EXCLUSIVE: City’s tech office launching new university council, report

The Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation will celebrate its one-year anniversary on Tuesday
(L-R) Donald Beamer Jr., senior technology officer with the Mayor’s Office; Gov. Brian Kemp; and Chuck Robbins, CEO of Cisco, appear on a panel at Cisco’s new office space at Coda in Atlanta on Tuesday, April 11, 2023. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

(L-R) Donald Beamer Jr., senior technology officer with the Mayor’s Office; Gov. Brian Kemp; and Chuck Robbins, CEO of Cisco, appear on a panel at Cisco’s new office space at Coda in Atlanta on Tuesday, April 11, 2023. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

The Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation will announce a new consortium of Atlanta universities on Tuesday and discuss the findings of a new report, both aimed at helping the city become one of the nation’s top five tech ecosystems.

Mayor Andre Dickens will speak at the event alongside Donnie Beamer, the city’s first senior technology advisor and head of the tech and innovation office. The event marks the one-year anniversary of the office’s creation.

“Our mission is to make Atlanta the best place to grow and scale a company,” Beamer said. “The vision is to create an inclusive culture, an ecosystem where all Atlanta residents have access to both the resources and pathways to build a company or create a new technology.”

Donald Beamer Jr., Atlanta's first-ever senior tech advisor, since January 2023. (City of Atlanta)

Credit: City of Atlanta

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Credit: City of Atlanta

A group of local tech founders and investors will be at the event at Coda in Technology Square. A partner from the Boston Consulting Group will also present findings from a new pro bono report the company did with the Georgia Tech Foundation and others that outlines how Atlanta can become a top five tech ecosystem, according to Beamer.

The office is also creating the Atlanta Collegiate Entrepreneurship Syndicate (ACES), which will help the city define the metrics that are most important to indicate a healthy tech ecosystem. Faculty from the partner schools will then create an annual report on the city’s progress.

The initial universities that will be part of the consortium are Clark Atlanta University, Emory University, Georgia State University, Georgia Tech, Morehouse College, Morehouse School of Medicine and Spelman College. Beamer said they hope to publish the first annual report in the third quarter of this year.

231201 ATLANTA, GA — Grant Warner, director of Spelman and Morehouse's Center for Black Entrepreneurship, participates in a roundtable discussion with Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell at Spelman College in Atlanta on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023. Warner will be part of the ACES initiative created by the Mayor's Office of Technology and Innovation.

(Bita Honarvar for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Bita Honarvar

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Credit: Bita Honarvar

Since January 2023, Beamer has been tasked with helping Dickens reach his goal of making Atlanta one of the top five tech hubs in the country and doing so equitably.

“The challenge is most cities that have seen this type of growth from tech, the people from the city or the Black people, they get gentrified out,” Beamer said.

Atlanta already has serious racial inequalities. A child born into poverty has just a four percent chance of getting out of poverty in their lifetime, according to the nonprofit Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative.

The city also has the highest income inequality among large U.S. cities, according to a 2022 AJC analysis of census data. The median income for a Black household in metro Atlanta was around $61,000 in 2021, while the median income for a white household was more than 50% higher – roughly $93,000.

“We want to try to fix that or improve it with tech, and not exacerbate it,” Beamer said.

Beamer is a Georgia Tech alum who has worked as an investor at BlackRock, got his master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, then returned to Atlanta, where he founded a tech company. After exiting that business, he worked for Cox Communications to lead a startup within the corporation.

“Like Liam Neeson in ‘Taken,’ I’ve got a very particular set of skills,” Beamer jokes. Having experience as an investor and founder as well as in the corporate space and now in the government, he hopes to be able to connect the dots between the different parts of the tech ecosystem.

The Office of Technology and Innovation is part of both City Hall and Atlanta’s economic development agency, Invest Atlanta. Its work has three main pillars: improving the perception of Atlanta as a good place to build a company; measuring the city’s progress to becoming a top five tech hub; and making sure founders have access to enough quality talent, capital and customers to build in the city.

One of the projects the office has recently done to improve perception was launching the ATL Tech Hub campaign, which includes a new website and highlighting local tech founders, investors and leaders on digital screens around the airport.

A display at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport highlighting Donnie Beamer, senior technology advisor to Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, on Dec. 22, 2023. The display is part of the new ATL Tech Hub campaign.

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

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Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

To increase resources to founders, the city will now invest three percent of its nearly $4 billion pension in private markets, like venture capital, according to Beamer.

“We’ve got $120 million that we’ve unlocked to invest,” he said. The first investment they are vetting is in local VC firm Engage.

Beamer also hopes to someday create a hub for the city’s tech community, where entrepreneurs, investors and techies can all come together and find whatever support they need. He envisions it as being a bit like the Mos Eisley Cantina from “Star Wars,” where Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker walk in looking for a pilot and walk out with Han Solo and Chewbacca.

“It’s a really exciting time in the city,” Beamer said. “It feels like the stars are aligning.”


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