Home Feature Atlanta Mayoral Candidates Talk Tech & City Startup Scene

Atlanta Mayoral Candidates Talk Tech & City Startup Scene

by Maija Ehlinger

Crime and Buckhead cityhood are two of the topics front and center as candidates enter the final days of the 2021 Atlanta Mayoral race. 

But many of the 14 candidates are touting their entrepreneurial or small business background as key qualifications as they campaign to be “CEO of the City.”

Given the momentum across the city’s tech startup community, we wanted to know how the candidates plan to work with ecosystem leaders and support the overall growth of startups in the years to come.

We got a glimpse of that during a virtual town hall Tuesday afternoon, hosted by Atlanta’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative (WEI)

Nine out of the fourteen candidates joined the call. Former mayor Kasim Reed sent in a written statement about his plans to expand on Invest Atlanta and WEI’s previous success. Moderator Dana Barrett asked each candidate about their plans for startup and small-business policy initiatives and ideas around capital investment for early-stage startups.

Top of mind for the candidates was tangible ways to increase investment chances for those traditionally left out. Several, including current City Council President Felicia Moore, spoke about the need to open up opportunities for women business owners and entrepreneurs to work directly with the city.

Kenny Hill, Founder and CEO of non-profit The Launch Pad Foundation and long-time distinct manager at The Home Depot, said he plans to “leverage the success with local Fortune 500 companies” to create new partnership opportunities for scaling businesses. 

Real estate investor Kirsten Elise Dunn spoke about the need to leverage technology to ensure the city is collecting the right feedback from business owners across the city, and Roosevelt Searles said he plans to roll out a Millennial Entrepreneurship Fund for young innovators.

 

Hypepotamus reached out to the candidates to learn more about how they plan on building a relationship with the local startup community. We heard back from several top candidates, which we have printed in full below. Responses are sorted in alphabetical order by last name: 

 

Antonio Brown: Current Atlanta City Councilmember and e-commerce CEO

What can the Atlanta tech and startup community expect from your time in the Mayor’s office?

The tech and startup community can expect the opportunity to have a voice in Mayor’s office and an administration that listens to their ideas and concerns. We looking forward to providing incentives and partnerships that allows these companies to advance and thrive as the City of Atlanta advances and thrives. The startup community is an integral part of an socio-economic ecosystem that will allow our residents to learn new trades and provide economic mobility for those currently struggling.

If you are elected this November, how do you see working with the local tech community? 

I look forward to hiring and liaising with individuals knowledgeable in the field that can provide insight into how we can work together efficiently and comprehensively. We will also, through a central office of communications, keep our residents informed of opportunities available in the local tech community and utilize the talent we have in communities throughout the City Atlanta.
Are there any industries/areas of tech that you are particularly following in the Metro Atlanta area?
Atlanta Tech. Village, NCR, Microsoft, Atlanta Deep Learning (GT)
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Andre Dickens: Current City Councilmember, Georgia Tech graduate, and Chief Development Officer at TechBridge

What can the Atlanta tech and startup community expect from your time in the Mayor’s office?

The Atlanta tech and startup community can expect someone who understands them. I’ve started a small business, and through the TechBridge program, we’ve trained hundreds of tech workers for Atlanta businesses. I’ve seen and understand how important these industries are to the workforce and economy of Atlanta. We must continue to foster an environment that encourages these businesses to thrive in the City. That includes developing the workforce of Atlanta, so that tech companies and startups don’t have to look outside of the city to find talent. The tech and startup community will find one of their own and a partner in the Mayor’s office.

 

 If you are elected this November, how do you see working with the local tech community?

I see two major ways that the city will work with the tech community. First, we have to be a more efficient government and city and that starts with technology. I’m an engineer and a problem solver, and I know that we can reduce waste and inefficiencies through the smart implementation of technology. And the city must be willing to utilize and support the local tech community first. We have talent here, and we must utilize and uplift them first.

That leads to the second way the city can partner with the tech community which is through workforce development and an Atlanta Department of Labor. We have the opportunity to develop the talent that currently exists in Atlanta. I’ve done this already through the training program at TechBridge, and we can expand upon successes like those and bring training, apprenticeships, and education to workers throughout the city. We have sources of untapped talent throughout the city; we just need to connect local businesses to local talent.

 

Are there any industries/areas of tech that you are particularly following in the Metro Atlanta area?

Blockchain, Fintech, and Biotech.

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Sharon Gay: Senior Counsel for Dentons US LLP, Emory Law School graduate   

What can the Atlanta tech and startup community expect from your time in the Mayor’s office?

The Atlanta technology community is a huge win for the city of Atlanta. Outside of San Francisco and New York, the traditional technology hubs, Atlanta is now the #1 city for startups. We have recently seen larger companies like Google and Microsoft start building major hubs in Atlanta. There are now more than 40 corporate technology innovation centers in metro Atlanta. Tech doesn’t demand much in the way of city services or require the city’s approval in terms of building permits, licenses, etc., so I don’t think the Atlanta city government has appreciated the significant and pivotal role of the tech industry in both the city’s overall financial prosperity and in building a diverse and inclusive economy. 

The most important thing Tech needs from Atlanta is a city that works, that is safe, that has ample housing and great neighborhoods, that is attractive to companies and professionals, and that embraces our local colleges and universities as sources of innovation and an ever-deepening talent base. Atlanta tech companies compete nationally for talent and funding, and what they don’t need is to have to overcome bad press about corruption, crime, poor city services, and a disconnect between companies, neighborhoods, and the government. What the tech and startup community should expect if I am elected mayor is that we will end corruption, self-dealing, and pay to play; turn the corner on crime; and fix service delivery. We will also restore the voices of neighborhoods in city planning and re-engage our many potential corporate partners in addressing the needs of our most challenged neighborhoods. This has long been the way we have made decisions and progress in Atlanta, and it has been abandoned by the last two administrations.

 

If you are elected this November, how do you see working with the local tech community? 

I think of the tech community as an ecosystem of large and small companies, our large research universities and HBCUs, the professionals and entrepreneurs that have built the tech community for the last 40 years, and investors and professional service firms that support the unique needs of tech companies. We have a virtuous circle of growth in this local ecosystem, and Atlanta city government can play a helpful role in a few key areas. First, we can execute on the items I described above to ensure Atlanta is an advantage for every tech company that is located here. Next, the city can also be instrumental in recruiting larger, tech-oriented companies and corporate innovation centers.  These larger players often work directly with entrepreneurs and create opportunities that help our engineering graduates stay in Atlanta and become part of our ecosystem. The city, through Invest Atlanta as an example, also supports very small startups through programs like Students2Startups, and I think there is an opportunity to do more in this area. 

 

Are there any industries/areas of tech that you are particularly following in the Metro Atlanta area?

The Atlanta tech community has a strong presence in so many sectors: cybersecurity, telecom, mobility, FinTech, health IT, resilient data centers, smart energy, digital media, and logistics technology. Tech leaders and investors have proven they can build great companies. For example, there are over 160 FinTech organizations in the state, most of which are headquartered in Atlanta, that generate annual revenue of more than $72 billion. What the city can do is help carry the message that Atlanta is unique in the country, and perhaps the world, in the diversity and inclusiveness of our tech community and the local colleges and universities that support it. As just one measure of what that means, at the most recent Venture Atlanta conference, over 60% of the presenting companies had at least one diverse or underrepresented founder. That doesn’t happen in New York or Silicon Valley, but it is happening in Atlanta.

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Rebecca King: Sustainable living advocate and CEO of Cover Your Assets™, Inc., a business that focuses on documentation and provides pictorial inventory of contents for insurance companies

 

What can the Atlanta tech and startup community expect from your time in the Mayor’s office?  

The tech and startup community can expect a partnership and interest in enhancing Atlanta’s identity as friendly to business, entrepreneurship and technology based entities.  Technology is the driver even more than before due to Covid’s disruption in our lives and our evolution to create structure out of chaos.

 

If you are elected this November, how do you see working with the local tech community? 

As Mayor, I will be working hard to bring Technology to the City of Atlanta as a forethought and not an afterthought. Technology enhancement will bring efficiency, transparency and accountability to our government.  Transactions will be managed efficiently and with accountability.  Technology gives data driven information that can be used to make decisions enhancing quality of life and to streamline government.  There are a lot of data driven questions that the technology community can help to answer and help the City of Atlanta stay on the cutting edge.

 

Are there any industries/areas of tech that you are particularly following in the Metro Atlanta area? 

I have an interest in any industry or area that has evolved or pivoted during Covid times. The person or people behind those decisions to utilize Covid’s disruption to survive or thrive is of particular interest to me.  Those bold choices for change need to be brought to our great city government so that she can thrive and be sustainable for future generations.

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Election day is Tuesday, November 2. Those looking to learn and compare other mayoral issues can check out Branch.Vote, a local, free, nonpartisan website aggregating campaign information.

Photo by Cameron Venti on Unsplash

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