Atlanta’s ‘start up’ community — turning hype into reality

By Saba Long

Bash it all you want but the beauty of Twitter is moments like the one I had a week ago. I stumbled upon an online conversation about the ecosystem of Atlanta’s startup community and its relation to the city’s transit access –  namely connecting the Atlanta BeltLine to MARTA.

The irony is hours before that tweet exchange took place, Scott Henderson, the executive director of Hypepotamus – an open gathering space for startup companies – gave me nearly the same line in an interview. “Density begets serendipity.”

Hypepotamus – a mashup of hype, hypothesis and hypotenuse – opened nearly a year ago in the basement of the Biltmore Hotel just steps away from Georgia Tech’s hub for all things startup – Tech Square. The entire space is rent free, but it’s most known for their programming by routinely hosting successful entrepreneurs from around the country, sometimes in person and others via Skype or the like.

A few weeks ago, in a speech to the Atlanta Press Club, Mayor Kasim Reed challenged Atlantans to realize the numerous successes the city has bore witness to. Henderson and other tech leaders have issued that same challenge to their respective community. Atlanta is home to Mindspring, now EarthLink and ISS which was sold to IBM in 2006 for $1.3 billion.

Henderson along with a handful of key players in the Atlanta startup community are developing a groundswell of energy and focus to develop the next great wave of Atlanta tech companies.

He likens the activities at Hypepotamus to a neighborhood basketball court. Interested parties have the opportunity to meet and collaborate in a casual setting, it’s not fancy but it’ll do the job.

Just a block away, the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) at Georgia Tech is the health club for Atlanta startups. It has the state-of-the-art meeting rooms, dedicated office space and that corporate office look – but it’s perfectly normal to peek into a room and see someone in a T-shirt and flip flops tapping away on a Macbook Pro.

For those prepared for the tech sector’s version of a Crossfit bootcamp, look no further than Flashpoint, Georgia Tech’s startup business accelerator.

These various organizations are breaking down the silos that have previously plagued the city’s technology sector. And before we know it, they will challenge the commercial and residential development communities, and local government to do the same.

Within a few weeks time, Invest Atlanta, the city’s development arm, will host its first hackathon, bringing together designers, coders, community leaders and subject matter experts together to tackle municipal issues.

Sometime after that, Startup Georgia – the regional chapter for Startup America – will officially launch.

On putting the city and the state on the startup map, Henderson opines, “We have to increase our talent pool via massive awareness, peer-to-peer conversations and diverse collaboration.”

While we may not now put Atlanta in the same startup success category as Silicon Valley, Boston, New York City or even the Research Triangle that doesn’t mean it will stay that way.

It’s about time we give ourselves permission to lead. And what better place to start doing so than in the small business community. The effects of our success will be seen in conversations about transportation, land use, education and stop us from operating in a “business as usual” mindset.

Do believe the hype.

Saba Long is a communications and political professional who lives in downtown Atlanta. She serves as the senior council aide and communications liaison for Post 2 At-Large Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson. Most recently, Saba was the press secretary for MAVEN and Untie Atlanta -- the Metro Chamber’s education and advocacy campaigns in supportive of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Referendum. She has consulted with H.E.G. an analytics and evaluation firm where she lent strategic marketing and social media expertise to numerous political campaigns, including that of Fulton County Chairman John Eaves and the 2010 Clayton County transportation referendum. In 2009, Saba served as the deputy campaign manager for the campaign of City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. Previously, Saba was a Junior Account Executive at iFusion Marketing, where she lent fractional marketing strategy to various ATDC technology startups operating out of the Georgia Tech incubator, ATDC. For the past two years, Saba has presented on online marketing and politics to the incoming fellows of the Atlanta chapter of the New Leaders Council.

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