Startup founder Tamara Lucas is in growth mode. She initially launched My Panda, a hyperlocal consumer platform connecting busy people to personal assistants, in Decatur, Georgia. She’s now looking to expand the platform to other neighborhoods and cities in the Metro Atlanta area. But even with her growth metrics, she admits that the fundraising journey has been difficult for a startup at her stage.
“It’s really hard to just get straight into the VC world,” she told Hypepotamus. “So a lot of people say to just go out and find angel [investors]…but that’s easier said than done for underrepresented founders like me.”
Finding outside capital for a tech startup is hard at any stage, but it is particularly difficult for a subset of founders too small for traditional venture firms but too big to bootstrap to scale their efforts.
Like Lucas, Graham Gintz is one such local founder navigating the tough early-stage funding market. Despite gaining customers, Gintz has had a hard time gaining traction in the VC world for his Atlanta-based startup Knightley.
Part of the issue, according to Gintz, is the more conservative local investing landscape.
“Unlike other ecosystems where there are networks which will invest capital into an idea, [Atlanta’s] capital landscape requires significantly more traction or reputation to put first money in,” he told Hypepotamus. “I think Atlanta is a naturally conservative place when it comes to finance. I think many Atlanta based founders are seeing less friction with angel investors and funds in other locations which makes it very tempting to build elsewhere in the early days.”
But that made him more determined to help other founders grow without following the traditional VC route but while continuing to build in Atlanta. That led him to the launch of Atlanta Venture Club, a digital community to connect the local tech ecosystem.
Get To Know The Club
As the old saying goes: When the going gets tough, the tough get going. But for members of this club, it might be better to say: When the going gets tough, the tough join forces. The Club looks to be a central location where early-stage founders can support one another through funding and networking. Members join with a one-time membership fee that goes directly into the Community Fund. Eventually, that will fund other Atlanta-based businesses who are stuck in the early-stage “gray area” where they are too big for angels, too small for VCs, or just don’t fit the traditional early-stage investor’s profile. The Club aims to offer all the ecosystem-building services that are essential for early-stage founders to network and connect.
“The idea is that the memberships fill a pool of capital which will be spread across 140+ investments as the club grows out to 10,000 members. At 500 members, we’ll have enough to make our first 4 investments. In addition to the capital, the members of the club are incentivized to be as helpful as possible because everyone shares a Community Carry on the successful performance of the fund, even if they never invest as an angel into any of the opportunities. It can be a way to index a wide spectrum of opportunities all serving the growth of Atlanta.”
For Lucas, Atlanta Venture Club could help fill an important gap in the Atlanta startup community.
“Underrepresented people [and] first-time founders are solving problems that are real and they are being really creative and innovative. But those ideas might not have the 100x [growth opportunity] that venture capitalists are looking for, but their idea is going to make an impact. I think that’s where Atlanta Venture Club fits in.”
To date, ATV has garnered well over 100 members from in and around the Atlanta startup ecosystem. Students from universities like Georgia Tech, Emory, Georgia Tech, and Morehouse have also joined in.
Most of those founders are looking for capital or for connections to start deploying larger pilot programs, added Gintz.
While still too nascent to start deploying capital, Gintz said the goal is to grow the club as a key part of the local startup ecosystem.