The rise of the Atlanta startup hubs

That’s Marta by the way

What’s happening?

It might not be completely obvious, but three new startup hubs are emerging in Atlanta right now. These “centers of gravity” were begun by experienced startup founders and are totally focused on making local startups successful.

This recent trend began when David Cummings launched ATV in Buckhead three years ago. And while Georgia Tech in Midtown has been a very influential startup hub for a long time, the launch last week of Tech Square Labs gives the entire Tech Square complex (Tech Square Labs, ATDC, FlashPoint, VentureLab, etc) some additional energy from accomplished local founders. And, finally, Switchyards Downtown Club will launch Downtown as the third startup hub in a few months.

Why is this so important?

Casual observers of startups in Atlanta might not realize the importance of this evolution, but the number and density of local startup resources are what define the most successful startups hubs in the country (eg Silicon Valley, SF, NYC). In less mature startup cities (like Atlanta), the best way to reproduce what happens in mature startup cities is for various local entrepreneurs to create hubs based on their individual backgrounds and this is exactly what’s happening in Atlanta right now. These three hubs are accelerating local startup activity quicker than you’d expect in a city that doesn’t have a long history of creating startups.

These startup hubs attract all the basic local ingredients to help ensure early stage startup success the same way that SF attracts this kind of talent and money from across the country. These hubs are Atlanta’s best shot to put serious weight behind startups of all kinds across the city. More on this later.

Another value of startup hubs is accelerating startup results. Whether you quickly validate an important business model assumption or you more quickly realize that a certain marketing tactic won’t work, startup hubs greatly accelerate your progress because you are constantly surrounded by lots of resources focused on the exact same issues. Since startups have limited resources, this is a very important advantage. As Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator, says, “one of the biggest advantages that startups have is execution speed.”

Do you want to explain to every person your idea from scratch, so that they can give you superficial advice that you’ve probably heard many times before or do you want to jump straight into conversations on a regular basis that start on a higher plane…ones that have real world application and show a deep understanding of how to build a business in your market?

To be clear, startups can start and succeed anywhere. Take the best startup team in Atlanta and make them work from a McDonald’s and they’ll make it happen. On the flip side, take a below average team and give them lots of resources and they’ll likely fail. But what matters most is the middle-ground between these two because that’s the vast majority of startups.

Even if a startup hub only gives your company a 5% greater chance of succeeding, it was worth it for your startup.

What defines a startup hub?

Why can’t a coffeehouse, a traditional office space or even a general co-working space be a startup hub?

Startups hubs have some very specific characteristics that separate them from other types of office spaces.

There are no set guidelines, but in general…

  • The people who began the startup hub are successful founders of high-growth startups, so the primary goal of the building is to produce startup winners. The goal of many general co-working spaces is to grow the value of the real estate. This is especially true for the co-working hubs begun by traditional real estate people.
  • There are lots of other people in the building who are startup founders. These founders have written an idea on a napkin and gotten their startup to hundreds of thousands or even millions in revenue. Smart, experienced people who come from larger companies, investors and advisors are helpful to the startup eco-system, but the most valuable support and guidance will come from people who have done it before.
  • 90% (or more) of people in the building every day are working on high-growth startups. Many general co-working spaces don’t focus on startups, so there are lots of different types of organizations of lots of different sizes. Many of these businesses are slower-growth, owner-operated businesses because the goal is rental revenue — there’s no natural filter to be intentional about filling the building with startups.
  • The building has lots of startup-focused events & programming. These include demo days where founders can practice presenting their business, events that attract local investors, meet-ups for developers/designers, etc.
  • Finally, because these hubs are the “center of gravity” for the various startup communities around town, visitors to these hubs are very startup focused. For example, other local entrepreneurs or investors. This further adds to the value of these communities.

The co-working phenomena that has happened over the last decade has been fantastic for startups. Before these spaces existed, startups had to sign long leases for traditional office space. These terms were very unattractive to startups. Plus co-working atmospheres were very different than stuffy traditional offices, so startups prefered them.

What is happening now (across the country and locally) is the next evolution of this trend.

In Atlanta we are very fortunate to have three very strong startups hubs emerging. If you are involved in startups, do your best to work in one of them and get involved in one (or all) of them. Every day you’ll be around people working through the exact same issues you are working on. You can help each other succeed, enabling Atlanta to produce more startup winners (which is great for many future generations of startup founders in town).

If your startup gets one investor or one powerful marketing idea or one talented developer as a result of being in a startup hub, it was all worth it.

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