Opinion: In Atlanta, ‘collision’ can be good business

The Atlanta skyline. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

The Atlanta skyline. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

We’ve never loved the idea of positioning Atlanta as the “Silicon Valley of the South.” In fact, we detest that phrase and for good reason. Atlanta is distinctly Atlanta, and we have earned a reputation as an innovation hub in our own right. Companies that locate here know that you can’t find Atlanta’s combination of careers, community and culture anywhere else in the world.

There’s an historic perspective we can look at. Delta Air Lines, Chick-fil-A and CNN are all examples of innovation birthed from Atlanta organically. From CNN’s revolution of 24-hour news all the way to Chick-fil-A’s game-changing sandwich and approach to customer experience, these organizations created their own gravity, their own “pull,” that brings others into their orbit.

And even more today, innovation and entrepreneurship in metro Atlanta is at an all-time high. Meet the new generation of companies and brands, such as Kabbage, Mailchimp, Spanx and Tyler Perry Studios. These, and many more, are creating the future – right here, right now.

In our work at the Metro Atlanta Chamber, we pay a lot of attention to “clusters” of industries. Metro Atlanta is unique from other regions in that we are known for more than one or two industries; we’re one of the top 10 most economically diverse metro areas in the nation. From FinTech, to health, logistics, esports and music, Atlanta is a beautiful mix of complementary and competing industries that create unique, inspiring innovation when they collide. Cluster-based strategies drive economies: interrelated, competing and collaborating firms, located in close proximity to each other, produce innovation and accelerate growth.

When you look at our innovation ecosystem through this lens, you begin to see overlapping needs and opportunities for collective problem solving. Tech Square is a helpful example. Within Midtown Tech Square is all about concentration: 25 corporate innovation centers, 10 research labs, six venture funds, five startup accelerators and over 100 startups. There’s also the fourth largest tech space in the U.S.: Atlanta Tech Village, located in Buckhead, catalyzing the ecosystem. And then there’s the Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, located near the Atlanta University Center Consortium of leading historically black colleges and universities. These are all physical spaces that put individuals in close proximity to innovate.

Our community embraces this power of collision. That’s what’s unique to Atlanta. The collision of capital, corporate, startups, entrepreneurs, technologists, futurists and creatives and next-gen talent has changed how we work. And we’re seeing chain reaction after chain reaction.

October was a great case in point, showcasing the innovation in Atlanta: the A3C Festival and Conference has been a collider of music, tech and film in the region for the past 15 years. Venture Atlanta is the top venture capital conference for the entire Southeast, locating the next big innovations and raising $4 billion in the process. The Atlanta Startup Battle, started by serial entrepreneur and investor Dr. Paul Judge, awards $100,000 in investment to startups at multiple points throughout the year with a pitch day event that has become a must-attend date for an entire ecosystem. And then there is Engage Ventures – what I believe to be the best example of corporate/startup collaboration in the U.S. because it engages from both sides. Engage is a fund backed by 11 major corporations around Atlanta, and 45 signed corporate contracts in the past year and a half speaks to the success obtained there.

All in all, these events and a multitude of others spanned our innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem over a two-week period in October, showcasing the collisions happening daily in metro Atlanta – it’s just how we do things.

We began October talking and startups and appropriately ended talking about scale-up. We announced new companies joining the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s Backed by ATL program, dedicated to connecting middle-market companies to resources and the broader business community. CulturaLink, NOW Corp, Revenue Analytics, Trella Health and The Gathering Spot are driving the innovation ecosystem in a critical way that adds to the economy of metro Atlanta. They will join other companies in the program that have raised nearly $1 billion in capital and created 3,000 jobs in this region.

This example and others that showcase collaboration across industries and across organizations in our 29-county region, and even outside of it, have resulted in an intentional approach that is leveraging our region’s unique assets: diversity of industry, multigenerational and multicultural talent, and the creative culture of Atlanta itself. Here, these things collide daily to create an energy and momentum that are palpable. More important, the result is Atlanta as a thriving cluster of innovation and entrepreneurship that is unrivaled.

Alex Gonzalez is chief innovation officer, Metro Atlanta Chamber.