Six years ago this month, we made the biggest membership change in ATDC’s history by opening the doors to all technology entrepreneurs in Georgia. (You can read about it here.)
We’ve tweaked the model since then (most notably by adding the “Select” program in 2013). And we’ve graduated dozens of companies and helped hundreds of entrepreneurs.
We’re continuing to learn better ways to serve entrepreneurs in Georgia. Some of that involves changes to our physical space. More importantly, it involves changes to our membership model. So, last Tuesday, we held an event in the Hodges Room to “Renovate. Rebrand. Refine.”
The Centergy building is almost 13 years old. The 2nd floor has remained basically untouched (except for paint and carpet) since the day we opened. As part of last year’s refinancing of our lease-purchase agreement, and in order to partially make up for the space shortfall from moving the Southern Company into our 1st floor space, we borrowed enough money to make some long-needed changes. We’ll be adding some new seed spaces, some new rentable suite space, and a more open lobby for casual interactions. You can get an idea of what it will look like here:
Construction will start this month, and will proceed in phases through the rest of this year. All occupied spaces will remain accessible during construction (although you may have to walk a little more circuitous path in some cases). Johanna Kaiser is leading the team on this, and I think everyone will be happy with the results.
For a couple of years now, we’ve had some confusion over the terms “ATDC Select” and “ATDC Community Member.” Effective immediately, we’re going to clear that up by renaming those programs as “ATDC Signature” and “ATDC Educate.”
“Signature” is a better description of what we’re doing with our core group of incubator companies… we’re providing them with the best experience that we can for an early-stage company. It’s an experience so comprehensive that we’re willing to sign our name to it.
(And history bears us out. Five years after graduation, the companies that experienced our “Select” program have a 90% success rate. That’s extraordinary.)
At the other end of the spectrum, “Educate” is a better name than “Community.” (For one thing, the ATDC community is a lot bigger than the “ATDC Community” program. Does that confuse you? It confuses me!) For another, the team led by Jen Bonnett has greatly expanded our educational offerings, and we now have one of the most comprehensive curricula for technology entrepreneurs anywhere. Currently, nearly 900 individuals representing over 400 startups are enrolled in one or more of our courses.
But it wouldn’t be worth the effort to rebrand if we were just placing old wine in new bottles. That leads us to the last, and most significant change that we announced this week.
Admission to Select — now Signature — is intensely competitive. And since 2013, we’ve realized that we spend a lot of staff time on companies that aren’t really ready for Signature status yet, but they have an energized founder, an interesting technology, and a promising business model. Internally, we know who we’re spending time with, but there hasn’t been a convenient label for the outside world until they reached the threshold for Select.
We have an interesting opportunity to do something special with these very young companies. If they’ve completed our core curriculum in “ATDC Educate”, we want to be able to work with them on a more focused basis. Some of them will want to be tenants in our expanded Seed Space (small offices in Centergy or the Ford ES&T building). Some will want access to our new Design Studio for prototyping physical devices. And probably all of them will need coaching from our catalysts and volunteer mentors.
Effective immediately, we’ve launched a third, middle tier of membership for ATDC: “ATDC Accelerate.” Like Signature, admission is by invitation only, but the threshold is a lot lower. We encourage interested companies to meet with one of our catalysts to see if there’s a match.
Some people still think of ATDC as a real estate operation. That’s true, but it’s terribly incomplete. For over a decade, we’ve provided “The Five C’s” of services to our members. With the latest refinement, it’s worth taking a look at how those services apply to each of the three membership tiers. (We’re also doing more with our graduate companies, so they’re almost like a fourth tier.)
It’s a complicated machine! There are over a dozen full-time employees dedicated to providing our members with the best entrepreneurial assistance in the world, and they leverage another half-dozen part-time employees (Entrepreneurs in Residence, or EIRs — who are some of the most successful, experienced entrepreneurs around) and dozens of volunteer mentors (many of whom have been senior executives at Fortune 500 companies).
ATDC is unique. There are lots of incubators in the world… heck, there are lots of incubators in Atlanta. But as a public entity, ATDC doesn’t take equity in our member companies. And, except for rent for those companies who choose to be tenants (it’s not required), we charge minimal fees. Perhaps most importantly, we provide broad and deep access to the resources of Georgia Tech, one of the top research universities in the world. Whether being on campus to commercialize advanced research through our VentureLab program, or having access to leading-edge laboratory equipment, or hiring our students and graduates, ATDC companies have a priceless set of resources that can’t be matched by other incubators.
We’ve been doing this for 35 years, and we’ve created thousands of jobs and attracted billions of dollars of investment to Georgia. It’s one of the most visible parts of EI2, and one of my goals for the next few years is to build more bridges between ATDC and the rest of the organization — especially MEP, the Health IT Extension Program, and Startup Ecosystems. I’m proud that ATDC is getting such high visibility lately, and I’m proud of everyone across EI2 who helps make them successful. Spread the word about the new membership model, and keep up the good work!