By Dave Kostiuk
On Monday, September 25, the Metro Atlanta Chamber (MAC) hosted an inaugural event for its innovative new program, Backed by ATL, at the Fox Theater’s Grand Salon and Terrace Ballroom. Approximately 100 guests joined the spirited celebration, including venture capitalists and representatives of local academic institutions and businesses.
With the aim of promoting metro Atlanta’s viability as an excellent place to grow a company, Backed by ATL is designed to provide specialized support for an inaugural cohort of seven select ventures: Nolan Transportation Group, Patientco, Pindrop, Salesloft, Springbot, TruRating and Urjanet.
These companies span such industries as health IT, fintech, transportation, bioscience, cybersecurity and the Internet of Things (IoT). 100 companies were originally nominated for induction into the program, and the final seven were chosen based on revenue, projections for growth and potential for impacting the economy in the Atlanta community.
The evening began with remarks by Jennifer Sherer, Vice President of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Metro Atlanta Chamber. She introduced the program, underlining its aim to marshal support for companies that are beyond the startup phase.
“This is for the next stage companies,” she said. “They’re in the growth stage. This program is designed to help and support them and ensure that they’ve got all the resources that they need to grow and become big brands—to create jobs, to create wage growth and to have a significant economic impact.”
A panel discussion followed, moderated by John Brock III, retired CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises. Also on the panel were David Cummings, founder of Atlanta Tech Village and CEO of Leadtime, Lane B. Moore, founder of QuarterMoore and Jeff Karcher, Senior Director of client relationships in the Southeast for the New York Stock Exchange. The conversation centered on the program’s goals and the benefits of the Southeast’s innovative ecosystem.
Cummings referred to the companies of the first Backed by ATL cohort as “scale-ups” or “gazelles”—those that have generated $5–15 million in revenue with the potential to become billion dollar companies. He also identified metro Atlanta’s enthusiastic atmosphere as key to its continued success.
“Atlantans are more ambitious, more willing to put in the extra effort, more positive, more optimistic,” he said. “I think Atlanta’s can-do attitude has been one of our secret ingredients over the years that’s created so many success stories and talent.“
Moore added that Backed by ATL will facilitate the seven companies’ ability to form a peer group, “share ideas, learn from mistakes and preserve capital.”
After the panel took questions from local media, there was a meet and greet on the terrace. Vickie Thomas, MAC’s Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and leader of the Backed by ATL effort, was in a jubilant mood. “I’ve always had a passion for innovation and I have a passion for Atlanta,” she stated. “It takes a village.”
Thomas is excited about Backed by ATL’s unique ability to customize efforts according to each company’s needs. “We don’t have a set curriculum we go through or a timetable,” she said. “The plan will be different from company to company.” Currently, the program is in the discovery phase. The Backed By ATL Task Force, comprised of local business leadership and MAC staff, is collaborating with each company to develop the best plans of action.
As for the future, Thomas anticipates that companies will leave the program once key objectives are reached, which will then make room for new companies to benefit from becoming part of Backed by ATL. In the meantime, Backed by ATL will expose its current members to investors and economic partners and assist with recruiting fresh talent and leadership training. The program will also give direction, keep tabs on results and identify areas for improvement.
The celebration finished with dinner and speeches by CEOs and founders of each of the seven companies, all of whom were presented with a commemorative backpack, a clever gesture and nod to the Backed By ATL name. Among the speakers was Rob Forman, cofounder and COO of sales engagement software company Salesloft, who lauded the “higher purpose” of being part of the new program, as “others get to see the benefit of being in Atlanta.”
Vijay A Balasubramaniyan, CEO and cofounder of Pindrop, an anti-fraud and call center identification company, asserted his preference for being based in Atlanta over regions like San Francisco, calling the former city a “well-kept secret.”
“We’re growing very quickly, and we couldn’t do that without the ecosystem that Atlanta provides, allowing us to attract talent from all over,” he said. “We’re super proud that the entire Atlanta ecosystem is behind us.”
All photos courtesy of the Metro Atlanta Chamber.