The Guardian, a British newspaper, is hosting a trade mission to Atlanta this week. They were kind enough to invite me to write 800 words on why British tech companies should set up shop in Atlanta, and you can read the edited version here. It’s received some approving comments but, honestly, I like my original version better. So I’m going to give you that version here.
A Very Long Title
The title they originally suggested was “Why Atlanta is an exciting place to do business if you’re a British tech company (and why Silicon Valley isn’t the only tech hub in the US).”
I love Silicon Valley, but I don’t live there. I don’t need to. If you are looking at expanding into the U.S. from overseas, Atlanta may be a better location for your technology company than Silicon Valley. Entrepreneurs from all over the world — including the U.K. — are finding that out.
ATL: Access. Talent. Lifestyle.
Silicon Valley is a technology monoculture; Atlanta is not. Atlanta is home to companies like Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, NCR, Equifax, the American Cancer Society, and the North American headquarters for both Mercedes-Benz and Porsche. So tech companies here can get direct access to decision makers at these major potential customers. And when it’s time to expand overseas, Atlanta’s airport has nonstop flights to 80 cities worldwide.
Atlanta startups focus on building real solutions for real customers who generate real revenue. That may not get you coverage in TechCrunch, but it’ll make you very popular with your bank.
For example: Lumense builds sophisticated chemical sensors from their home in Georgia Tech’s incubator. Coca-Cola — headquartered less than a mile away — regularly meets with companies in the incubator to scout for promising new technologies. After understanding how Lumense could fit into their quality-control process, Coke led a $2.6 million financing round of Lumense in late 2013.
The single biggest challenge for technology companies isn’t money — it’s attracting and retaining talent. Factories used to be built next to rivers to take advantage of water power. Now, creative-class workplaces want to be next to a research university to take advantage of brain power.
And Atlanta wins — not just with Georgia Tech, one of the best engineering schools in the United States, but with 250,000 more students in over 50 colleges and universities. These students are bright, ambitious… and many of them don’t want to work in corporate America. They are a continually-replenished river of talent for large and small technology companies to recruit.
There’s more to life than a job. And in terms of lifestyle, Atlanta wins again. Housing is cheap and plentiful, from downtown highrise flats to suburban McMansions. The weather is great, with outdoor activities all year long. The new Atlanta Beltline is one of the most ambitious urban redevelopment projects in the United States. And as one of the nation’s film and music capitals, Atlanta’s image resonates with young people worldwide, making it an attractive destination for the young and the restless.
Open For Business
All these factors have triggered a boom in technology startups across metro Atlanta. The city’s 6 million people sprawl across a Combined Statistical Area of 27,000 square kilometers (larger than Wales). That means there are multiple technology hubs, from the skyscrapers surrounding Georgia Tech in Midtown, to low-rise office buildings in Buckhead, to suburban office parks surrounded by SUVs in Alpharetta, Dunwoody, and Gwinnett. Georgia Tech’s ATDC — the Advanced Technology Development Center — is the oldest and largest university-based incubator in the United States, covering a wide range of technologies from software to advanced materials to life sciences. And the new privately-financed Atlanta Tech Village houses the largest technology co-working facility in the Southeast.
What about diversity? In Atlanta, there are many successful tech startups led by women, by African-Americans, by Hispanics, and by gays and lesbians. Startup Chicks, the growing global network of female technology entrepreneurs, was launched in Atlanta in 2009 and now has more than 2000 members. And the Atlanta University Center (including Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Clark-Atlanta University), the largest center of African-American higher education in the United States, has a new focus on student entrepreneurship. This diverse pool of tech startups has helped lead Georgia out of the Great Recession, generating approximately 16,000 jobs (more than 20 percent of all new jobs) over the past two years.
But it’s not just homegrown companies that are transforming Atlanta’s technology scene. It’s also attracting relocations large and small… from behemoths like NCR and the American home of Mercedes-Benz, to small startups like Soneter, Groundfloor, and Aerogility.
Aerogility is a UK tech company specializing in software to manage aviation fleets. Its first major project was with the RAF Tornado fleet for the UK Ministry of Defence. But after the cutbacks triggered by the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, Aerogility needed to expand into the United States — the largest aviation market in the world.
According to Gary Vickers, the CEO, “One UK tech CEO told us that there are only two places in the USA to open an office, Park Avenue or Silicon Valley. That didn’t sound very well informed to us.” But he discovered Atlanta’s advantages in access, talent, and lifestyle, and opened the company’s American office here in 2011.
Vickers continued, “Atlanta is a great place for us to do business. As well as the cost base and available talent pool, it is a very accessible place for us with an excellent airport. As Londoners we like the idea of flying in and jumping on the “Tube” (MARTA transportation system) to our office and not waste time driving across the city. And besides, we really like the weather!”