As you who follow my Tweets know, I've spent a few days in Atlanta surrounding the semi-annual Georgia Tech Research Corporation (GTRC) board meeting. GTRC administers all the contracts and licensing with respect to research conducted by both resident faculty and by the mighty Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) with its 1000+ full-time researchers. There is considerable cooperation among the teaching faculty and the researchers, and with other universities, on many projects. Much of the funding at GTRI is DOD related, and its work is integral to our national safety.
Dispatch from Atlanta
Suffice it to say that GTRC and its affiliates are complex operations that deal with multiple sets of regulations on allowable overhead rates, plus patent disclosures, commercial licensing, and the proper compensation of inventors employed by any Georgia Tech entity. Of particular recent significance has been the streamlining of the licensing and contract processes for both large corporations and for startups. GT does this as well as any academic institution in the country, which is not to imply that anything of this nature is easy.
Some of my takeaways from this meeting that are relevant to TechDrawl readers:
GT research continues to grow at a healthy rate when most other national labs have leveled off. The work being conducted there is consistent with national and corporate priorities, and GTRI in particular has an 11-month work backlog. If sequestration occurs, GTRI will not face an immediate problem unless the Feds start unwinding existing task orders. However, lots of jobs at all labs could be in jeopardy longer term, including graduate student fellowships that are funding our next generation of scientists and engineers.
The relatively new GT administration led by President G. P. Peterson and EVP for Research Steve Cross created a strategic plan and is moving remarkably fast by any measure of academe toward conforming the university to that plan. In particular there is a renewed focus on startups, both GT originated and others, with the result of more than 100 created this year. A signal policy to me is that GT's famed co-op program where students alternate school and work semesters to fund their education is now encouraging those work semesters to be in startups. The co-op program has historically been the training and recruiting ground for large companies hoping to hire those students upon graduation. And, the ATDC has been complemented by an accelerator program called FlashPoint* that worked very well in its first "cohort" and is now selecting its second. It won't be long before there's a Ramblin' Wreck Startup Lab patterned after the Longhorn Startup Lab; undergraduate leaders at GT started pushing for that months ago and got in touch with me at the time for my observations on the UT Austin class.
Suffice it to say that in a time when Georgia has suffered more than many states from the Great Recession, GT research has continued to be a strong economic engine and a powerful component in creating the talented graduates that emerge from my alma mater.
In other news about town:
I visited the Atlanta office of my own startup MeetMeTix in the confines of Hypepotamus (photo above of Jesse Dyer and Steve Crawford with me.) Executive Director Scott Henderson, newly on deck there, gave us the tour. It's a private co-working, hot-desking, programmatic space in the basement of the historic Biltmore adjacent to the GA Tech campus and near the ATDC. Hypepotamus has attracted a rather fine group of startups and is encouraging as much interaction among them as possible. I was particularly impressed that Atlanta's corporate leaders like Home Depot are holding office hours there to help startups with customer discovery. That's a unique advantage of Atlanta with so many F500 headquarters or regional offices. UPS has long had a venture group for logistics related deals, and Newell Rubbermaid is pretty active with startups, but not enough else has been done in this respect. Coca-Cola had an incubator called "Fizzion" in the heyday of the 90's, but it quickly "fizzled" thereafter.
Henderson repeated several times the mantra that "density is destiny" and brings credentials from MassChallenge, SXSW, and Startup America to the game. He seems intent on packing Hypepotamus with as many bright, energetic entrepreneurs as possible and exposing them to opportunities from all angles. It was good to see people like Jon Birdsong of SalesLoft there, his startup being an alum of TechStars Boulder this year.
Several friends told me that the Atlanta tech scene has really done a lot more to attract and cultivate mentors since my departure, particularly at Flashpoint. That seems to be paying off in the quality of ventures I'm seeing there on trips like this one. And, it likely has the added benefit of educating Atlanta angels on viable trends outside their traditional comfort zones.
Atlanta has been blessed with a couple of singularly important exits this year - Vitrue and Pardot. Although both were devoid of Atlanta-based investors, I rather expect their leaders will recycle some of their cash and time into the startup ecosystem of the city. Rumor has it that David Cummings of Pardot is already planning an accelerator; he has experience with that. Looming somewhere on the horizon eventually will be a huge win for the founders of MailChimp. Ben Chestnut and his colleagues continue to enjoy what I suspect to be a very positive second derivative of their growth curve. Bootstrapping there, however, has also deprived local investors of any opportunity to ride along. And, the city's expertise in the Internet security sector appears to be spawning some other promising winners for the not too distant future.
The Austin and Atlanta tech scenes are not competiing, except perhaps occasionally for newly minted GA Tech CS engineers. There are a lot of reasons for cooperation. Bob Metcalfe has graciously agreed to keynote the annual Georgia Technology Summit in March, and GA Tech (no relation to this event) will roll out the gold carpet for him as well. I'll be very interested in his impressions after his visit, and I will be surprised if there aren't some tangible ATL-AUS byproducts of this connection.
My visit concluded with the annual lunch gathering of members of those available from the 32 total honorees of the Georgia Technology Hall of Fame (also not related to GA Tech, confusing I know) Hosted by PwC, which sponsors and ably administers this program, we get together to work on the selection for next year's inductee. It's a grand reunion for those of us who pioneered the tech business in the state, but the newer and sometimes younger members just raise the bar higher each year.
*Subsequent to my writing this post, Merrick Furst of FlashPoint reports that its first cohort included 31 pre-seed startups with 68 founders and $10+ million seed funding raised post program. Pretty impressive numbers.