Innovators, inventors, investors

Moderated by Rick Badie

Attention innovators, inventors and investors: The city of Atlanta wants you to succeed and has launched a program to help get you there. Start Up Atlanta, an initiative launched this summer, aims to stimulate business development and expand the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Today, the CEO of the city’s economic development arm touts the program while a woman business owner explains the need for gender-specific networking.

Commenting is open below following Angela Stalcup’s essay.

By Brian McGowan

Mayor Kasim Reed and Invest Atlanta want to start up Atlanta’s economy by supporting, celebrating, and accelerating entrepreneurship.

Start-up companies and the entrepreneurs who launch them are the engines of job creation and economic growth. All net new job growth in the United States occurs through start-up firms that develop organically. When it comes to job creation, economic development initiatives tend to focus on attracting new business, which is important. Studies show the higher return on investment comes from start-ups. They make our country, states and cities more competitive by creating new industries and solving tough global challenges.

That is why we launched a new public-private partnership called “Start Up Atlanta,” an alliance of entrepreneurs, universities, for-profits and non-profits working together to support and fuel entrepreneurship in Atlanta. We want the world to know Atlanta has a robust entrepreneur ecosystem that can increase chances of success.

From global, game-changing companies like Coca-Cola, Delta, Home Depot, UPS and CNN, to social entrepreneurs like Martin Luther King Jr. and Andrew Young, Atlanta is a place that welcomes new ideas and people. One of our more recent and inspirational entrepreneurial success stories is Sara Blakely, the CEO of Spanx. She built a start-up that is now valued at more than a billion dollars.

These companies started out small and now employ thousands. In Atlanta, there are hundreds of small innovative companies vying to become the next generation of game-changers. A company called Cardio Mems develops wireless sensing and communication technology for the human body; Sionic Mobile develops a next-generation mobile marketing application using digital currency. Another start-up, TOHL, develops methods to install water transport infrastructure for humanitarian applications in developing countries.

Start Up Atlanta provides a resource for entrepreneurs to find services they need to overcome challenges. It also brings together entities in Atlanta that have a mission to support start-up companies so that we can work to develop our entrepreneurial ecosystem. Partners will work to create new initiatives, marketing strategies and policies that remove obstacles to growth and work to attract entrepreneurs to Atlanta. If you are looking to start a business or need help getting to the next level, you will be connected to partners who can help you write a business plan, access capital, tell your story, develop your product, find mentors and facilitate connections.

Innovation and entrepreneurship do not only happen in Silicon Valley and Boston. They have occurred in Atlanta for years. Start Up Atlanta will help to ensure the city is home to the best ideas and innovative businesses. Next time you meet an entrepreneur, thank them for what they do for our economy. You never know, they might be the next Sara Blakely, Tyler Perry, Ted Turner or Arthur Blank.

Brian McGowan is CEO of Invest Atlanta.

By Angela Stalcup

“Why have business networking solely for women?”

I’ve heard this question many times, mostly from men, in the years since I started creating networking events through Ladies Who Launch, a national support organization. Do women need or want something beyond what is found in the typical networking events plentiful in Atlanta?

Fair question. It would seem to be a golden age for women entrepreneurs, especially here. Nationally, women start businesses at 1.5 times the rate of men. Georgia leads the nation as the state with the fastest growth in women-owned businesses. Atlanta ranks seventh in largest U.S. metro areas for women-owned firms. The youngest female self-made billionaire in the world resides in our own backyard: Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx.

We look good on paper but entrepreneurship in Atlanta is still a man’s world. While the rate and numbers of women-owned businesses are growing, the rate of revenue growth is not. According to the 2012 “American Express Open Report on Women-Owned Business,” 70 percent of women-owned businesses earn no more than $50,000 in annual revenue. Growth in the $250,000 to $499,000 revenue category is declining. Access to capital continues to be limited. Women receive only 4 to 9 percent of available venture capital.

Women may be launching in Atlanta at unprecedented rates, but we need more support if our businesses are to thrive. Women-targeted associations and networking organizations try to provide that support. Women entrepreneurs want opportunities for connection, training, capital access, and a supportive entrepreneurial community. The traditional “business card and handshakes” networking model isn’t enough.

With limited time and budgets, women look for networking that integrates education, mentorship, connections to capital and decision makers as well as sales leads. With a preference for relationship-focused networking as opposed to the traditional sales-focused approach, many women want to build a better version of the old boy network. A “new-girl network” will rely on collaboration, community, and long-term relationships.

Chief among those seeking special support are the “mompreneurs,” juggling roles of entrepreneur and motherhood. They are creating organizations to support work and life. Events are held mid-mornings, evenings and on weekends to fit lifestyles. “Mommy-and-Me” events welcome kids.

The traditional networking model is giving way to collaboration, community, support and relational networking by men and women. It would be foolish to limit networking and business development to one gender.

So why have business networking just for women?

Many feel a need for camaraderie and support around challenges we face as entrepreneurs. Equipped with resources and connections, we can grow the economy and create legacies by growing profitable businesses.

Angela Stalcup is director of Atlanta marketing for Ladies Who Launch.

12 comments Add your comment

Renee Sandler

September 28th, 2012
1:28 pm

As the co-founder of an Atlanta based CPG company that has doubled growth every year since inception 4 years ago I can only speak from my own experience. There is a reason so many women bootstrap their businesses and it’s not because they love eating ramen noodles. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call it an “old boy network”, I will say that female leaders and innovators are often viewed as an anomaly rather than the real majority that they are. But the real female leaders I know have no problem proving their mettle. In fact they seem to enjoy it. I am fully vested in growing my business to its greatest potential regardless of roadblocks. And to anyone along the way who underestimated my ability because I juggled making school lunches with leading my startup, I’ll see you at the finish line with a healthy valuation. I will make use of every resource available to me whether it be Start-Up Atlanta, LaunchPad 2X or a group of entrepreneurs simply networking at Starbucks over coffee. I will also support my fellow start-ups in any way I can. Gentlemen (and ladies), start your engines. Let’s Start-Up Atlanta!

Mary Elizabeth

September 28th, 2012
1:11 pm

The public should be aware:

From Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s website:

“The Chamber supports authorizing the use of state employee pension funds for alternative investments in order to expand access to venture and seed capital. The Chamber has designated SB 402 as a scorecard issue for 2012.”

Please note my disclosure of information from my 10:09 pm, September 27, 2012 post:

“. . .(R)isky venure capitalists experienced significant losses in Georgia in the first quarter of this year, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, April 27, 2012. Below is an excerpt from that article:

‘Venture capital investment in the Peach State nose-dived in the first quarter — cratering to $37.25 million from $144 million a year earlier, according to the MoneyTree report, published by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and the National Venture Capital Association.’ ”

It is wrong, to me, for legislators to use state workers’ pension funds for the purpose of these risky start up venture capitalist endeavors, without the state workers’ approval, especially when the financial losses of these venture capital investments have been as great as had been described in the Atlanta Business Chronicle, above.