Sam Adams has a strong passion for this city, I would even call him a one-man PR campaign. His hopes and dreams for it have even bled into his work as he is now Invest Atlanta‘s first Manager of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, after a stint for the city as a senior project manager. His experience as an entrepreneur, as a startup leader and as a government employee makes him the right person for the job as he gets to cheer on entrepreneurs as they build their business here.
His job both helps companies and individuals move into the city and provide the resources they need through Invest Atlanta to make them feel right at home — from housing options to an office space to work. The other side of his job is the fun part, as he calls it, where he gets to talk to local startups and help them grow bigger, faster, stronger through recommendations, city contracts and/or connections to other companies.
As the city undergoes a transition into a world-class spot for various industries, we need his passion to lure them in and help them stay. Adams talks to Hype about why you should see the city as a customer, how Invest Atlanta can help you make connections and how he measures his success.
What does your new position as Manager of Entrepreneurship and Innovation for Invest Atlanta entail?
Invest Atlanta has traditionally dealt with the entrepreneurial community and with some realms of innovation before but hasn’t actually directed a full-time position to it. So the new role is really focused on getting out there in the community and actually working with entrepreneurs in a different fashion than I think Invest Atlanta has been used to.
This role’s a little bit more hands-on. If I were to sum it up in a nutshell: It’s really acting as a representative to and for entrepreneurs and the tech start ups here in Atlanta. It’s a little bit more, kind of day to day, us meeting with a lot of entrepreneurs and just asking, “What are the pain points? What can we do to help?” It’s a really big connectivity position of trying to make sure that, on a day to day basis, we’re putting the right people in touch with one-another. So that’s the entrepreneurial side of it.
The innovation side is really more focused on these special projects that don’t necessarily fall under our typical role, but position Atlanta as a city that is not only focused on innovation, but actually implementing new ways of thinking, or trying out new technologies, or thinking about new processes that I think a lot of folks want to try, and want to see if they can work. And I think that the city is really in a position, now to take some risks and actually go out on a limb.
Why would you say that the city is ready to take on more risks?
You know, a few years ago the city got hit pretty hard after the recession. A lot of our revenue from the city side, a lot of folks value is tied up in real estate. So we were probably one of the worst hit markets in terms of that.
Looking around at the office you can see 35 cranes all moving. We’re really in a growth mode, and that allows us a lot of opportunities to take advantage of some different ways of thinking. Some different ways of doing things. Because right now we’re at the ground level. We’ve got a long runway of success that’s already being built around us. How do we make sure that all of the people that are gonna come and live in those buildings, that are gonna come and work in those buildings are happy here, and living in one of the best communities that they can? I think our role, both as the city and Invest Atlanta is to make sure that we’re thinking about that question constantly.
What are some benefits that you’d like to provide to those people that are coming into the city to help it grow?
Right off the bat, the number of jobs that are coming to the city is, in large part, one of the focuses of Invest Atlanta. So making sure that people can move to the city both, either as an individual and find a job here, or relocate their business here, is a huge part of what we do, and a huge focus for us in terms of what we try and make sure people are able to do and do easily.
So part of that is, if you’re gonna be moving to the city of Atlanta and you are in a tech startup, that you can get a business license without having to pay a fee. If it’s that you want to live downtown, that we can find housing near where you want to work.
That’s one of the unique things about our organization, is that we do house both community and economic development. With that, we can offer companies several options when they want to move their company into the city. I think the other thing that makes, not only my role, but also Invest Atlanta a bit unique is our demonstration projects. That is a formalized process where we actually invite companies to apply to test out their products or services with government assets.
So if you are working on building something that really hasn’t been seen before, hasn’t been created before and you need to test it on a large scale and actually prove out to customers that they’re not investing in, or not buying a risky technology, but rather something that’s actually seen some real field tests.
What kind of opportunities is Invest Atlanta providing for startups?
The city is trying to open up its assets and open up its departments to partnering with some of those local startups to actually test out their technology.
We’re working with a company called MetroTech to actually build out the city’s demonstration corridor on North Avenue to put cameras at all the intersections, so that we can start to tackle the traffic problems. If you can understand how many cars are moving through an intersection, at what velocity, in what sort of seasonality, and in what directions, you can start to figure out how the street lights need to be timed to be effective.
The reason that Invest Atlanta is involved in that is two-fold. One, because we were able to take MetroTech through the demonstration process and partner them with the city’s IT and public works department. But two, as representatives of the business community to the city government, traffic’s just one of our worst problems, and to have a metro-Atlanta startup that’s focused some emerging technology to tackle that, that’s a huge opportunity for us to get out there and be a leader in tackling one of our most difficult problems, but also a problem that’s not unique to Atlanta. So it gives us a real chance to provide them a platform to then go out and sell their product to other cities and grow as an Atlanta-based firm.
You’ve had experience serving all across the board, so it gives you a unique insight into these businesses.How are you applying that experience to this new role?
Having worked for the Fortune 100s here in Atlanta, having worked for a startup here in Atlanta, and then having worked for government, I think the idea is all around communicating the way to frame things up for folks.
Having been everything but an investor, it allows me to help put those discussion in perspective. That you can’t take the same deck and put it in front of five different groups and expect to get the same reaction. You actually have to cater a little bit more towards what that unique arrangement is going to look like, and finding the sweet spot where you’re winning with your customers, winning with your investors or clients, and winning with the government and the economic development agency. Or we can all help one another out. That’s the fun question. That’s the one where it takes a little bit of time to get at exactly where that spot is. But once you do, it just makes everything so much easier.
What advice can you give to an entrepreneur trying to put their business out there?
The first thing that generally comes to mind, just because of my background is, think of the city as a customer. A lot of firms have made a lot of money selling to large institutions, but it doesn’t just have to be that you’re going to sell your service to a Home Depot, or a UPS, or a Delta. The city buys a lot of products and services and we’re looking to become more open, in terms of procuring from startups.
Invest Atlanta is here to help for those kinds of things. If you’ve got a product or a service that you think would either make the city a better place to live, or an easier place to do business. That’s certainly something that we help with. I think that’s one of the reasons that this role was created. With my background in government, trying to figure out how we create a culture here in Atlanta of a little bit more collaboration between government and startups.
The second thing I recommend is just, “Get out there.” There’s a lot of events. There’s a lot of networking. There’s a lot of money that’s available if you’re at the right competition, or if you’re talking to the right people. It can seem overwhelming at first.
Not everybody had the luxury of getting to spend your day talking to other people about all sorts of things. Particularly as a startup, you are heads-down focused on either getting your product to market, or securing your first sale, or getting rid of that last bug, or figuring out why this isn’t jiving with your target market just right.
How do you measure your success within this position?
My success is in other people’s success. Right now my success is in making sure other entrepreneurs feel like they’re being supported, feel like we’re in their corner trying to make them more successful. Then seeing that success and being able to share it not only with the larger Atlanta community, but with other cities to demonstrate that when you come to Atlanta, you’ve got all of these resources that want to see your company take off.
The more that we can sell that by demonstrating it, I think the more successful this role is going to be viewed, and the more resources will dedicate to this space.
What do you think about Atlanta’s current tech scene?
The first one is, it’s just booming. I think that can be overwhelming for a lot of folks, whether you’re trying to get into it, or you’re trying to ride the waves. It’s a really exciting time to be here in Atlanta.
It really feels like if you want to come to Atlanta and start something, you’ve got the opportunity to. I think Neurological is a prime example of that. We’ve got one of three neuroscience-based incubators in North America, because somebody said, “I want to do this,” and now they’re doing it. We’re trying to help them not only continue to be successful, but potentially grow.