The Gathering Spot is more than a co-working space, says Ryan Wilson, co-founder and CEO. Wilson and his co-founder TK Petersen want to bring entrepreneurs from all walks of life under one roof and redefine how they collaborate together. Whether that’s through panels, events or over a meal at the hotspot’s restaurant, the Gathering Spot has became a new kind of city club.
Last year, the founders hit the ground running after raising $3M in funding, and then taking on memberships from local entrepreneurs. This includes housing 10 startups through The Bridge, a commercialization program by Coca-Cola and other Fortune 500 leaders for early-stage tech companies. Additionally, their event roster has shined with a startup panel on funding, the City of Atlanta’s SPOTlight series (with Ludacris as a guest), and many others. Plus, they are at the center of entrepreneurial initiatives, including Startup Grind and Startup Runway, a new pitch series, in partnership with Valor Ventures, for women and minorities.
Wilson talks about how he hopes the Gathering Spot will influence the local community, why organic networking is better for everyone involved, and the one business lesson his grandmother taught him. (Trust us, it’s a good one.)
What’s sets the Gathering Spot apart from other spaces in the city?
We started the company about 3 years ago. 2 things were happening at the same time. I was in and out of a lot of city clubs and country clubs so I really got to understand the model in terms of having primarily events based on a restaurant/bar operate together.
We have a fair amount of space dedicated to work, but a ton of programming here. You’ll see anything from film screenings to wine tastings to different panels and lectures that engage the creative community and traditional business community. We really pride ourselves on the interaction on more than a work level. We’re very intentional about who we accept to be members here. The co-working spaces are an amenity that you have as a member of the club rather than the the core of what we do.
Tell me about your background and how did you put that experience to work when you co-founded The Gathering Spot?
It’s interesting, I’m a lawyer by trade and I don’t know if I’m directly putting that training to work everyday. I do think that legal background changes the way that you think, but my experience in law school really got me thinking about diversity in community. While it’s nice to hang out with lawyers all the time figuring out places where you have access to other types of people. I did a lot … I lived in DC for a while before doing this project and did a lot of work there around inclusive communities and diverse communities. That work, I think, is helpful in how we approach this project generally.
What brought you back to Atlanta?
We thought this would be a good market in terms of all the groups I identified previously. A lot of major companies that are here. Film, TV, music, just the general culture. I have a T-shirt that says, “Atlanta influences everything” that I wear probably too often.” The start-up scene here too is vibrant so we wanted to be in a place where all 3 were happening at the same time and thought that this was the best market for us to start this project in.
How do you hope that The Gathering Spot is going to influence that Atlanta tech community?
I think that it’s important for people in technology to always be connected to what I always call the culture. The broader culture. I think that it makes tech projects better and I think that particularly for those folks in the creative community here, and really in the corporate, having interaction with one another makes for better products, makes for better companies and organizations generally. We want to contribute in the sense that even if you are the traditional tech person, you’ve got a space to interact with very, very creative people that are also interested in technology. There’s a true opportunity for collaboration.
Why is diversity important as far as the work entrepreneurs are doing?
I just have a fundamental belief that you build better products when you’re being influenced by people that aren’t thinking about solving issues in the same way that you are. It’s really that simple to me. You will be a better tech entrepreneur if you know some of the greatest creative minds that are coming out of the city today. Those creatives will be enhanced by knowing the tech community as well. When culture and entertainment and technology intersect, I think we’re seeing some really powerful things out of those mergers so you’ve got to create physical space for those people to get know one another and really be able to dive deeply into figuring out how to solve problems. I don’t think that you could do it in isolation. Particularly as an entrepreneur of color, there’s so many ways that the culture that’s here can continue to get more connected to the tech community. A lot of companies that haven’t been born yet that need to. I think that Atlanta is the place that has the perfect mix to make it happen.
Do you have any networking advice?
It’s interesting because I’m a huge introvert and I own a social club. The major advice I have, and how we approach it generally at the club, is that it’s more about organic experiences and programs that bring people together that aren’t necessarily formal networking opportunities but just opportunities to connect. I think when people hear the word “networking,” they’re imagining a bunch of people just sitting in a room passing out business cards.
For us, it’s about a lot more than that. Our questions are, what experience do you create where all parties involved want to come and see it? Then out of that, we believe that people will get to know one another as we take the pressure off of scrambling for the business card to pass out. Again, make it about an evening out where another person sitting next to you at the bar or at the chair next to you at a panel, it’s just much more of an organic connection.
As a young co-founder, what are some lessons that you’ve learned so far that others could apply to their startups?
I learned this very early on, but it’s important regardless of your age. Entrepreneurs need to figure out how to fight for the best possible version of whatever their idea is. Particularly, as young entrepreneurs, we might settle sometimes for a less awesome version of the thing that we actually want to create. I understand that there are financial and time and general resource restraints that come into play, but you can’t always make those sort of exceptions. I really encourage people to fight for whatever version of that thing that you want to create, fight for the best version of it. Draw up on the resources that are in the ecosystem. Atlanta’s rich with folks that have traveled down this path before and we leaned on them heavily.
My grandmother used to say all the time, “Closed mouths don’t get fed.” You’ve got to be open to generally asking for help when you need it. We have not been shy about that at all. There are a ton of people that have surrounded us in this project and that’s allowed for us not only to get up and running, but also to have a very strong first year.