Atlanta Technology Executive (and recent friend) Scott Burkett blogged recently on what Atlanta can do to emulate the entrepreneurial environment of Silicon Valley. Having lived in both areas, I’ve had a chance to meet and work with many remarkable entrepreneurs.
I think Scott hit many of the comparisons between Atlanta and Silicon Valley on the head. Atlanta is full of smart engineers, isn’t as forgiving to entrepreneurial failures, and like Silicon Valley, does a great job celebrating entrepreneurial heroes.
However, I don’t think the key to sparking innovation in Atlanta is tied to things like tax exemptions, venture funds, and cheap office space. When a company can start worrying about those things, they are already on their way. Innovation comes much earlier on in the process.
What are the biggest differences I’ve seen between Silicon Valley and Atlanta?
Embracing constraints. Excess doesn’t breed success. When you start a business in California, you learn to adapt to high costs, an extremely competitive environment, tons of distractions, a diverse culture, the threat of earthquakes, landslides, fires, and more. Running a successful technology business is more than knowing the technology - you have to roll with the punches. People living in California face threats everyday - so many that starting a business doesn’t seem that scary by comparison.
Competition. I can probably count on one hand the number of people I’ve met in California that aren’t trying to get a startup off the ground. If you aren’t trying to get something going in the Bay Area, you don’t fit in. Peer pressure is an incredibly powerful tool.
Comfort. Within 3 years of graduating from college, several of my peers in Atlanta were making over $100,000. They are smart and have entrepreneurial ambitions, but why give up a job with great pay and decent hours in an area with a relatively cheap cost of living?
What can Atlanta do to spur innovation?
Create competitions. It doesn’t matter what you are competing for - competitive people make great innovators. Who can build the best web application in 24 hours? Who can create the best prototype in one month? I guarantee these types of activities will attract a great pool of people fit for a startup.
Take a chance on brands. Reading the bios of many the The Advanced Technology Development Center (a local business incubator) companies is about as exciting as a programming reference book. If a tree falls in the woods, does anyone hear it? When an ATDC company experiences explosive growth, how many aspiring entrepreneurs hear of it? Atlanta entrepreneurs admire people like Ted Turner of Turner Broadcasting, Arthur Blank of Home Depot, and Charles Brewer, founder of Mindspring (which was an ATDC company). All of those people are associated with strong brands.
Atlanta is still a solid city for business, but with a little help, it has the potential to catch fire. With people like Scott Burkett and groups like the Technology Association of Georgia, it wouldn’t surprise me if Atlanta’s technology industry eventually becomes as hot as an Atlanta summer.
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