Atlanta Technology Startup Ecosystem: Venture Capital Providers, Educational Programs and Rising Stars to Learn from
To create and raise a blooming startup ecosystem, a location needs at least four things: a strong educational platform, a deep talent pool, a supportive community, and the inflow of money.
Atlanta is lucky to combine all of these:
- At least 5 tech colleges in Atlanta generate a potential tech force.
- Atlanta’s tech talent pool is among the top 10 nationwide, employing almost nine percent of tech workers.
- Entrepreneurial undertakings are supported by startup accelerators inside and outside universities: ATDC, Tech Village, and TechStars Atlanta to name a few.
- VCs are often attracted via the above-mentioned accelerators. And what is more important, VC funds are often owned by one-time startuppers who have reached the heights, sold their businesses, and come back.
In this article, we’ll have a look at the educational programs that help startuppers, name the key venture funds, and also describe the leading industries with the largest startup representatives.
Local university startup programs
Georgia, and Atlanta in particular, have one of the most prominent and tech-focused higher education systems in the US. Each of these colleges fosters their students’ entrepreneurial spirit helping to build and develop their own startups.
Georgia State University
Georgia State University suggests multiple programs for enrollment. Some of them focus on connecting the community by providing venues and fostering collaboration. The others are focused on graduate and undergraduate education for future entrepreneurs.
E-house Community is an entrepreneurship program of Georgia State Housing and the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute for students. It allows students to on campus, work on their ideas or pet projects, and collaborate with other program residents. The program also gives access to mentorship, networking events, and workshops.
The Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute provides the graduate and undergraduate programs and courses for GSU students. It concentrates on students’ ideas and businesses that bring innovations of any kind. The Institute provides access to incubation and acceleration resources, a wide range of student organizations, networking, speaking events, and competitions. The courses include these areas of interest:
- business and technology law for entrepreneurs,
- startup incubation,
- technology for entrepreneurs,
- small business management,
- marketing and social media,
- sales, and others.
LaunchGSU is a program for students who want to create and run a startup. With free membership for students, the program provides access to working facilities, a large student network, alumni, and early mentoring.
Center for Entrepreneurs accommodates competitions, lecturing and pitching events, and other resources for GSU’s students, alumni, and other young Atlanta entrepreneurs. The Center provides access to three models of participant engagement:
- the Business Model Competition to elaborate on and pitch idea to VCs;
- the Influential Speaker Series for community participants by entrepreneurs who share their stories of success; and
- the Motivational Author Talk from businesspeople and creators of large companies.
Georgia Tech is perhaps the main source of engineering talent in Atlanta with about 6,000 IT graduates each year. It’s also the major startup platform in Georgia with three programs for entrepreneurs.
VentureLabs is the program for teams and startups that ground their businesses on Georgia Tech research. The program gives access to mentorship, funding, and legal instruments to run evidence-based entrepreneurship.
CREATE-X is a program for Georgia Tech students whether graduate, undergraduate, alumni, online, and international departments. It gives access to three types of programs:
- Learn – to acquire knowledge of the startup concepts and entrepreneurship methodologies;
- Make – to elaborate the technological skills to convert the idea into an operating business; and
- Launch – to obtain mentorship and funding to roll the product to market.
Startup Exchange is a student entrepreneurial program from Georgia Tech for students to build and run enterprises. The program offers entrepreneurship education at Georgia Tech and offers access to workshops, panels, and networking events for students. Additionally, the Startup Exchange is a path to joining already operating startups and the mentorship network.
Emory has about 600 IT specialists graduating each year. And the university also boasts a number of startup initiatives.
Entrepreneur and Venture Management is a program for Emory’s students and academic staff to build and promote their entrepreneurship. The program gives access to facilities, mentorship, events, and angel funding.
Entrepreneurship is a program that supports Emory community members to build and operate their companies. The program includes courses at the Goizueta Business School, mentorship, pitching and lecturing events, and access to investment networks.
Emory Startup Launch is an early startup accelerator program for members of the Emory community that focuses on healthcare-related ideas. The program enables teams to elaborate on their projects and test them with real customers.
Venture funding providers
Quick statistics: In 2019, Atlanta witnessed the largest amount of venture capital ever obtained. The startup community closed the year with over $1.8 billion raised, compared to the 2018’s $967 million.
Venture capital in Atlanta is on the rise, Source: Crunchbase
Atlanta has a lot of funding opportunities. There are 80 VC firms ready to invest in tech-focused startups, be it a seed-, early-, or growth-stage company. Let’s have a look at some of them.
TechSquare Labs is a seed-stage venture fund focused on tech founders. The fund has an interest in startups with bold ideas to help “Build Something from Nothing.” TechSquare Labs already has over 30 companies in its portfolio and mostly cooperates with tech startups that address challenges with innovation.
Engage VC is a corporate VC firm for scale- and distribution-seeking companies to help gain early-stage funding. The company is favorable to innovative startups with a product/market fit and initial but stable revenues. Engage VC has over 40 companies in its portfolio and limited partnerships with Delta, UPS, AT&T, The Home Depot, Goldman Sachs, and a number of other enterprises.
Atlanta Tech Angels is an early-stage angel investment company focused on Georgia-based tech companies with further significant returns on investment. The company has already made 25 investments.
Atlanta Ventures is an early-stage VC company with a concentration on Southeast-based SaaS entrepreneurs. The firm prefers startups with about $1 million of previously raised funds and about $1 million stable annual revenue. Atlanta Ventures has 16 companies in its portfolio.
BIP Capital is a VC and private equity investment firm. The company prefers cooperating with mostly Southeast-based B2B SaaS startups and technology-based companies with emphasis on information technologies and healthcare IT. BIP Capital has 31 companies in its portfolio at both early and growth stages.
Startup industries with the highest potential
The startup scene in Atlanta is rather diverse. Financial technology takes precedence, but other industries are represented.
The scheme reflects the key participants of the Atlanta startup ecosystem
Among the most prevalent tech industries in Atlanta are:
- marketing automation and analytics,
- information and cyber security, and
- logistics and supply chain management.
Here, we’ll have a look at the local unicorns and mention some of the key startups that define the Atlanta startup ecosystem. When curating the examples, we tried to look at startups that received most funding across multiple investment rounds, especially during the 2018-2019 periods. That’s why the set of companies that we show below is by no means exhaustive.
Financial technology: The largest segment with leaders Kabbage, GreenSky, and Greenlight
Atlanta is known as a Transaction Alley, one of the fintech hubs in the US. Local financial organizations like American Transaction Processors Coalition estimated that about 70 percent of US digital micropayments are processed in Atlanta or at Georgia-based fintech corporations. It’s not surprising with over 120 fintech companies headquartered or present in Atlanta, including NCR, Global Payments, World Pay, Equifax, Fiserv, and Ebates.
The history of Atlanta-based financial technology traces back to the 70s when Georgia Tech participated in creating an automated clearinghouse (ACH) – a technology for electronic payment transfer. It’s fair to consider it the starting point for the powerful infrastructure dedicated to payments.
Add here a talented workforce and the state’s supportive environment for startups, including tax incentives or employee quotes, and you get a comfortable nest for fintech.
Albeit fintech in Atlanta was initially focused on digital micropayments, today startups are not limited to it. Now solutions include analytical research tools, fraud and fund misuse, platforms for loan trading, and many more. Let’s have a look at the major and also budding startups.
Major players of FinTech in Atlanta
Kabbage is an Atlanta-based financial service data and technology unicorn. It provides loans to small businesses via automated funding.
Kabbage was founded in Atlanta in 2009 and was among the first to use big data analytics to approve and control loans. It aggregates multiple data sources, including public social media profiles, a business’s ledger accounts, or bigger data assemblages to decide on a loan and its amount.
Upon the latest valuation, Kabbage was estimated at $1.2 billion. It was also listed among the Forbes Fintech 50 2019 and has received 16 funding rounds, including debt financing and the latest Series F round.
GreenSky is an Atlanta-based fintech startup providing financial services, such as payments, credit, and commerce to businesses and individuals. As its main service, GreenSky offers loans for home improvement and medical issues not covered by insurance. Loans are provided by banking institutions and administered through a mobile app. GreenSky has raised $610 million in four rounds of investments.
Greenlight Financial Technology provides parental-controlled debit cards for kids. Greenlight uses instant money transactions, remote spendings and ATM control, transaction encryptions, and data privacy. Greenlight has obtained $81.5 million after two funding rounds.
Healthcare: health monitoring and healthcare plans management by Sharecare, PatientCo, Oncology Analytics
Apparently, Atlanta is considered to be the health information technology hub in the US for a good reason.
The nine metro Atlanta companies listed among the top 100 Healthcare Innovation companies reached total revenues of about $2.5 billion. The healthcare business ecosystem serves as a solid ground for those over 200 healthcare IT companies located in the state overall.
The growth is also driven by numerous healthcare IT corporations that support and welcome emerging technologies. Along with that, a steady flow of well-educated workforce from technical colleges, medical schools, and internationally-recognized universities like Georgia Tech or Emory University set up a fertile ground for strengthening the industry.
Some of the healthcare tech startups are at the intersection with the fintech segment as well, providing platforms for health bills management. So, let’s check the main Atlanta Healthcare IT players along with the emerging ones.
The key participants of healthcare IT in Atlanta
Sharecare is an Atlanta-based healthcare information platform. It offers health profiles to every user with relevant health guides and connects to healthcare programs, plans, and doctors. Sharecare also suggests clinical protocols, training, and supporting instruments. The company has raised $425 million in 13 rounds from 18 investors.
Patientco, an Atlanta-based startup, provides a healthcare bills management system that helps patients better understand their healthcare payment plans. At the same time, it’s supposed to assist healthcare providers in engaging more patients and accustoming them to systemized payments. The main integrations are analytic reports to predict payment behavior. Currently, the startup has $31.8 million of investments attracted throughout three funding rounds.
Oncology Analytics is an Atlanta-based company that provides a cancer treatment analytics and management platform for patients, healthcare, and health plan providers. The e-Prior Authorization solution uses oncology-focused analytics based on a library of treatment protocols that cover a broad scope of cancer types and select the treatment to match a patient’s costs. The company has raised over $28 million from four investors from two funding rounds.
Security and Compliance: supported by the government with the leading OneTrust, Pindrop, Ionic Security
An extensive number of companies with critical data, from banking to healthcare, has established a base for the information security industry growth in Atlanta as they have to protect sensitive customer information.
The presence of such information security mammoths like IBM, Verizon Business, and Dell SecureWorks, along with other 115 companies, has made Atlanta one of the nation’s top information security clusters. According to the National Security Agency, Atlanta hosts 10 National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity programs, sponsored by the US Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency, and Georgia Tech.
The total revenue of industry-related companies is about $5 billion.
So, who are the main and growing participants of Atlanta’s infosec startup scene?
Major participants of InfoSecurity startup scene in Atlanta
OneTrust is an Atlanta-based data privacy and security risk technology platform that recently became a unicorn. It helps companies comply with the CCPA, GDPR, and the world’s other primary privacy and security regulations.
OneTrust was founded in 2016 in an attempt to assist businesses in contending with an expanding variety of regulations. The key software element of the solution is data mapping, which shows how data is aggregated and processed to identify and mitigate risks. As of today, OneTrust is evaluated at $2.7 billion after its latest $210 million Series B funding round this February.
Pindrop is a voice-recognition and anti-fraudster software provider from Atlanta that integrates authentication solutions at call centers. The AI-driven system enables analyzing and recording the customer’s voice, number, device, and behavior. The system serves two goals: It improves the customer experience and prevents personal data fraud. The company has amassed $212.8 million in five rounds.
Ionic Security is a data security platform for cloud services to use for protecting sensitive data anywhere they are transmitted or stored, such as corporate networks, the cloud, or mobile devices. Ionic Security provides access control, intellectual property monitoring, data encryption, and policy management, without agents, gateways, or modifications in user behavior. Ionic Security has obtained $162.4 million in eight funding rounds.
Transportation and Supply Chain Management: Enabling connectivity and digital operations with Rubicon, Roadie, and STORD
With Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, the world’s busiest, Atlanta has established itself as a transportation and logistics hub.
The presence of the Georgia Tech Supply Chain and Logistics Institute greatly contributes to the industry growth, supporting it with talented, well-educated graduates. So, no surprise that the Atlanta startup ecosystem, with all its diversity, is extending in this direction.
The transportation tech industry here also benefits from an infrastructure that holds almost 300 companies in the state. They further expand the industry transformation and communicate to over 11,000 logistics service providers throughout Georgia.
The startups here mostly focus on transportation and supply chain automation, cargo tracking and transparency, as well as efficient asset utilization.
Main transportation and supply chain management startups in Atlanta
Rubicon Global is a tech-backed waste and recycling unicorn. It cooperates with businesses and governments headquartered in Atlanta and also goes worldwide.
The company was established in 2008 in Kentucky with the idea of changing waste and recycling processes. Later it moved to Atlanta. Now it uses its own cloud-based software to analyze the waste stream of its customers and cut their recycling costs. Often referred to as “Uber for trash,” it helps connect interested businesses, waste haulers, and recycling opportunities for scheduled pickup. Rubicon Global is now valued at over $1 billion after the latest several Series E investments.
Roadie, an Atlanta-based startup, provides a platform as an “on-the-way delivery service.” It connects passenger vehicles having unused space to make deliveries to those destinations where they are heading. The platform has a mobile app for individuals and small businesses, as well as APIs for enterprises. The technology includes real-time tracking, pickup and delivery confirmation, and payment options. The extended package insurance is also available thanks to a partnership with UPS Capital. The company has raised $62 million in four funding rounds.
STORD is a startup that provides a digital on-demand, cloud-based network for freight, distribution, and warehousing services. It connects warehouses with unused space to businesses requiring storage and distribution. It uses a cloud platform and proprietary software to implement tracking and visibility. The company has already raised $15 million through five investment rounds.
Digital Marketing and Sales Automation as the rising star with Mailchimp, SalesLoft, and Springbot
Marketing and sales automation startups aren’t as numerous as those representing financial technology, healthcare, or the supply chain in Atlanta. And we were reluctant about putting it in this article. But we’d like to mention this segment for two reasons.
First, Atlanta is home to $4.2 billion unicorn MailChimp, the leading platform for email marketing. We discuss it below.
The second reason is that a number of promising startups have received impressive funding during the 2018-2019 periods, including SalesLoft, and Springbot.
Major digital marketing and sales automation representatives
MailChimp, headquartered in Atlanta, is a unicorn and the world’s largest email marketing platform. It provides marketing automation for small to medium-sized businesses.
Mailchimp was founded in 2001 as a side project of Rocket Science Group, a design-consulting company in Atlanta, striving to help small businesses outreach their customers via automated, customized business cards by email. Only in 2006, MailChimp became a fully-focused service, setting aside the Rocket Science Group. Today, besides marketing emails and automated messages, the platform also helps building targeted campaigns, serves as an additional report and analytics tool, and is used as an eCommerce instrument. Today, MailChimp is valued at $4.2 billion.
SalesLoft is a sales engagement platform. It provides software to allow users to create lists of marketing and sales leads or perform advanced searches right from the browser. The company has raised $145 million after seven rounds from 11 investors.
Sprigbot is an Atlanta-based startup that provides a marketing automation platform for SMB retailers. The platform gives data-driven marketing recommendations while running and monitoring multi-channel marketing campaigns, using such channels as email and social marketing, online ads, Amazon Marketplace, and others. The platform also integrates with Big Commerce, Magento, and Shopify. Springbot has raised $35 million from 12 investors in four rounds.
Favorable conditions for startup growth
There are several factors that impact the growth of the startup community in Atlanta. Besides the fact that the city sits at the intersection of multiple powerful industries, it has a growing startup culture encouraged by Georgia Tech, Georgia State, Emory, and other universities that support business-oriented tech talent.
What’s more important, the startup community in Atlanta is omnidirectional, embracing numerous technologies.
For instance, machine learning, big data, and predictive analytics are widely deployed in all dominating industries. On top of that, smart contracts and encryption strengthen fintech. Cloud technologies are embraced in transportation and security. Image recognition, computer vision, and blockchain are consistently applied in security solutions.
Finally, Atlanta has enough venture capital, both locally and from external resources.