The BridgeCommunity Outreach Program is seeding the next set of future technology startups. By supplying technical, business, entrepreneurship and financial literacy training, the program is encouraging the creation of startup companies and promoting intrapreneurship in Atlanta communities that have traditionally been overlooked when growing and searching for skilled technical talent.
The Bridge by Coca-Cola began in 2014 as a collaboration between The Coca-Cola Company and the entrepreneurial tech community in Tel Aviv, Israel. In 2016 the program expanded to Atlanta, Georgia with a specific focus to grow the entrepreneurial ecosystem through startup engagement, partnerships, a powerful corporate member-to-member network and a local community initiative to help raise the technical skill level from high school onwards. Since inception, 74 startups and 9 corporations – Capgemini, Coca-Cola, COX Enterprises, InterContinental Hotels Group, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche North America, SunTrust Bank, Turner, The Weather Company – have participated in the program.
Anthony Newstead, Co-Founder of The BridgeCommunity by Coca-Cola, and Valarie W. Mackey, Founder of WrightNow Solutions, coalesced the local nonprofit sector and BridgeCommunity member companies to create three Future Entrepreneurship Programs in 2017:
“I am so proud of what all the students have achieved during these courses. It has been incredibly rewarding to see them all grow and develop through our time together and I hope and believe we are seeing the next set of future Atlanta entrepreneurs in the making. I also want to thank our corporate members, our startups, CapTech, TAG-ED, Year Up, PowerMylearning, all our volunteers and of course our Outreach Lead, Valarie Mackey, all who collectively breathed life into this initiative, provided the resources and the passion to make this happen. This was truly a community effort that I am honored to be a part of. I look forward to continuing the journey together.” – Anthony Newstead Global Group Director, Emerging Technology & Strategic Innovation, Co-Founder Atlanta BridgeCommunity
The High School Future Entrepreneurship Program is a four-week summer coding camp focused on front and backend web design and development, app design, 3D printing and graphical interface design, open to any 10th– 12th grade student attending a Title 1 Atlanta Public School.
Non-profit organizations, Technology Association of Georgia – Education Collaborative (TAG-Ed) and SteamSport, facilitated the summer camp. Kristina Smith, Exploring STEM Careers Pipeline Program Manager of TAG-Ed, created the application process and worked with schools to recruit the students. Kristina teamed up with William Oliver, Executive Director of SteamSport, to create the curriculum and run the camp. Instructor, Tony Tatum and Teaching Assistants – Sydney Hubbert, recent Spelman graduate; and Ashley McCray, recent Clayton State University graduate, taught the technical curriculum and shared life experiences with the students to support their personal growth.
Twenty students from nine different high schools completed the High School Future Entrepreneurship Program. Participants crafted a pitch for products or services each week – collectively coming up with more than thirty ideas over the course of the program. From solar panel blinds to a sneaker exchange app, the students presented the best of their ideas to an audience of city officials, venture capitalists, corporate partners and parents in a showcase event.
The camp was held at John Hopkins Community Center in Atlanta and featured Friday field trips to BridgeCommunity member corporations and startups to connect the camp curriculum to the real world.
Students visited BridgeCommunity startup, GridQuire Labs, where they learned from CEO, Andy Katz, new marketing tips and how to present an idea, both verbally and visually, to an audience of potential investors. “I have been an entrepreneur for over five years. Today was one of the top 10 days. Thank you for letting us host these wonderful, smart kids.” – Andy Katz, CEO GridQuire Labs
At The Weather Company, students were welcomed by Chris Huff, Executive/Head of Engineering – Waston Marketing, and team for a tour of their digital space followed by a Q&A panel focused on how The Weather Channel’s data supports commonly used apps, websites and products.
SunTrust hosted the final field trip, giving students an overview of the role that technology plays in the finance industry. After presentations from the Marketing, User Experience, and Design Accelerator groups; the students used their newfound user experience knowledge in a user experience design thinking exercise that tasked them with ideating and mocking up a personalized web experience.
Outside of field trips, the program enlisted the expertise of amazing professionals to visit the camp classroom and speak on various topics.
Michael Connor, Group Director of Commercial Software of Coca-Cola Freestyle, kicked things off with an engaging presentation and conversation about Artificial Intelligence.
Irvin Bishop, Global Digital Leader of Brands, Global Campaigns & Partnerships at Coca-Cola, taught the students about digital marketing and the importance of building your career from things that you are passionate and excited about.
Tonia Osby, Chief Operating Officer of BridgeCommunity cohort startup, PayLow Rate, conducted a fun and interactive exercise on User Interface Prototyping – introducing the students to a new UX Design app that they later utilized in prototyping their final products.
Andrew Gowasack, CEO of BridgeCommunity cohort startup, TrustStamp, spoke on the ever-important topic of social and professional networking while Heather Turney, Culture and Innovation Manager of Porsche Cars North America, wowed the students with a presentation on public speaking. Both Andrew and Heather gave the students practical tips for establishing a professional presence.
Following the camp, students attended a business basics and life skills course held at The Coca-Cola Company’s Technology Offices.
The Young Adult Future Entrepreneurship Program hand selected student alumni from Year Up workforce development training to learn Amazon Alexa voice programming on the Echo Dot, cloud skills and business basics. Over two and half months, student teams were charged with creating a new Alexa functionality.
CapTech Consulting, Inc. built the technical curriculum and generously taught the students pro-bono. The business basics classes for both the high school and young adult programs were taught by volunteers from area companies and our BridgeCommunity cohort member corporations and startups:
- Dane Bamburry, Sr. Manager, Business Platform Services, Solutions Architecture & Systems Administration at Cox Enterprises, taught a class on negotiation techniques.
“The Atlanta BridgeCommunity program is a positive disruptive force in the on-going challenge to develop the next STEM generation. I was honored to have the opportunity to engage with these intelligent young minds in a session focused on negotiations from a corporate and entrepreneur perspective. What impressed me the most was their level of engagement, innovative thought process, and drive which compelled me to attend their showcase presentation. The showcase far exceeded my expectations and I can say with a high-level of confidence that these students are well on their way to becoming major contributors in STEM field.” – Dane Bamburry, Sr. Manager, Business Platform Services, Solutions Architecture & Systems Administration at Cox Enterprises
- In addition to hosting a field trip for the high school program, Andy Katz, Founder of GridQuire Labs – a member of the BridgeCommunity startup cohort, came back to teach the young adults about startup funding and sales.
- DeWayne Griffin and Jeff Scott from State Farm spoke to the students about innovation trends and topped off their involvement by giving a book to each student as a gift for their completion of the program.
- Mark Labs CEO and Founder, Kevin Barrow, helped the group understand how to set up their business.
The Future Entrepreneurship Program Showcase highlighted the young adult’s Alexa-centric business ideas. The winning team, myPulse, is a fitness app that gives a Fitbit user an activities overview with goal comparison and a detailed description of their heart rate with facts on how to improve heart health.
“Thank you so very much for including Year Up students in the Young Adult Entrepreneurship Showcase at the Coca-Cola Company Headquarters. The event was absolutely amazing and our young adults learned many valuable lessons through their participation in the program. They are now thinking bigger about their future— not just a career, but possibly launching their own technology business one day in the future! What a great partnership… Year Up gets them started with a career and your program gets them started in business! This is truly a life-changing experience for our young adults and I do hope that the Atlanta BridgeCommunity will continue offering this opportunity for more of our students and young adults.” – Kim Williams, Executive Director, Year Up – Atlanta
The App Development Elective Class is a partnership between PowerMyLearning and Arthur M. Blank’s Family Foundation to run an app development elective class in Washington High School during the school day. There are approximately 20 students taking the class currently with capacity to teach 50 more students next semester.
“It has been a privilege to come together with the Atlanta BridgeCommunity to create the overall Future Entrepreneurship Program. Being able to see the students on day one of the program with limited to no knowledge in the topic areas to being able to confidently pitch a viable product/solution is inspiring. These are our next entrepreneurs and our next innovators taking companies to the next level.” – Valarie W. Mackey, WrightNow Solutions
The BridgeCommunity is laser-focused on building relationships between corporations and startups. We measure our immediate success by the number of pilots, proofs of concept and licensing deals that close during the 6 months of our program.
But our program creates momentum beyond pilots.
Since April 2017 the BridgeCommunity’s 2017 startup cohort collectively:
- Hired 54 new employees
- Raised over $5M in venture capital funding
- Increased month over month revenue by 57%*
*Four pre-revenue startups that reached revenue during the program are not included due to their infinite growth rate
Here are some other accomplishments and recognition our 2017 startup cohort received during their time in this year’s program:
- Cinamaker Inc. announced the launch of their private beta program for the Cinamaker Director Pad at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) conference in Las Vegas.
- Cybraics won “Best of Ballston” for Most Innovative Company, the TAG SSA “Emerging Mega Trends” Impact award, and most innovative tech company in South Florida. They were also selected as one of Atlanta’s “Best and Brightest Companies to work for,” and Cybraics Board Chair, Jamie Dos Santos, was recognized as a South Florida influential businesswoman for 2017. The team also collaborated on a machine learning approach to cybersecurity that earned a bronze Edison award.
- Dream Agility was named one of only 35 official approved global Google Shopping Partners. Out of the top 10 SEM’s in the UK, they have been either number 1, or in the top 5, every month for 12 months – with growth nearly 300% more than the average of the top 10 SEM’s in the UK. Dream Agility has expanded their reach from 6 countries to 20, joined the KStart accelerator in Korea, became a Bing Partner (one of only a few in the UK) and they consult on Bing’s UK tech roadmap. They also worked with the Mayor of Greater Manchester and Schools to push the tech agenda, resulting in a bid being put together for £6m for the local college to build a much needed dedicated tech apprenticeship center. They are the fastest growing agency in Australia and signed the 6th biggest retailer in Australia with a $6bn turnover. Elizabeth Clark, CEO & Co-Founder of Dream Agility, was a highlighted speaker at SMX London.
- MARK Labs was selected by Money 20/20 for Startup Pitch and accepted into the PeaceTech Labs Accelerator.
- PayLow Rate signed their first lending partner. They partnered with Case Credit Union, closed with 1st National Bank and are rolling out their first live financial tech kiosk this winter.
- Pratter landed articles in Employee Benefit Advisor, “Transparency tool seeks end to secret pricing” and “Skyrocketing healthcare costs drives physician to create transparency app,” and was named as one of 21 innovators who are transforming benefits technology.
- PrivOps founder, Tyler Johnson, was a panelist at the TAG Cloud event on hybrid cloud. Convergent recently pivoted to become PrivOps, with a narrower focus on General Data Protection Regulation compliance software. Read a deep dive story about their pivot.
- Pyur Solutions was accepted into Fall 2017 Plug and Play Accelerator Food and Beverage Batch 2, the Fall 2017 Food Systems 6 Accelerator Cohort 2, and the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator 2017 cohort.
- re:3D received $180K equity free from WeWork’s Creator Awards Competition. They made the cover of Tribeza, were featured in Wired and won Wired’s Pitch Distilled in San Francisco. Their 3D printed replica of destroyed Palmyra Tetrapylon was showcased at Creative Commons Summit.
- Reply.ai was ranked by Forrester Research in their “Top 10 Chatbots for Enterprise Customer Support,” selected as Zendesk’s preferred chatbot partner, won 4 Clios, and were featured in Bustle’s “8 Creative Ways American Women Marked Equal Pay Day In 2017.” Clara Desoto, co-founder of Reply.ai, gave the closing keynote at the VentureBeat MB 2017 conference and spoke at the SuperBot Conference in San Francisco.
- SetList7 landed a promotional relationship with music artist, Big Boi.
- Skignz was listed in DisruptorDaily’s Top 10 VR/AR to watch in Marketing.
- Starling Trust added former U.K. Financial Conduct Authority chief, Martin Wheatley to their Board and wrote an OpEd piece in Fox Business.
- Trust Stamp closed a $2.67M bridge-round, were one of 12 cybersecurity companies selected to participate in CIO/CISO pitch session at Baker Donelson’s Cybercon 2017, and a 2017 Atlanta Metro Export Challenge Semi-Finalist. Andrew Gowasack, the CEO & Co-founder of Trust Stamp, wrote “Facial biometric authentication, the future of the tech industry?” published in e27. The company was plugged as one of 10 Amazing AI Startups You Won’t Find in Silicon Valley in INC. Magazine, is a nominee for “Most Innovative Company” at Inman Connect 2017, joined a cadre of the world’s top FinTech startups at Money 20/20’s Startup Challenge and the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance added them to their membership.
- Two of our startups – Tawkers and GridQuire – opened their networks to each other, resulting in $400K in strategic funding and newly scheduled meetings with major publishers for Tawkers.
- Verady has pivoted to offer VeraNet, an auditing service for blockchain transactions. The team is being approached by auditing/accounting firms and hedge funds to partner and develop a general offering of the product in an easy to use and accessible network form. Read a deep dive story about their pivot.
Reply.ai, the AI-powered customer experience platform, has landed a pilot with Coca-Cola during their participation in The BridgeCommunity by Coca-Cola.
The startup enables businesses to scale personalized, 1:1 communication with their customers across messaging and voice channels, in any market or language, all while maintaining the highest security standards. Reply.ai works with Samsung, Kia, and Ryanair to facilitate their B2C communication via chatbots and is the only startup to make Forrester Research’s ranking of “Top 10 Chatbots for Enterprise Customer Support.”
Reply.ai became aware of the BridgeCommunity through an accelerator in the commercialization program’s referral network. Co-founder, Clara de Soto, joined the BridgeCommunity to expand her startup’s corporate network and put a framework around the corporate sales cycle Reply.ai was navigating on their own.
The workshops and toolkit the BridgeCommunity provided gave us a concrete look into the best way to get into enterprises, build a pilot, work through KPI’s and move into an agreement. We finally saw the process in black and white. – Clara de Soto, Co-founder, Reply.ai
In the BridgeCommunity’s Connect Days, each startup meets with interested corporate participants on their home turf to discuss piloting opportunities. For Coca-Cola the organization of the Sponsor Connect Days and the follow-up of connections made were organized by BridgeCommunity corporate member and Coca-Cola Consulting and Services Partner Capgemini, as part of a detailed startup engagement process they established this year, led by Todd Redmon (Principal & Client Partner, North America) and Adam Agnew (EVP & Global Client Partner for Coca-Cola), that was integral in helping to socialize and integrate BridgeCommunity startups into the organization.
Reply.ai’s meetings with Coca-Cola sparked immediate internal interest. Word spread that a bot startup had been hand selected to work with the company. When Coca-Cola’s West Africa Business Unit circulated they were looking to start a consumer engagement bot initiative, Reply.ai surfaced as an obvious option given their participation in the BridgeCommunity.
Our Corporate Connect Days were some of the best corporate meetings that we’ve ever had. It was clear all of the right people were in the room and we left with a stamp of approval internally. – Clara de Soto, Co-founder, Reply.ai
Waithera Kabiru, Digital Marketing Manager for Coca-Cola Central, East and West Africa, is working with Repy.ai for Coca-Cola’s under the crown promotion in Mauritius, Africa. When a consumer buys a Coca-Cola product, they receive a unique code under the cap to redeem digital prizes from Coke’s flagship TV and Online show on the continent, Coke Studio Africa. This code unlocks access to exclusive music content that is teen-centric and uniquely African, packaged as playlists and ringback tones suitable for mobile consumption. In most sub-Saharan markets, code redemption relies on traditional mobile platforms such as SMS, which are expensive for consumers due to the long consumer journey. Through Reply.ai’s chatbot, Coca-Cola in Mauritius is able to create one-on-one meaningful engagements with consumers who participate in the promotion.
The chatbot experience is mostly guided, with the ability for users to ask open-ended questions about the redemption process and select from a menu of items, giving consumers more control over what they redeem than ever before. Reply.ai’s bot is being rolled out over Facebook Messenger, a fertile frontier in the sub-Saharan African market.
One of the most exciting things about this project is that though Mauritius is a small island, the impact of a Facebook Messenger chatbot can be enormous in terms of one-on-one engagement. For the 2017 Coke Studio Under the Crown Promotion, we took a mobile-first approach to provide a seamless experience for the consumers, on a platform (Facebook) that they spend a lot of time on.
Mauritius is home to 1.28 million people with a striking internet penetration rate of 63%. When Mauritians go online, 720K of them are monthly active users of Facebook, which is about 60% of the population of the island.* The chatbot from Reply.ai is the first step in providing a consumer driven experience. – Waithera Kabiru, Coca-Cola, Central, East and West Africa
Coca-Cola chose Reply.ai not only because of the seamless user experience, but also for their platform’s easy integration into all of the necessary internal systems and security requirements. Since inception, Reply.ai has been working to ensure their platform is as globally capable as possible – building in features so companies can scale bots across messaging channels and markets. A prudent decision, as Mauritius is just a part of Reply.ai’s redemption rollout.
Coca-Cola’s West Africa Business Unit is looking to expand it fairly swiftly across other markets as piloting benchmarks are hit, starting with Nigeria. Reply.ai has a code-free bot building interface so expansion is as easy as spinning up another account for the next market and customizing it.
*Source: Digital in 2017: Hootsuite We are Social
Kell Canty and co-founder, Nathan Eppinger, have been in the blockchain space for a little over four years. In that time they built 2017 BridgeCommunity cohort startup, Verady, a platform that utilizes critical business information to power smart contracts in a private enterprise blockchain. While working through the program and customer interviews the team found their product’s complexity was making it difficult to describe, piloting was proving tough because of so many implementation points, and the year-and-a-half-long sales cycle was not sustainable.
Based on the BridgeCommunity education and exposure, the Verady team realized they had built the product offering of a big company with only the resources of a small company to make it a success. So the Verady team is pivoting back to a product they previously created, but did not find enough market appetite for at the time.
“Verady was super innovative, but it was a lot of innovation all at once and required a huge amount of buy-in. We’re sitting on a gem and need to focus on VeraNet.” – Kell Canty
In 2013, Kell and Nathan were approached by the largest independent Georgia-based accounting and auditing firm to assist with validating transactions and other key data on the blockchain. This came as part of completing certain required auditing procedures necessary to finalize an independent financial audit of a client whose business operated in cryptocurrency. The accounting firm did not have the tools to audit these bitcoin assets and the underlying transactions. Typically, auditors check with the financial institutions that enabled catalogued transactions to cross-reference records. In contrast, cryptocurrency transaction information is stored on the blockchain. It is accessible, but not easily available to anyone without a deep knowledge of how blockchain works, the technical infrastructure to run blockchain nodes, and the ability to program and produce reports.
While responding to a suite of specific procedures requests, Kell and Nathan developed and built-out a cryptocurrency auditing solution, that has been utilized by the accounting firm in subsequent audits.
After not discovering enough market appetite for the product in 2013, when the bitcoin market cap was around a billion dollars, Verady didn’t pursue scaling the solution. Today, there are dozens of cryptocurrencies and other types of block-chain assets and the market cap is close to $175 billion. Kell cites the incredible growth of the cryptocurrency market as a driving force for revisiting the auditing offering.
“We were dismissing a viable, money-making product in favor of something really cool technically, but without a single focus. We have a product with a track record as old as the market itself. When we ran the offering through our recent storytelling, sales and piloting education from the BridgeCommunity we realized we have an incredibly simple value proposition and no longer needed to wait for the general acceptance of bitcoin and blockchain in the general marketplace. It’s here.” – Kell Canty.
The Verady team is solely focused on scaling the auditing service, which they have branded as VeraNet. Kell and Nathan are being approached by auditing/accounting firms and cryptocurrency hedge funds to partner and developing a general offering of the product in an easy to use and accessible network form.
Within the program, Verady has talked to SunTrust about offering consolidated reporting to the bank’s clients that hold cryptocurrency in their portfolios, and are circling back to the other corporations to discuss how Veranet can service their reporting needs as well.
A startup in our current cohort is pivoting after a big opportunity revealed itself during a discussion with The Weather Company, a BridgeCommunity corporate member.
Convergent’s initial focus on rapid application prototyping in the cloud created a lot of initial interest from business leadership and first meetings, but tended to stall when IT people were brought in. But Tyler Johnson, Convergent’s CEO, realized there was a disconnect. Convergent’s main offering was essentially improving overall business agility. This sparked interest in business leadership, but not IT – the ones with budgets for technology, looking to solve narrow technical problems and more urgent issues.
Influencing organizational and budgetary issues within large enterprises as part of the sales process is simply too challenging for a startup. Tyler realized Convergent needed to pivot to a narrower, more clearly defined solution. Convergent’s conversation with The Weather Company, brokered through the BridgeCommunity, shed light on what that clearly defined solution could be.
The European Union’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is giving Convergent a “hair-on-fire” corporate problem to tackle. With just 10 months before the enforcement date, this new European Union data privacy law is critical for every company with EU customers, as they will be liable for stiff new penalties of up to 4% of their global revenue.
By attaching policies and metadata to customer data, Convergent’s technology will now enable automation of data governance with policies driven by permissible use, consent, and other compliance data. This makes it possible to quickly, safely and cost effectively use personal data to create better, more personalized customer experiences. The best part was that there was minimal rework for Convergent. The pivot towards helping corporations comply with GDPR only required modest enhancements to Convergent’s existing technology stack.
“With the pivot, we will be able to focus on a specific hair-on-fire problem where there is money already budgeted,” explains Johnson.
To uncover what subset of compliance problems to focus on, Convergent is currently conducting customer discovery interviews with teams in charge of ensuring GDPR compliance at BridgeCommunity member corporations.
Selling into a Fortune 500 is a ton of work. If you don’t have sales experience or a warm intro, it’s going to be like digging for gold. You have to search the web, flex your network, and look under hundreds of rocks before you meet the right person that can champion you into the company – especially as an early-stage startup. Even after all that work, your contact can change roles or leave the company and then you have start all over!
Worse than rubbing elbows… corporations can be slow moving when it comes to cutting deals. As a startup, waiting for months or even years for the gig to land is a huge potential problem. We don’t have that kind of runway!
Since joining the BridgeCommunity we have been able to cut out both the introduction merry-go-round, and the drag-your-feet nature of corporate negotiations.
Here’s three of the biggest benefits we’ve garnered from the program:
Contacts are Hand Picked for You
This part is amazing. Literally, whatever problem your product solves, you will be connected to an executive with a budget line to review your product. The best part? You don’t have to search linkedin, referrals, or even cold lists. The BridgeCommunity selects corporate strategy partners from participating enterprises to talk with you and set up one-on-one meetings at the corporate HQ with the right decision maker. I guess you can consider it as an arranged blind date – you can guarantee that you’ll meet a decision maker, but it’s up to you to take it to the next steps.
You are coached
How often does an enterprise coach you to sell to them? Never. Unless, you’re in the BridgeCommunity where each participating corporation supplies a program liaison, or startup champion. Here’s how one of our intros went:
“This team is TopPick, they’ve built a platform to engage, screen and hire better quality talent. We chose TopPick as one of the startup companies we want to work with. When you meet with them, keep it informal and help TopPick understand our business and how they might best add value to us. This should be a two way dialogue with questions from both sides, not a pitch. If an opportunity surfaces, we’ll dive in later. TopPick has a lot of potential – they could use your guidance on how to work with us.”
Wow. Talk about setting the meeting up to build rapport and lower the barriers to entry. Here’s where you have your chance to shine and take it to the next steps.
You land gigs
Lastly, of course. This is what everyone wants… your startup lands gigs. Most teams that go through BridgeCommunity land pilots with at least one of the Fortune 500 teams. In 2016, nine pilots and proof-of-concepts were created.
For some, landing a pilot is even better than receiving funding for equity. 3 months in, we’ve received a verbal confirmation from one of the companies and within the next few weeks, we’ll update you all on how things ended.
After three months in the BridgeCommunity, we’ve been able to get in front of 10+ executives from 5 of the world’s largest enterprises. We have received a verbal agreement from one and two more enterprises are moving us to the next stages of the process to become partners.
We have already received such clear, positive results in our short time in the program. With no equity taken for enterprise sales training, help landing huge enterprise clients, and only a nominal time commitment, our involvement has been a win-win-win.
Author, Justin Ham, is the CEO of TopPick – the candidate engagement platform that engages your candidates faster than ever before with their bolt on application for your ATS – helping you reach candidates through text, calls and video.
It was the fall of 2014 and we were finally ready. Nearly 10 years after getting my MBA in Entrepreneurship from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, we had finally built up enough savings and it was time to leave the corporate world to embark on the new, uncertain path to building a new company. But my home in San Antonio, TX wasn’t the right fit for the new venture – lacking in both a strong personal and startup network – we needed to move.
But where? Since I’m in the cloud computing space, the Bay area in CA is an obvious first choice, but after looking at how quickly we would burn up our savings, it seemed too risky. We could go back to Dallas and I could make great use of all the school and business connections there, but the tech startup scene is only just emerging and more importantly, our family was really feeling a need to reconnect with our roots in the South – so we took a look at Atlanta.
At first glance, the main redeeming qualities for Atlanta were the major airport and the relatively reasonable cost of living. I figured worst case, the flights to San Francisco and Seattle would be reasonable and we’d be within a day’s drive from our families in Alabama and Florida. But after beginning the process of inserting our family into the fabric of our local community we found that, almost by luck, we had found the ideal place for us to start our tech company.
Soon after moving to Alpharetta, the fastest growing large city in GA and the home of great schools for our 2 sets of twins (as well as a number technology companies large and small), we joined Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC). Our membership turned out to be a great way to get engaged with Atlanta’s technology community and an amazing source of resources.
I quickly realized that Atlanta had a vibrant technology startup scene with Tech Square, Atlanta Tech Village and lots of startups – especially in the Mobile, Fintec, Security, and, increasingly, the IoT space. And unlike my experience in the Bay area, there’s a strong faith based component to our technology communities with organizations like High Tech Ministries, which was an unexpected but welcome bonus to being part of the Atlanta technology scene. The other thing we have going for us is the large number of innovative large companies in Atlanta, companies like Coca-Cola, SunTrust, The Weather Company, Intercontinental Hotel Group, UPS, Cox Enterprises, Delta, NCR and many others that could serve as early adopters of new technologies.
Atlanta’s strong community of large companies is a clear benefit for B2B startups focused on businesses, but there’s a catch – corporate cultures can be risk averse, slow to move and difficult to navigate, and this is a real challenge for startups. Enter Coca-Cola’s BridgeCommunity. This program, sponsored by 7 Atlanta companies, was created to bridge the gap by partnering startups with Fortune 500s for pilots and the commercialization of new technologies. It wasn’t easy for us to get in – we went through 2 rounds of selection, and out of more than 200 startups, we were one of just 22 selected. Now, as a BridgeCommunity startup, we are in a great position to build deep corporate relationships and potentially land one of Atlanta’s giants as our customer – a win that would catapult our startup to the next level.
Atlanta provides a unique place for startups. For us, the combination of faith and family, the vibrant startup scene, and the strong corporate business economy have proven to be an ideal fit. I know that we’re losing large numbers amazingly talented Ga Tech, Ga State, KSU, Emory and other grads to competing tech hubs, but as they mature and want to start families while still participating in world class innovation, they’ll realize that coming home to Atlanta is a great option. Our company is still early, but with the help of our Atlanta community and the BridgeCommunity, Convergent is in great shape to be a huge success.
Author, Tyler Johnson, is the CEO of Convergent – Convergent’s Onto™ Integration Fabric accelerates innovation by helping companies rapidly create new ways to engage customers. With their platform, in a few days you can brainstorm new ways to engage, build multiple prototypes with data from anywhere, and test each approach on a customer sample. It’s now cheap to throw out ideas that fail and rapidly scale ideas that work. Convergent is a member of the 2017 BridgeCommnity startup cohort.
Our startup workshop covering pilot program principles, models & case studies with Scott Sambucci was a roaring success. In line with our focus on building Atlanta’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and our belief in the power of collaborating with other programs in the community, we opened up the workshop to B2B and B2B2C early-stage tech companies in other accelerators all over Atlanta. Five local startups joined our 2017 startup cohort and got to work building out a pilot program for their company’s active sales opportunities.
We cherry-picked Scott Sambucci to lead the workshop because of his 20 years of experience in building and selling technology products – leading three Silicon Valley startups each to their first millions in revenue. His most recent startup, Blend Labs, was backed by Andressen-Horowitz and Peter Thiel. Scott is also a marketing professor at Hult International Business School and has been a featured speaker at a TEDx event in San Francisco, The Lean Startup Conference, and at the US Chamber of Commerce.
Here are four top takeaways from Scott’s workshop on startup piloting:
Astrid Fontaine Porsche Cars North America’s VP of HR, Culture, & Innovation Astrid Fontaine was attending BridgeCommunity startup interviews at the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and was asked why it is important for Porsche to be involved in the program and the importance of cultivating an open environment for innovation in your company.
The BridgeCommuity program is heavily front-loaded with educational workshops for both our startup and corporate participants to learn best practices for building relationships with each other over the duration of the program.
Our storytelling workshop, led by Marcie Anthone of Marcie L Anthone & Associates and Stephen Walker of Headmint, takes each of our 22 cohort startups through a one-on-one coaching session to hone their messaging when communicating with a corporate audience. This exercise helps startups to better understand their brand and how it might be helpful to prospective corporations and culminates in a developed brand logline (an elevator pitch) so that the startup can speak succinctly about their brand.
The process kicks off with Marcie and Stephen interviewing the BridgeCommunity’s seven corporate partners to find out how each is hoping to drive specific startup relationships forward. The dynamic duo then meets with the startups individually for a one-day intensive workshop to help them customize their messaging for these interested corporate partners.
The startup workshop content is rich and dense, yet beautifully digestible. The results of the workshop are revamped taglines, pitch decks, and in-person elevator pitches – with 22 startups poised to discuss their offerings with eager corporations.
Pratter, one of our 2017 startup cohort companies, had an especially enlightening experience in the workshop:
By rearranging a few simple words, we created a better slogan. Pratter does save consumers money on medical care but “Transparently Saving Healthcare” means so much more. We are now stepping in almost like a superhero to rescue employee consumers from the rigged system. We just happen to do it with medical cost transparency. Also, the larger the villain, the better the superhero. Instead of selecting the hospitals or the health insurance companies or the government as the villain – it’s all of them! The system is rigged to make us purchase medical care blindly and be ripped off. By making “the system” the villain, we have created Pratter as the easy-to-cheer-for superhero. –Bill Hennessey MD, CEO, Pratter