valley of the South?”
We don’t subscribe to the goal of becoming the “Silicon Valley of the South.” Silicon Valley has taken decades to grow into what it is today. What Atlanta, Alpharetta, and surrounding areas are becoming can be equally as vibrant and dynamic, it will just take time. One step at a time and we hope Digital Ignition will serve as one more step in the journey.