By Metro Atlanta Chamber

Metro Atlanta is the gateway, through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, to worldwide markets. The region’s traditional trading partners of Japan, Germany and the U.K. are bolstered every week by new additions, from Turkey to Poland and Finland. Exports form a critical part of metro Atlanta’s economy, and the Metro Export Challenge is an opportunity for companies in the region to receive financial support and mentorship for their international expansion. 

Born out of a regional collaboration of public and private partners, and administered by the Metro Atlanta Chamber, the Metro Export Challenge (MEC) is an annual grant program that supports metro Atlanta companies in building a strong foundation for international sales, access relevant research and identify international partners and opportunities. The program targets small- and mid-sized companies from all industry sectors, whether they sell a physical product, a technology or a service. Over the last three years, 96 companies have received over half a million dollars in grant funding, thanks to the support of program partners such as JPMorgan Chase, UPS, Partnership Gwinnett, Johnson Controls and the Metro Atlanta Chamber. 

In October 2018, a panel of independent judges selected 30 metro Atlanta companies to receive a total of $150,000 in grant funding. Metro Atlanta Chamber staff and regional partners have worked with these companies throughout the year to help them grow and expand internationally. 

Those initial 30 companies have just been narrowed to five finalists, who presented to the judges in a rigorous competitive review process. Now, in a live forum on November 14, the finalist companies will pitch their progress and future plans. The big event – Metro Export Challenge Pitch Day – will be at Trick 3D in Atlanta, from 5:00 to 7:00 pm. The three ultimate winners will take home additional grant funding of $5,000, $10,000, and $20,000. This event is open to the public and you can get tickets here

The Metro Export Challenge has made a critical difference for a range of companies across industries from bioscience, industrial manufacturing, digital marketplaces, esports and streaming and more. 

AKESOgen, Inc. is an integrated genomics, genetics and bio-banking company located in metro Atlanta. AKESOgen received an initial $5,000 grant in the first round of the 2018/2019 grant year to expand its exporting operations. 

“With AKESOgen, our modus operandi is to give every individual access to their DNA to let them really think about their lives – enhance their lives – through health and well-being from a clinical approach and from a consumer genetics strategy,” said Dr. Mark Bouzyk, chief scientific officer for AKESOgen.  

“As a company in the state of Georgia, we view ourselves as the premier DNA-genomics service provider, and we’re all about high-quality, precision medicine.” 

AKESOgen is a key partner of many of the state of Georgia’s top institutions, working in a field that is pioneering new solutions every day.

“This is all very new, cutting-edge science, and we’re doing it all from the state of Georgia,” Dr. Bouzyk said. “We’ve had strong alliances with outstanding organizations like the Georgia Research Alliance, the Metro Atlanta Chamber and Emory University.”

The MEC has created an opportunity for Dr. Bouzyk and AKESOgen: the ability to bring their unique solutions to global markets. 

“The MEC has already helped us win significant bids from countries that want to work with us. We’ve had trips to Hong Kong, for example, that have benefitted from interesting work in the consumer side.”

As a native to the U.K., Dr. Bouzyk arrived in Atlanta 14 years ago. The state of Georgia has been ranked the top state to do business for six years in a row by both Area Development and Site Selection magazines, but the benefits extend to families and more. 

“I did not understand why more bioscience companies aren’t located in Atlanta. My family finds the cost of living here to be outstanding, the opportunities are great, there are great links through Hartsfield-Jackson to set up shop and then expand into the global arena,” Dr. Bouzyk said. 

LivFul, Inc. is another bioscience success story The company developed an insect-repellent to prevent deadly diseases delivered by mosquitos and other insects. More than 600 million people around the globe suffer from insect-borne diseases like malaria, yellow fever, Lyme disease, Zika and more. In order to grow their international sales, LivFul participated in the MEC in 2018/2019, receiving $5,000 in grant funding. LivFul is also one of five finalists that will compete for additional grant funding during the MEC Pitch Day on November 14. 

“I grew up in Nigeria, and by the time I was almost 10 years old, I had malaria at least four times. I wanted to solve this problem, and I started to think, ‘what if there was something I could put on my skin to keep the bugs from biting me?’ I didn’t know there was a thing called repellent,” said Livful, Inc. Chief Innovation Officer and Founder Hogan Bassey.

“It was daunting to tackle this problem – I thought I was one of these people that couldn’t get access to medication. Many years later, I arrived at this dream of delivering access to people [through Livful].” 

From metro Atlanta, LivFul exports to locations around the world – boosted by participation in the MEC. 

“The state of Georgia has been awesome. Everything from the Georgia Department of Economic Development, to the Metro Atlanta Chamber to the [MEC], we have been given access to resources and support. The [MEC] grant has been put to use as we enter new markets – Ghana, Hong Kong, Singapore,” Bassey said.

LivFul is also uniquely committed to bringing health solutions to everyone, regardless of circumstance.  

“There are one billion people in the world, and most innovation is designed for people at the top,” Bassey said. “There is quite a bit of opportunity out there, beyond the confines of those markets and that demographic. When we started out, people didn’t think [LivFul] was possible. It has been really exciting to see aspects of the vision come to life.”

Last year, the MEC crowned the top three winning companies: Triatek Holdings, Dustex LLC and IronCAD. At the 2019 Pitch Day, the MEC will award three more innovative companies. Get tickets to the event here

The Metro Export Challenge grant program is made possible with the sponsorship of the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, UPS, Johnson Controls, Partnership Gwinnett and the Metro Atlanta Chamber. It receives assistance from regional partners such as the U.S. Commercial Service, the UGA Small Business Development Center, and the Georgia Department of Economic Development. 

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