As the leader of IgniteHQ, an entrepreneurial hub and co-working space in Marietta that launched this year, Mark Hubbard wants to make sure the entrepreneurs in his incubator get their pitches heard and capital raised. But the route he’s taking to that end isn’t the most traditional.
Hubbard has developed a new initiative he’s calling CurateFor.Us — an institution that’s meant to connect a mixed network of capital sources to promising, closely-vetted startups and growth-stage companies in the region. Curate has already attracted more than $3.5 billion of hedge fund, family office, venture capital and private equity capital, according to a release.
Curate was designed to solve a problem Hubbard says entrepreneurs in Atlanta — and, more broadly, in the Southeast — have always faced: limited access to capital.
“There are amazing people doing wonderful things. I don’t ever want to make it sound like that’s not the case,” Hubbard explains. “But Atlanta is an industry town. It’s a real estate town. Really, truthfully, almost all the serious money in Atlanta has always gone into real estate.”
And because real estate has traditionally been the chief funnel for capital among the city’s industries, it has also been a main recipient of young talent.
“If you wanted to be an entrepreneur here, you became an entrepreneur in real estate,” Hubbard says.
Curate is emerging as a solution to that longstanding challenge, and it comes alongside a wave of measures that have sought to solve the same problem.
In 2012, Georgia passed legislation that allowed state pension funds to make alternative investments, like investments into startup ventures. Previously, the state’s public pension dollars were solely put into traditional investments.
Hubbard says this transition alone funneled a lot more money into high-potential startups.
Additionally, the growth of organizations like Invest Atlanta and related capitalization programs have aided the growth of Georgia’s startup culture. Hubbard saw this as the former CEO of the Alpharetta Technology Commission, where he launched and led the ATC Innovation Center.
He spent more than 20 years managing investment dollars at multiple firms, along with launching one of China’s most successful asset management joint ventures. Now, with Curate, he hopes to capitalize on new energy in the region by making use of his worldwide connections to capital and connecting them to compelling entrepreneurs in the region, specifically at IgniteHQ. The startup hub has an additional location opening in Alpharetta this summer, with more across the city in the works.
Hubbard described the role of Curate in the capitalization program to be similar to that of a loan broker. The outfit will thoroughly vet startups for the criteria they know fund managers look for in early screening.
Hubbard says one fund manager he knows told him that they planned to put as much as $300 million into ventures in the state as long as the right opportunities emerged. He says there are a lot of positive factors that undergird the appeal of Atlanta startups.
“We have universities coming out of our ears,” Hubbard explains. “You can’t dig a hole and not hit fiber. It cost nothing to live here. It costs nothing to have an office here. We have the busiest airport in the world. We have a deep water port down the road. Those things are impossible to get if you wanted them. But still, we would get kicked in the tail by other places that had nowhere near the resources we have.”
Though Hubbard was careful to point out that there have been plenty of success stories emerge from the region, he says he believes there’s more potential locked up here, unrealized because of a shortage in capital. And he says this initiative will benefit the overall ecosystem.
“When there’s more money and it’s better, smart, networked capital that demands a lot of pitches, guess what? The pitches get better,” Hubbard says. “And when there are more good pitches and those pitches get funded, the more often an engineering student from a globally-renowned Atlanta institution doesn’t just go work at GE after they graduate— they see some kind of opportunity to do something entrepreneurial.”
In other cities, Hubbard says it is more likely for startup culture to be open and collaborative. He says part of the mission of Curate is to promote that in Atlanta.
“We’re trying to contribute to that dynamic in a positive way — that’s not competitive, and not siloed, and is actually aggregative and helps everybody,” Hubbard says. “Ecosystems thrive when participants are willing to do things that are ‘leaky’ — that cause the advancement of the system as a whole,” he says. “Our ultimate goal is the flourishing of all stakeholders.”
Photos courtesy IgniteHQ