Venture Atlanta’s new approach fosters connections for diverse founders

A summit focused on Black and brown founders was held inside the larger Venture Atlanta Conference
Views of the Venture Atlanta, one of the largest venture capital conferences in the country at Woodruff Arts Center on Thursday, September 28, 2023. (Natrice Miller/

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Views of the Venture Atlanta, one of the largest venture capital conferences in the country at Woodruff Arts Center on Thursday, September 28, 2023. (Natrice Miller/

Hundreds of tech workers, investors and entrepreneurs converged on the Woodruff Arts Center this week for Venture Atlanta, one of the largest venture conferences in the Southeast.

Attendees mingled as companies handed out branded pens and water bottles, and bowls brimmed with chocolates at a free candy bar. But the purpose of the conference was not to fill up a swag bag, but to form connections to help budding companies prosper.

“The goal has been for 16 years, since Day One, to connect companies with capital,” said Allyson Eman, CEO of Venture Atlanta. More than 80 startups from 14 states across the Southeast were showcased at this year’s event.

Venture Atlanta was also the launch of in-person events under the new InnovATL brand, which the Metro Atlanta Chamber announced this summer to position the region as a thriving innovation ecosystem.

And Venture Atlanta did something else unique this year – it hosted a conference within its conference. The mini-conference was the Intentionally Good Summit, started by Goodie Nation, a nonprofit community for diverse founders, investors and experts.

Founder Joey Womack and his team help bridge what he calls the “relationship gap” between entrepreneurs and influential people in business by hosting weekly meetings for founders, assigning them a dedicated coach, offering group therapy sessions and industry roundtables, and introducing founders to potential customers and funding.

The Intentionally Good Summit is a way to bring this community together, but at last year’s summit, Womack noticed that most of his attendees weren’t going to Venture Atlanta because they weren’t aware it was happening or they couldn’t afford the tickets. So this year, he and Eman decided to change that.

“The objective here was to be intentional… around making sure that crowds that normally would not come together had the opportunity to do so,” Womack said.

Attendees flowed from summit talks on how to support Black and brown founders while diversity programs are being targeted by lawsuits, to Venture Atlanta keynotes by notable figures, like “Shark Tank” judge and entrepreneur Robert Herjavec.

Herjavec’s keynote led straight into a full day of Shark Tank-type startup showcases culminating in a pitch competition where four seed-stage companies presented to a group of investors for a chance to win $500,000. The money came from four funds that created an investment syndicate for Venture Atlanta: BIP Ventures, Florida Funders, Knoll Ventures and Catalyst by Wellstar.

Margo Jordan, founder and CEO of Houston-based Enrichly, a digital learning platform to help boost self-esteem in kids, won the grand prize. Jordan was recommended by one of her mentors at the Goodie Nation nonprofit.

She said being part of Goodie Nation has been “life-changing.”

“As a Black woman founder in this ecosystem where we are constantly being overlooked, underestimated, Goodie Nation has a way of propelling us and plucking us out of the crowd and giving us the platform that we need … for people to really understand that the work that we’re doing, not only is it doing good in the world, but it’s actually making money,” Jordan said.

Black tech founders in Atlanta consistently credited Womack for influencing them to move to Atlanta or how they got connected to important opportunities.

“He is the heart of the community and the way he treats people and how he looks out for people, that trickles down,” said Brooke Hill, co-founder and CEO of Atlanta-based braid bar Swella, one of the startups showcased at Venture Atlanta.

But it’s not just founders that came out for the Intentionally Good Summit. Large companies showed up too, like Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), the former go-to financial institution for many tech investors and startups before collapsing in March. It has since been acquired and is re-establishing its work in the startup community. It was a primary sponsor of the summit and Jaisa Gooden, vice president of startup banking at SVB, spoke on a panel.

Gooden told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Womack is the reason she wanted to participate.

“Joey, she said, “has this unique ability that I’ve seen to be able to curate events and gatherings that bring together people from Atlanta in a way that collectively represents what Atlanta is about.”

Venture Atlanta officials announced that Womack is the new board chair for 2024 and will help organize the entire event next year. He said he thinks he will do the conference with a conference again.

“It exposed the Goodie Nation community to the larger Venture Atlanta experience and community,” Womack said. “It also exposed the Venture Atlanta community to Goodie Nation and supporting diverse founders … Generally speaking, they don’t hear those type of topics in their everyday lives.”

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