Atlanta’s tech scene is thriving. But how did it get there and where is it headed?
Cynthia Curry, Director IoT / AI / Smart Cities Ecosystem Expansion at Metro Atlanta Chamber recently joined us for a Fireside Chat with our Managing Director, Kyle Tothill. They chatted about the history of Atlanta’s tech scene, what we can expect to see in the future and potential challenges that keep us from reaching our full potential as a world-class technology city.
You can view the full interview in the video below (and keep scrolling for the highlights).
Take The Money and Run… But Not Anymore
Atlanta has made great strides to be more business-friendly. We are the number one state to do business in the United States for six years running.
But it hasn’t always been that way.
In the past, founders would exit their businesses, take the money and run from Atlanta. David Cummings, Founder of Pardot, changed the game when he sold the company to ExactTarget in 2012.
He could have easily taken the money out to Silicon Valley or elsewhere but chose to invest in the future of Atlanta, instead. David bought the former Atlanta Business Chronicle building and turned into one of the first co-working spaces in the city. Today, the Atlanta Tech Village shines brightly in the heart of Buckhead.
“He poured everything he had into it and he really changed the market. He did crazy things like making leases that were three months, and six months, and a year instead of five years. He made walls that could go up and down so as your business expanded you could move into those areas. Nothing like that really existed in Atlanta. Those kinds of things were in other places, out in California, but in Atlanta that was really unheard of. He really started a whole movement that I think really changed Atlanta.” – Cynthia Curry
Photo Credit: Atlanta Tech Village
The Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) was another major catalyst for the city. This startup incubator surrounds Georgia Tech. Like the Atlanta Tech Village, the incubator is poised for organic innovation.
“Founders run into each other at Starbucks or at Moe’s. They’re talking about ideas and it’s really organic innovation. It’s not canned. That was another really huge, huge thing that I think really turned the market.” – Cynthia Curry
Chris Klaus was just inducted into the Georgia Technology Hall of Fame, which is a really rare group of folks that made a big impact. One of the reasons was chosen is because he didn’t take his money and run.
He is invested in 50 startups last year and plans to invest in another 50 this year. He built a building at Georgia Tech with his name on it, which is about the advancement of computing at Georgia Tech. He has created an ecosystem called Create X, where the goal is to make Georgia the number one student-led startup ecosystem in the world.
Greg Benoit sold his company, Qgenda, and is creating TechRise. The idea with this space is when a company graduates from the Atlanta Tech Village or other co-working space and is not quite ready to commit to a long-term lease, they can lease space on a short-term lease.
Photo Credit: Atlanta Business Chronicle
John Marshall and Alan Dabbiere, who started Manhattan Associates, sold that, started to build AirWatch, sold that to VMWare, and then they went back at it again.
Atlanta Is More Than Startups
Atlanta boasts the third highest population of corporate headquarters. There are 26 of the Fortune 1,000s and 15 of the top 500 companies.
This creates a beautiful symbiotic relationship where startups and new corporations can support each other. Organizations like Bridge Community and Engage Ventures are leading the way in connecting these partners together.
Major Companies are Flocking to Atlanta
Almost weekly, if not daily, you see a headline of a new company moving their headquarters or building an innovation center in Atlanta.
The list includes:
Video Credit: Honeywell Corporation
So what is attracting them?
“What we hear time and time and time again is companies come to Atlanta for the rich talent pool. They come for the cost of doing business, low cost of living, and diversity. Atlanta has one of the most diverse talent pools in the entire United States, number three in the whole US, so that’s something” – Cynthia Curry
Southern hospitality also plays a role. This element is much harder to quantify and you probably won’t find it on any rankings. But sometimes having nice people around you just makes building a business a little easier.
“Something that we hear that you can’t really quantify or put a statistic on is that we’re southern. We work together, so the collaboration of corporations, startups, and municipalities doesn’t really happen anywhere else. It’s very, very special to Atlanta. It’s very special to our region and it’s something that really is the key to collaboration. “ – Cynthia Curry
AI and IoT Are The Future of Atlanta
We are in the midst of a second industrial revolution and that is being driven by the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI). These technologies are infiltrating every arena you can imagine.
“IOT is moving into every single area. It’s changing things that are in bioscience by sensoring eye contacts to tell if you have high blood sugar for diabetes. It’s moving into fleet tracking for companies like Samsara that just came to Atlanta who is allowing fleet tracking and optimization. It’s moving into FinTech, by allowing people to just use their Fitbit to pay for something while they’re on a jog instead of having to take their wallet or their phone. It’s moving into every different area and it’s really changing the world as we know it.” – Cynthia Curry
The companies who have opened innovation centers here are primarily working on these technologies as well. Many of them, like ThyssenKrupp and Honeywell, are developing innovative ways to make the old new again through the use of sensors and connectivity.
Photo Credit: Samsara
Leading the way for Smart Cities
Ponce City Market and the Atlanta Beltline helped spur a whole new wave of innovation. The area located in front of Ponce City Market has been deemed the “Smart Corridor,” with 40 Smart Cities projects currently taking place.
“We have everything from intelligent lighting to intelligent traffic signals that change based on what’s happening on the road instead of based on metering or timing. We have cameras that are taking a look at what’s happening around there and then using predictive analytics to predict how they want to push traffic through to help save lives and reduce accidents.” – Cynthia Curry
Photo Credit: GovTech
Even city sanitation is getting into IoT. Rubicon Global has developed the connected garbage truck, which has sensors that constantly collect information as they drive around. The company can then optimize their routes to reduce fuel waste and business expense.
“All the dumpsters contain smart sensors. Are they ready to be picked up? Is the refuge in there, is it organic or is it not organic? Does it need to be picked up today? Can it wait until tomorrow? They saved the city of Atlanta up to $600,000 just in a matter of about eight months. That’s a super cool thing.” – Cynthia Curry
Not only is the city cleaner thanks to IoT, but we are also much safer. Atlanta is currently beta testing SpotShotter in the Smart Corridor. This innovative technology has acoustic sensors that pick up gunshots from as far as four miles away. The sensor can then analyze what type of gun was used, contact police and send them directly to the incident to help as quickly as possible.
Connected cars are making their way into Atlanta as well. Peachtree Corners, located north of Atlanta, is testing a fully autonomous track that co-exists with regular vehicles. The city has allocated $2 million for the Autonomous Vehicle Project, paving the way for new forms of transportation in the metro area.
The Ray, a connected highway along a stretch of Interstate 85 in West Georgia, is working to create a better highway using a variety of technologies including solar. This innovative stretch of road includes a solar-powered charging station for electric vehicles, the worlds first tire check system you can drive over, a solar paved road that generates energy as you drive over it, and rubber roads made of recycled tires.
Photo Credit: The Ray
What Stands In Our Way
While there is a ton of innovation in Atlanta, we certainly have our challenges just as most major cities. One challenge is our infrastructure. We need to make greater investments in Small Cell and 5G technology.
Another challenge is the wealth gap. The top income earners in the city make 20 times more than the lowest wage earners. Organizations like City of Refuge are helping to address this challenge through their Workforce Innovation Hub. The nonprofit organization helps the city’s most underserved citizens with vocational job training where they can go out and find gainful employment to fully experience all this city has to offer.
Photo Credit: City of Refuge
The Atlanta Chamber is also helping through its IoT.ATL, a sustainable agriculture project that helps grow food in shipping containers.
“Our whole purpose is to really enable equity and inclusion in Atlanta as we grow food through technology. There’s no reason that we shouldn’t be able to use this technology to really help those that need it the most and not just really empower those that already have power. It’s one of Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottom’s top priorities as well, which thrills me. She’s launched One Atlanta, which is all about ensuring equity and inclusion in Atlanta. I think that’s something that we really need to focus on, and thank goodness we already are.” – Cynthia Curry
Photo Credit: SingularityHub
And last but definitely not least, our traffic is a challenge. Investing in MARTA is critical as the city’s population continues to grow. We also need to embrace multi-modal transportation where take more than one method of transportation to reach our destination. This could include public transportation along with Uber, Lyft, Lime, Bird, and Relay Bike Share
Your Role in Atlanta’s Future
Now that you know the state of Atlanta’s technology scene, we want to invite you to be part of the future.
“There are lots of places to get involved. You have to look yourself in the mirror and ask, “How is history going to judge what I did and how did I help? Did I give the city and this community energy? Did I put something into it? Did I lean my shoulder into it and help my cause or did I sit back and just enjoy the fruits of other peoples’ labor?” It’s going to take an effort from all of us.” – Kyle Tothill
Kyle said it best. We all have a role in Atlanta’s prosperous future. Let’s get out there and make it happen.