The Power of Community and Collaboration for Startups
Thanks to the infusion of venture capital into early-stage startups, incubators, and accelerators over the past two decades, it has become increasingly obvious that building a sustainable and inclusive ecosystem directly impacts the success of these entrepreneurs.
Building relationships that stretch beyond your sphere of influence – existing group of friends and colleagues – can help broaden career opportunities and accelerate professional growth.
But what does it mean to build a community? What does it take to create an inclusive tech ecosystem.
Where do you start?
Aly Merritt, Managing Director of Atlanta Tech Village (ATV) and former Head of Community at Salesloft, shares her thoughts on how she is building the Atlanta tech ecosystem one step at a time.
Or should we say, one leap at a time.
Aly spent the last decade of her career cultivating the Atlanta startup community to advance both local startups and the city of Atlanta on the national stage, with a special focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. She actively contributes to their growth and culture by connecting startup hubs, VCs and organizations across the city. She also works daily to build a network of strong women in business and tech in Atlanta and across the country.
Let’s learn more about why people and culture are a company’s greatest asset and gain an understanding of the ecosystem and resources available to help you navigate the booming tech scene in Atlanta.
Making an Impact
A core mission of ATV is to establish Atlanta a top-five startup city. This is a huge, but attainable goal, according to Aly. It’s bigger than ATV as a hub, and even bigger than Atlanta. It’s become a regional goal for the Southeast.
ATV is the fourth largest tech hub in the U.S. and focuses primarily on startups with proprietary technology. They provide and allow faster access to talent, capital, and ideas by supporting just under 1,200 entrepreneurs at their headquarters in the heart of Atlanta. They aim to create impact by taking the visibility and reputation they have to bring people into the city and into the Southeast to benefit other incubators, ecosystems, and entrepreneurs in the city.
ATV also provides opportunities for underserved founders that sometimes have a harder time plugging into communities like this by running a pre-accelerator specifically focused on underrepresented founders. They provide resources and access to their mentors and advisors and the larger community to start driving ideas forward.
Aly believes that it is imperative for incubators, accelerators, tech hubs, and VCs to partner and build trust with one another to learn what resources are being offered across town to continue to empower the ecosystem around them.
Your Network is your Net Worth
Aly believes she is in her fourth or fifth career, which is extremely common in the tech space. She spent eight years at SalesLoft, a startup that came out of ATV originally on one of the yet-to-be-renovated floors. Salesloft eventually grew out of the space and relocated, but that did not keep Aly from staying in touch. She ran Atlanta Startup Village, the startup pitch competition for the last five years, before handing over to Panoramic seed investor Paraj Mathur.
At some point, there was an opening at ATV, and David Lightburn and David Cummings reached out to Aly with a vaguely bullet-pointed email asking if she would consider applying for their Managing Director opening.
And as they say, the rest was history.
Community and Collaboration
Community and collaboration are key factors needed when building an ecosystem, specifically a tech ecosystem.
Aly doesn’t believe there’s a reason for ATV to try and reinvent the wheel for certain items they may not offer, but rather cross-collaborate with other programs in the city that focus on tech.
She also believes there needs to be an even playing field.
Well, how does this happen?
It requires a bigger discussion around the concept of trust, which is something Aly’s spoken at length about with Jay Bailey at the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs. They’ve discussed getting to know each other to build a trusting relationship, which allows for both parties to understand what resources are being offered across town. They’re combining their efforts with other ecosystems in town to create a welcome package, a concept with new entrepreneurs and new investors coming to town so that they can see at a glance what’s happening across the region.
Atlanta Tech Ecosystem
Aly speaks to several startups a month, and even if they don’t align with ATV, she usually points them in the direction of another accelerator, incubator, or pitch competition.
After all, what’s the point of building a community of inclusive tech partners?
The Atlanta ecosystem is bursting with resources for startups and entrepreneurs, a few of which Aly outlines below:
- Tech Alpharetta – just north of the city, incorporating an incubator model Tech Alpharetta – just north of the city, incorporating an incubator model
- The Russell Center – a hub and resource center for Black-owned businesses in Atlanta near the historic Atlanta University Center
- The Lola – workspace and digital community that focuses on women and female-presenting people
- The Gathering Spot – a workspace and curated community for professionals and creatives
- Startup Atlanta – a non-profit that serves growth-focused entrepreneurs in the Atlanta region who are focused on scaling their business
- ATDC – a business incubator out of Georgia Tech that assists entrepreneurs across the state from idea to commercial success.
If you’re ever in the city taking a tour of ATV with Aly, don’t be surprised if you hear her mention these resources in the Atlanta ecosystem. There are a lot of different spaces in town that are doing amazing things with a slightly different focus. There’s no reason that we can’t all collaborate together on something bigger than ourselves.
To learn more about Aly, her love for the Atlanta tech ecosystem, and ATV by listening to her episode on the Startup Showdown Podcast.
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