Kelly Gay may be the first woman to win the Imlay Leadership Award, an honor given each year by the Technology Executives Roundtable to one leader in Georgia’s high-tech community. But her dedication to building a stronger and more inclusive Atlanta technology scene all but ensures she will not be the last.
“I believe in this community. It is where I get my friendships, my relationships, my joy,” Gay told Hypepotamus. “The volume of entrepreneurs and startups, the quality of the employment base, and the fact that we have so many technology experts and professionals here in this town…all mean it’s a fabulous moment in time.”
While Gay started her technology career at IBM, she ultimately moved into the startup world as Chairperson, CEO, and President of one of Atlanta’s original IT success stories, KnowledgeStorm, in 2000.
KnowledgeStorm was ultimately acquired by TargetTech (NASDAQ: TTGT) and Gay went on to serve as CEO of Omnilink Systems, a role she remained in as the Alpharetta startup was acquired first by Numerex and later by Sierra Wireless.
Those professional titles alone cement Gay as one of the original tech leaders in the Metro Atlanta community. But she hasn’t stopped there. While building up her own tech-focused ventures, Gay has given her time and her energy to organizations dedicated to building a stronger tech community.
BUILDING A BETTER TECH COMMUNITY
When Gay spoke to Hypepotamus last week, her enthusiasm for the ecosystem moving forward was palpable. While Atlanta’s diverse workforce has caught national attention recently, Gay has been part of the movement laying the groundwork for its growth over the last several decades.
She previously served on the board for the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG), where she was the first female chairperson, and continues to serve on the governing boards of Venture Atlanta, OnBoard, ATDC, Atlanta CEO Council, and Launchpad 2X. As Chairwoman of both Venture Atlanta and OnBoard, she has seen how both public and private companies have taken tangible steps to make Atlanta a better place to run a company.
On the startup side, Gay pointed to the fact that 59% of companies presenting at Venture Atlanta this year were led by underrepresented founders, something she says is a uniquely Atlanta story.
“You can sense that, in general, companies and individuals are beyond the surface level discussion about how we have to improve diversity,” she added. That helped Venture Atlanta not only attract underrepresented founders, but also a wider audience of investors and speakers.
That momentum extends into public companies as well, Gay added. According to data collected by OnBoard, a non-profit advocacy and educational organization helping companies find board-ready candidates, a record 37.5% of the 88 open board seats in the state during the last year were filled by women. Intercontinental Exchange, UPS, and The Coca-Cola Company have five or more women on the board, and 33 Georgia-based public companies have three or more.
In more signs of positive momentum, 14 women of color were added to public boards across the state in the last year. To put that stat in context, Gay pointed out that 11 women of color in total were added to boards across the state over the last decade.
“We’re marching towards more egalitarianism in the boardroom,” Gay added. “But we all know we still have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of work to do on behalf of women in the workforce. We have a lot of work to do on behalf of underrepresented communities. But it’s still a moment of hope and momentum. And I don’t see it stopping. I think there’s a true belief that what we have here in Atlanta, in particular with this fabulous diverse technology community, is a gem.”
Gay joins an impressive list of previous Imlay Award winners, including Sig Mosley, Tom Noonan, David Cummings, Chris Klaus, and John Yates.