In the growing Southeast, there's a city covered by a massive canopy of trees. Some call it "the city in the forest." But, hiding beneath its unassuming cover, is the startup world's best-kept secret.
For entrepreneurs, becoming a unicorn, a private company valued at over $1 billion, is often the holy grail. These elusive creatures are known to hail from places like California and Boston. In fact, very few states are inhabited by unicorns. But what if there was a place that figured out how to grow them? Some say there is.
Atlanta is home to several unicorns including Kabbage, Rubicon, Zeevex, GreenSky, and AirWatch. Our city is also home to people and ideas who are unicorns in their own right. And well-regarded experts everywhere insist that a confluence of crucial factors has created ideal conditions for unicorn growth in Atlanta.
The 5 conditions that must be present for unicorn growth: 1. Favorable Climate, 2. Nourishment, 3. Healthy Habitat, 4. TLC, 5. Socialization Let's investigate!
Condition #1: Favorable Climate
Unicorns are congenial creatures whose innovative energy is siphoned by competition. But in Atlanta, the attitude of our startup scene is more collaborative than in cities where cut-throat competition is the norm. Southern hospitality is more than front porches and sweet tea. Here in Georgia, it's how we approach both life and business. Atlanta Tech Village - the country's 4th largest tech hub - is a great example of Atlanta's startup-friendly climate. They offer more than 1,000 technology-focused entrepreneurs a place to grow both their businesses and their networks. Within the walls of their 103,000 square foot building, startups celebrate each other's successes and help one another connect to the resources needed to grow.
"Startups are hard enough and having a supportive and collaborative community around you can make all the difference."
Condition #2: Nourishment
Unicorns feed on cash, and Atlanta's startups have great access to it. Venture capital in Atlanta has been on the rise, but the real differentiator comes from our growing number of Fortune 1000 company headquarters. These leading brands are increasingly investing in or integrating with startups. Atlanta-based Engage Ventures does both. This independent venture fund and platform was created by some of the world's most influential companies - including our very own Georgia Power and AT&T, Chick-fil-A, Cox Enterprises, Delta Air Lines, Georgia-Pacific, Goldman Sachs, Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), Invesco Ltd., The Home Depot and UPS. These power players make Engage a bit of a unicorn itself! It's the largest strategic grouping of major corporations and brands in an independent venture fund. They feed startups capital, expertise, time and resources.
Cox Enterprises, one of 17 Fortune 500 headquarters in Georgia, joined forces with Techstars to create Techstars Atlanta, a local startup accelerator. In 2018, just two years after its inception, Techstars Atlanta celebrated its first successful exit with the acquisition of SAWA by Atlanta's own Mailchimp.
"This is a SAWA success story and also a success story for Atlanta’s growing venture ecosystem."
Condition #3: Healthy Habitat
Unicorns can dream more when they're burning less. In Atlanta, innovators don't have to sacrifice their lifestyle to build a business. Compared to other tech hubs, our region's affordability means that when the cash comes in, more of it can go toward the next revolutionary idea. From a place to grow your family to a place to grow your business, Atlanta gives you more life for less money.
A healthy habitat is more than an affordable place to live; it's also plenty of culture stimulation to keep dreamers happy and inspired. Good vibes, great food, history, culture - check! Idea-makers can find something new and exciting to explore every day in Atlanta - from food halls to live music and everything in between. And thanks to our professional sports teams, cheering each other on is something we do at work and after hours. Soccer, baseball, football and more - Atlanta has it all.
"Anything is possible in Atlanta. I've been here for my entire life, and the city just keeps getting bigger and better but still has the feeling."
Condition #4: TLC
Unicorns will only reveal themselves in supportive environments. And in Atlanta, there's a sense that we're all in this together. The region is home top universities, Fortune 500 companies and a broad base of incubators and accelerators that support entrepreneurs. One of the many places where you'll find a mashup of our city's support system is Midtown Atlanta's Tech Square. There isn't anywhere else in the southeastern United States where you can find such a concentrated gathering of corporate innovation centers, startups and academia - including top-rated Georgia Tech. There are more than 30 corporate innovation centers in metro Atlanta, with many of them calling Tech Square home. In downtown Atlanta, Opportunity Hub and digital undivided's BIG incubator provide programs that bring black entrepreneurs' ideas to life and help ensure access to education, training and opportunities throughout the innovation ecosystem. These, and so many other, growth-minded locations also make it easy for innovators to engage with other startups, investors and researchers.
"From civil rights to global brands, Atlanta has helped shape history. It’s a city built by innovators and influencers, with a spirit of collaboration. In our city, when we open a new door, we leave it open and help others step through. I can’t imagine building a company anywhere else."
Condition #5: Socialization
Unicorn powers are strengthened by contact with other magical creatures. The Atlanta region has one of the largest concentrations in the country of technology talent and college students. Add to that incredible music, film and creative industries - you can't go far without running into another budding unicorn. At The Gathering Spot, a private membership club, entrepreneurs, students from local colleges, global brands executives and game-changers from the city's entertainment industry connect and create. Atlanta's concentration of brainpower and innovative energy creates a multiplier effect, amplified even further by our southern hospitality and collaborative spirit.
“Atlanta has been everything to my growth because it's the city that raised me. My entire outlook on creativity, business, history and life was fostered in these streets. I've been a student of Atlanta's curriculum before I even knew what it was. I travel the world often and have lived in other cities. Nothing has fed my soul and prepared me to win like Atlanta.”
Now that you're in on Atlanta's best-kept secret, you'll never look at our canopy of trees in the same way again In this city, among these trees, unicorns are growing.