Since startup accelerator Techstars entered the Atlanta ecosystem three years ago, the local tech ecosystem has seen both direct and indirect impact. The quantifiable outcomes have already proven impressive: Techstars Atlanta alumni companies have collectively raised over $30 million and created over 50 new jobs.
Of those alumni, 13 startups that were founded outside of Atlanta have chosen to relocate to the city following the completion of the program. The latest announcement, digital advertising company Fixel, is relocating from Israel, often known as “Startup Nation,” in favor of Atlanta.
On a macro level, the existence of a noted brand like Techstars — the number-three top accelerator, after Y Combinator and 500 Startups, for number of successful exits — has boosted the city’s profile on an international stage. Techstars Atlanta is the only accelerator in the Southeast that is part of a global network, drawing entrepreneurs from across the region and around the world.
“Three years ago, when Cox had the foresight to bring this here, it brought credibility to Atlanta,” says David Payne, a serial entrepreneur, startup leader, and the new Managing Director of Techstars Atlanta, which is presented in partnership with Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises.
Payne’s appointment to the MD role was announced following company pitches at this year’s Techstars Atlanta Demo Day. He succeeds Michael Cohn, who ran the program for three years and will now be pursuing other opportunities.
Payne has a long history in the startup community. Though he says he’s actually started seven companies, he saw heady success with two. The first, e-commerce and daily discounts company Scoutmob, raised $8 million in funding and, at its height, catered to 13 cities.
Five years ago, Scoutmob was stable and Payne was itching for something new. He joined his former co-founder, Michael Tavani, in the early stages of Switchyards Downtown Club, the city’s first and (still) only B2C startup hub and a now-famous stop on local Instagram feeds.
Payne and Tavani tried many “experiments,” as Payne calls them, at Switchyards. That included Switchyards Studios, a program where they incubated new companies and founders in-house, sold-out monthly events The Consumer Show and Made In Atlanta, as well as many that “never saw the light of day,” says Payne.
But again, approaching the building’s three-year birthday, Payne felt that itch. His favorite part of Switchyards was the opportunity to mentor the young startups that were growing there, including startups, like Saige, bloveit and PadSplit, that went through the Techstars Atlanta program.
“When I heard that Michael [Cohn] wasn’t coming back to Techstars, I decided to throw my hat in the ring,” Payne says. After interviews with both the Techstars and Cox Enterprises teams, he was offered the role.
He’ll now put his own twist on the program as a leader. Most of these are what he calls “stylistic” changes — the bones of the program will remain the same, with 10 companies, three months of programming, and a robust mentorship aspect.
He’ll emphasize two important distinctions when sourcing the startups for the program. The first is geography — a Birmingham, AL native and long-time Atlantan, Payne wants to place a great deal of emphasis on the Southeast.
“I know what it’s like growing up in the South, and starting a company in a city that may be under-resourced,” he tells Hypepotamus.
The second distinction he brings up is the startup’s stage. Payne’s sweet spot, he says, is the very early stages of a company. He calls it a “product-centric” approach.
“I’m totally enamored with sourcing,” Payne says.
The accelerator will continue to be industry-agnostic. In the last three years, Techstars Atlanta companies have been in spaces ranging from real estate to eSports to dating.
For the next few months, Payne will be traveling around the region to meet with founders interested in the program. He’s also working on bringing on a Program Manager, a role that will essentially serve as his right hand in running the accelerator.
Cox Enterprises has re-committed to another three years supporting Techstars Atlanta, and Payne says he looks forward to working with them.
“[Cox leaders] mentioned a few areas that they’re interested in, but they’re really letting it run itself,” Payne says about his relationship with the corporation. “When they say it’s really to help the city, that’s for real.”