12 Months of Hype: The Top Stories of 2019

As 2019 draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on the events, companies, and people that truly made this year one to remember. From Techstars Atlanta seeing its first successful alumni exit to a pair of regional companies reaching unicorn status, the startup community had a lot to celebrate this year. Here are a few of our favorite stories of 2019.

January: Entrepreneurs Paul Judge, Ryan Wilson Acquire Controlling Stake in A3C

2019 opened with the news that Ryan Wilson, co-founder and CEO of The Gathering Spot and TechSquare Labs co-founder Paul Judge had acquired a majority stake in Atlanta-based music, culture, and technology festival A3C, along with longtime A3C executive director Mike Walbert. The popular hip-hop festival recently celebrated its 15th anniversary and routinely draws more than 30,000 people to the city. The trio plans to expand the tech track (with renewed emphasis on the festival’s Startup Spotlight) and create curated interactive experiences for A3C attendees.


February: A Mailchimp Acquisition Gives Techstars Atlanta Its First Successful Exit

Techstars Atlanta celebrated a milestone in February when graphic design startup (and 2018 cohort member) SAWA became the first company to successfully exit. Following Mailchimp’s acquisition of SAWA, company founder Francis Tao joined Mailchimp to run its technology integration. “This is a big win for everyone involved,” former Techstars Atlanta director Rachel Ford told Hype at the time. “Francis’ vision now has immense reach to the broad customer base of Mailchimp. The alignment between company cultures is icing on the cake and we’re thrilled to see Francis continue to lead from within.”



March: Audio Engineer For Grammy-Winners Helps Producers Mix Tracks Cheaper

When longtime sound engineer Jacob Morris realized he couldn’t work with many artists’ studio budgets without sacrificing audio quality, he decided to help democratize the process for artists via technology. The result was MXD, an Atlanta-based startup that allows artists to upload files of their recordings and choose the sound they like. Thanks to a smart algorithm, they get a completed, studio-level mix in return within two days — all for a fraction of what an actual studio engineer would charge.

Jay Bailey


April:  Atlanta’s Minority-Focused Russell Center Opens to First Members

2019 also saw the opening of the Herman J. Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, an incubator based in Atlanta’s West End designed to develop and broaden business opportunities for founders of color. Unlike most incubators, however, the Russell Center  also plans to open its doors to businesses other than the usual tech startups. In addition, the center plans to devote physical space to founders accessing capital as well as space for student founders.


May: AppHarvest Secures $82 Million, Plus Series A, For 60-Acre High-Tech Greenhouse

May was a huge month for Kentucky-based agtech startup AppHarvest. Not only did the company close a Series A equity round, but it also announced an $82 million investment from Equilibrium Capital’s Controlled Environment Foods Fund to build its 60-acre high-tech greenhouse in Morehead, Kentucky. The greenhouse will include irrigation systems designed to reduce water usage by 90 percent, as well as vertical crops, software that can react in real time to incoming weather patterns and temperature changes, and more. As founder and CEO Jonathan Webb said at the time, “By establishing a homegrown food supply here in the central location of Appalachia, we’ll be able to reach 70 percent of the U.S. population in just a day’s drive.”


June: Fast-Growing Atlanta Cannabis Startup Raises $100M Series D, Starts Hiring

In June, Atlanta-based cannabis health startup Surterra Wellness (now known as Parallel) announced the close of a $100 million Series D funding round that the company plans to use for additional strategic acquisitions and infrastructure expenditures. As company CEO and chairman William “Beau” Wrigley said at the time, “This significant financing reflects Surterra’s ability to attract a sophisticated, curated investor group who trusts our vision, business model and financial track record.”



July: Data Privacy Startup OneTrust Gets $200M, Becomes Atlanta Unicorn

Crossing the $1 billion dollar valuation point with a $200 million Series A investment round, Atlanta’s OneTrust, a privacy management platform, officially became the tech startup industry version of a certain mythical single-horned horse. The announcement came after a run of successes for the company, which grew by 400 employees since February 2019 to more than 1,000 today. OneTrust also completed the acquisition of Data Guidance in March, making the security regulatory research platform its third purchase (along with the 2016 acquisition of Governor Technology and Optanon) in three years. And with more than 3,000 customers, including Oracle, Criteo, 21st Century Fox, Kickstarter, and Marriott, the unicorn looks set to stampede into 2020.


August: Atlanta-Based VCs Raise $200M For Blockchain Fund

2019 wasn’t the year we first heard about blockchain, but it was the year that Algo Capital, an Atlanta-based venture capital fund focused specifically on the technology, raised $200 million to invest in startups using the Algorand blockchain protocol. The fund raised north of $60 million from a summer initial token sale, and tacked on an additional $66 million raised through traditional VC funding from Union Square Ventures, Pillar Venture Capital and other firms. 



September: Kid-Focused Fintech Startup Greenlight Closes $54M Series B

Teaching financial literacy and responsibility to kids is something that would interest any parent. So, when an Atlanta-based fintech startup called Greenlight raised $54 million in a Series B funding round, people took notice. For $4.99 per month, the kid-friendly company gives kids a branded debit card and an app, and lets parents transfer allowances to their children while keeping control over what’s spent via limits and alerts. It also gives kids a chance to track their own accounts and earn their keep via its “chores” feature. It even gives Mom and Dad the ability to pay their kids a chosen interest rate on collected savings.


October: Product-Focused Software Pendo Hits Unicorn Status With $100M Series E

A $100 million Series E round in October put Raleigh-based Pendo’s total of raised capital at $206 million, which was enough to give the cloud-based platform other companies use for customer onboarding, feedback and tracking a valuation of more than $1 billion. Achieving unicorn status will fuel the company’s global expansion and help it serve its more than 1,200 existing customers. The company also plans to grow its sales, marketing, customer success, product development, and support staff. Still, as CEO Todd Olson told Hype, “To me, “unicorn status is not necessarily something to celebrate—it means we have a lot more work to do.”



November: Bootstrapped LeaseQuery Raises $40M Series A from Goldman Sachs

Launching bootstrap-style in 2011, LeaseQuery, an Atlanta-based startup focused on real estate lease accounting, pulled in $40 million in Series A from Goldman Sachs Merchant Banking division in November. The company, which helps more than 10,000 accountants with compliance and document management pertaining to lease accounting guidelines, is used by a variety of organizations, from non-profit organizations to public and private businesses alike. Not only does it help with leasing paperwork dealing with real estate, it also helps bean-counters keep track of filing dates critical for meeting global accounting board standards.

New Story Homes


December: Startup New Story Announces World’s First 3D-Printed Home Community

The 3D printer is one of the coolest inventions in modern time, even as people continue to wrap their minds around the technology’s potential. However, Atlanta startup non-profit New Story realized this tech could be put to humanitarian use, and in December, they announced the completion of two 3D-printed homes near Tabasco, Mexico. Ultimately, New Story plans build a community there for 50 families in need. “I think it’s important to remember what makes this project different, what makes it matter,” New Story COO and co-founder Alexandria Lafci said. “We’re not an R&D company just for the sake of innovation, and we’re not here to turn a profit. These homes are for real people, with real needs, and everything we do is for them.”