Google for Entrepreneurs and TechSquare Labs jointly announced a partnership that would make the Tech Square incubator and co-working space the Atlanta home for the GFE Network. Startup founders will get access to Google training and products like its Cloud Platform for Startups, along with work space and mentorships. GFE’s reach – 200,000 global entrepreneurs working out of 25 similar workspace facilities in more than 125 countries – provides special benefits for the city, and Google’s Passport program allows Atlanta members to use spaces in other network cities for free.
The celebration was for Atlanta joining that select group of cities. But you could also raise a glass and toast yet another success story about the local tech startup community – something Mayor Kasim Reed acknowledged during the media event.
“While you all are serial entrepreneurs, and I’m so proud of all that, I want the city of Atlanta to be serial enablers of entrepreneurship. That’s really what I want to do here,” he told the audience. Mission accomplished; Atlanta has arrived as a tech hub. But those who track the tech sector and have checked the latest venture capital and IPO statistics may be wondering if a new tech bubble, similar to the late 1990s, is inflating. Could Atlanta’s current success with its tech ecosystem come to a screeching halt?
Paul Judge, Ph.D, TSL co-founder and serial entrepreneur, isn’t worried because of lessons learned from the late 90s. “There’s this notion of don’t have growth at any cost,” he told me. “You can have good growth, but pay attention to expenses, pay attention to profitability, have a pathway to profitability. That’s a good healthy thing.”
Companies and others in the ecosystem want to be aggressive, but “you still have to be thoughtful. Also, it kind of equalizes things for environments like this where there’s not as much funding as other cities, so if everybody is being responsible about their funding, it kind of evens the playing ground a bit more.”
Bridgette Beam, head of global programs and operations for Google for Entrepreneurs, has been based in the company’s Atlanta office for the past three years. She could do her job out of London or Silicon Valley, but personal reasons kept her here. That gave her a front row seat as Atlanta built out its tech community.
“One thing that we saw that kind of took the local office by surprise is this huge tech spark that caught rapid momentum,” Beam said. “Just bringing that to light internally in the office here is something that I’ve really worked hard for, and getting more Googlers to see that they are part of a community that’s bigger than it once was 10 years ago.” That kind of attention, as well as regular visits from Google executives, have made a difference in the search giant’s funding priorities and its decision to add Atlanta to its GFE network.
Part of Beam’s job at Atlanta’s Google office also involves finding local talent, and that points to another big difference between 2016 and the go-go late ’90s: efforts to grow the next generation of developers and founders. Reed saw one of those efforts for himself at TSL.
“The happiest moment I had today was when I walked in that room with 7-8 young people who were part of CodeStart,” Reed said, “and they’re in there with an executive from Lockheed learning how to code. That really speaks to the character of Paul Judge and what this place is.”
With Atlanta poised to persuade more out-of-town tech companies to relocate here – Reed teased “five announcements we’re ready to make in the next 90 days” during his remarks – the questions now focus on what the city’s ecosystem is still lacking as it keeps competing with Silicon Valley, New York, Seattle and Austin.
Beam believes the city needs to get louder about telling its tech success story. “I think one challenge you’ve had is that it’s a very B2B ecosystem, which is good, it’s very profitable,” she said. “But from a media side it’s not very sexy. But that profitability story is amazing.”
Another concern is the lack of Atlanta-based venture capital. Judge has the perfect remedy: build things that people need. “It’s the investor’s job to find great companies, so they’re going to seek them out,” he said. “We build great companies, the funding will show up. We’ve seen that time and time again.”
The late 1990s were about proving the Internet as a business model. The 2010s are focused on the playing field-leveling capabilities of newer technologies, Judge said. “Mobile and cloud (computing) have allowed the little guy, and a city like Atlanta, to really be aggressive about trying to solve big problems. That’s what we’re seeing right now, the confidence. We have this increasing confidence that we can go chase any problem we want to.”
More details about the partnership between Google for Entrepreneurs and TechSquare Labs is available through this featured article.
[Image Sources: Renay San Miguel and TechSquare Labs]