By Maria Saporta and Douglas Sams
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Friday, March 1, 2013
Atlanta is poised to become a hub for educational technology, says the CEO of a new nonprofit backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Atlanta Business Chronicle reported Feb. 5 that inBloom Inc. has chosen Atlanta for its headquarters. The nonprofit, which will provide technology services to schools as they race to meet new academic requirements, could help make Atlanta a center for a cohesive effort to accelerate student achievement in the United States by boosting personalized learning in schools.
In a Feb. 26 interview with the Chronicle, inBloom CEO Iwan Streichenberger said Atlanta beat out San Francisco, where he had lived from 2004 to 2008.
“What we really liked here was the quality of talent we could have access to,” Streichenberger said. “There’s amazing talent in San Francisco, but it’s harder to get. There’s a lot of excitement here in the region today for technology companies. It’s a hub, a catalyst for high-tech.”
InBloom saw several Atlanta strengths.
Georgia Tech had shown a “keen interest” in how technology was changing American education. Atlanta is a city of entrepreneurs. And the region displayed a connection between its business, education and political leadership, including Mayor Kasim Reed’s and Gov. Nathan Deal’s offices.
“I think if things go well, we could have a real vibrant edtech community here,” Streichenberger said. “We talk about creating this ecosystem of companies.”
Other Atlanta tech sectors are much more established here, including fintech, or financial technology.
It includes powerhouses NCR Corp, First Data, Total System Services Inc. (TSYS) and Equifax Inc.
InBloom could be a spark for the expansion of edtech.
Atlanta is known for “sticking a flag out in the field, and then building things around that flag,” said Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber.
Landing inBloom fit the chamber’s strategic plan, Williams said. It also reflected the work of John Brock, CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc., who as Metro Atlanta Chamber chairman helped expand the influence of its higher education business council.
Atlanta’s edtech sector is in the earliest stages, said Michael Robertson, executive director of the Technology Association of Georgia’s Education Collaborative.
“I think what happens with tech sectors is one organization puts a foot on the ground and decides to grow, and as it does its own executives who are entrepreneurs leave and start new companies,” Robertson said. “A company like inBloom that is state of the art and is as well-funded as it is will establish itself very quickly here.”
The nonprofit is backed by the Gates Foundation, arguably the best-known philanthropic group in the world. The Gates Foundation has a roughly $36 billion endowment and its leadership includes the high-profile founder of Microsoft Corp., and investor Warren Buffet.
Based in Seattle, its mission includes helping people with the fewest resources gain access to a better education.
InBloom is also funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. It’s been influential in the expansion of U.S. higher education and adult education and the advancement of research into learning and cognitive development in early childhood.
InBloom has yet to choose where it will put its headquarters, but the most likely choice is Buckhead, Streichenberger said.
InBloom is being represented by the commercial real estate services company Avison Young.
The nonprofit should have about up to 40 people in Atlanta, and more staff working nationally in the field.
Its technology will allow disconnected school databases to work more cohesively.
“You have a lot of different databases. They don’t talk to each other,” Streichenberger said.
“If you want to have a clear picture for a learning path … you have to have different databases talking to each other. What we are trying to do is aggregate this information and make it easier for schools and systems.”
Nine states, representing more than 11 million students, are participating in the development and pilot testing of the inBloom technology services.
Georgia will be one of the pilot states.
Twenty-one education technology companies have already announced plans to develop applications that will work with inBloom.
Many of the applications will be demonstrated at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, this month.
InBloom would be the latest technology company to put its headquarters in Buckhead, an office market known best for housing the city’s largest commercial real estate, investment services companies. It’s not exactly Silicon Valley, or even Midtown Atlanta, home to Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center.
“Atlanta is a technology city and it’s very diverse,” said Ken Ashley, who’s with commercial real estate brokerage Cushman & Wakefield. “We’re increasingly seeing there’s not one technology submarket in Atlanta. Instead, Atlanta is a technology city as a whole.”