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Engage’s Next Chapter

A Look Inside Atlanta's Multi-Corporate VC Fund

by Maija Ehlinger

Atlanta has served as fertile ground for both enterprise teams and early-stage founders over the years. From Downtown to Midtown to Sandy Springs, Metro Atlanta’s business districts are filled with both Fortune 500 headquarters and startup offices poised for growth.

But how do startups and large corporations actually meet each other?

Traditionally, that hasn’t been an easy introduction. But landing those intros can be crucial for any promising B2B company.

Getting in front of corporations is top of mind for the teams behind eight startups recently selected to join Engage. The eight selected startups just started their new 10-week journey to scale their enterprise-level technologies and learn the intricacies of working with large corporations.

Those in the Atlanta startup community are likely familiar with the Engage program, which is part of Tech Square Ventures. Far from being a traditional business accelerator, Engage brings Atlanta’s preeminent enterprises together in one multi-corporate venture capital fund. That gives large corporate partners – industry giants like Chick-Fil-A, Delta, Coca-Cola, The Home Depot, Georgia Pacific, Inspire, and Cox Enterprises, to name a few – direct access to the up-and-coming B2B startups addressing their most pressing business challenges.


Get To Know The Engage Process

“We’re in the relationship business,” Engage’s Bill Nussey told Hypepotamus. “I think part of what we do at Engage is teach startups how to speak the corporate language. It’s getting [startups] to understand the unique role, constraints, and opportunities that exist in a corporation. But it goes both ways. Many large corporates have no idea what flexibility and constraints startups have. So we act as that middle person, both translating the value and translating expectations.”

Nussey added that he’s “heard time and time again from past founders that [they] completely redid their go-to-market not just for corporations, but for all customers” due to the clarity they received through Engage.

Engage also serves a strategic role for enterprise companies. As Engage’s Maddie Harper explained to Hypepotamus, the program gives large enterprises the chance to “lean into new areas of innovation [and] expand around Atlanta.”

That is something that attracted Matt Eberhart, CEO of Atlanta-based cybersecurity startup Query, to Engage. As a veteran of the cybersecurity startup space, he said Engage offers a new way to connect with potential clients.

“The format of it is really appealing. It’s not like a lightning pitch round or something where you’re just going and doing a sales pitch. It’s really sitting across the table and having a conversation,” Eberhart told Hypepotamus. “We’re talking about what challenges we have and how we can help each other. That’s very refreshing.”

Engage is also appealing to corporate professionals who have made their way into the startup world. Co-founders Frank Layo and Debbie Fortnum started their careers in consulting and supply chain management respectively before launching Atlanta-based Macondo Vision to tackle inefficiencies inside distribution centers and industrial manufacturing facilities. Despite their deep industry knowledge, the team told Hypepotamus that they are excited to build and learn within the Engage network.

“Our product is nearing the point where we can scale it. We have a big focus on getting corporate clients with multiple installations. And this program offers the opportunity to get in front and understand the way they operate,” Layo told Hypepotamus.


The New Engage

To date, Engage’s model has had big payouts for both startups and corporations. Its 91 portfolio companies have gone on to raise $3.2 billion in capital, see six exits, and land major corporate deals with Delta, Southern Company, The Home Depot, among other enterprises. And Engage has had a particularly large impact on the Southeast startup scene. 49 of the 91 startups hail from the region, and 27 of them are headquartered in Atlanta.

While today there is no formal application process, the Engage team speaks to startups year round but started narrowing down the list for this cohort back in May. What started as a list of 1,000 startups was whittled down to just eight.

Engage officially launched its 12th cohort last week, bringing new energy to their offices on Georgia Tech’s Tech Square.

Selected startups include: 

Canvs AI (New York City)

Macondo Vision, Inc (Atlanta)

Misapplied Sciences, Inc. (Pasadena) 

NLX (New York City) 

Optera (Boulder) 

Paccurate (Brooklyn) 

Query (Atlanta) 

VECKTA (San Diego)

Along with the fresh crop of startups, Engage has a fresh new set of faces leading the organization, including Partner Bill Nussey, Director of Corporate Innovation Taylor Chance, and Engage Manager Maddie Harper.

Junior Gaspard, an early employee at Scoutmob and a startup CEO and co-founder, has joined as Engage’s Entrepreneur-In-Residence to build stronger community initiatives across the program.

Like the startups they serve, Engage has transformed over the years. It is now a hybrid program that brings national founders to Atlanta twice during the duration of the cohort. It has also put more of an emphasis on building community and creating more touch points between startup and corporate leaders throughout the cohort.

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