Atlanta might be on your radar as Georgia's capital of cultural offerings, but it's an incredibly underrated city for budding entrepreneurs. With a helpful and willing community of investment firms, academic institutions and successful entrepreneurs, it’s an ideal place to build your network and establish a new and exciting business.
We chatted with some entrepreneurs based in Atlanta who shared an insight into what makes the city a great base to launch a business. You can learn more about their individual stories and why you should start a business in Atlanta.
Chrissa McFarlane – Patientory
Chrisaa McFarlane made it her life’s mission to have a positive impact on the lives of others and has been in the healthcare industry since high school. She is the founder and CEO of the Atlanta-based company Patientory, a global health data analytics and patient engagement platform that incentivizes you to improve your own health. Having been based in Atlanta for over 10 years, McFarlane decided to establish and grow her business there.
“Atlanta is an excellent place to start and expand a business…there’s a refreshing attitude of 'how can I help?' and a major diversity initiative, which is unique,” McFarlane explains. The incredible network and support system that exists in Atlanta seems to be a common thread.
McFarlane found that “the Georgia Department of Economic Development has been one of the most important resources in the city and helps us make connections both nationally and internationally.”
However, being an entrepreneur is not without its challenges. “Breaking into the healthcare industry with new technology is certainly a challenge and to start a business in an industry mainly dominated by men,” McFarlane said. However, a good support network is crucial. “My advice would be to build a support system including advisors and mentors, join the community and leverage experiences of other founders,” McFarlane suggests.
Networking was also a big asset to McFarlane's entrepreneurial growth: "Through networking, I was able to be introduced to people and resources that help me to push my business forward."
Bryan Mulligan – Applied Information
Bryan Mulligan is an engineering entrepreneur who has been involved in building companies for 40 years. More recently, his company, Applied Information, focuses on technological solutions in the transport and industrial spaces. He’s an incredibly driven entrepreneur who has managed to “bet my future over and over again in building a number of successful companies.”
Atlanta can be described as a very technologically progressive city. For Mulligan, he finds that the cities in and around Greater Atlanta are incredibly willing to adopt new technologies, giving it an open-minded culture for entrepreneurs. “There is a technology basis where a number of technology companies have historically been based in Atlanta,” Mulligan explains.
This long history has some incredible advantages for entrepreneurs looking to establish their business. “The combination of good technological infrastructure and support, good technical people and customers that are able to tolerate risk,” are all reasons that Mulligan believes Atlanta is a successful place for entrepreneurs.
As for his advice for someone starting a business? "You have to be sure in yourself, and it is a combination of confidence and arrogance that the way you see the world will result in people buying what you come up with. You have to have a supportive family who is able to tolerate the risks, uncertainty and inevitable ups and downs. It is not for everybody."
Barbara Jones – Lillii
Barbara Jones had a strong sense that she wanted to be an entrepreneur from a young age. After longing for her own business, she finally started Lillii after gaining knowledge and experience in the tech industry. Her company stands for “Let’s Imagine Life with Ladies in IT” and it is a consultancy firm that works with Fortune 500 companies and government agencies.
She faced quite a few challenges in the tech world when first starting out. “The biggest challenge for me was access to capital as a Black woman building a technology company,” she explains. “I had all the accolades, technical know-how, excellent team and great customers…still, I could not get access to capital.” However, extensive networking and taking advantage of the startup accelerator programs available in Atlanta are what Jones found most helpful.
“Atlanta has been the best place for us to build and scale the company,” Jones explains. She took advantage of the various startup incubator programs in Atlanta, like Ascend Atlanta, Atlanta Tech Village, ATDC, The Farm, GA Tech MBDA and LaunchPad2x, and also participated in networking opportunities with other diverse tech startups in the city. “There are so many programs that have helped me learn the tools I need to be a great founder/CEO,” she explains.
When it comes to her advice for fledgling business owners, Jones has some pointers: "Take some time to plan how you will launch your business. Set aside some capital — at least 6 months of your expenses. It always takes much longer to raise money than you think it will. Identify who your ideal customer is and do some customer discovery to learn if they will buy a product/service like yours. Lastly, build a great team and find at least one other person to be your co-founder. I'm a solo founder and this is one of the things I would change if I could start all over again. I would have a co-founder, for sure!"
Greg Johnson – Rubicon Crypto
It was all about perfect timing for Greg Johnson when he became co-founder and CEO of Rubicon Crypto. He had just exited a global wellness company that he scaled as CEO and had been fascinated by business and cryptocurrency for a while. He was approached by two Atlanta-based business leaders and together they founded a company that connects the dots between the traditional and digital investment world.
Atlanta has been the perfect place for Rubicon Crypto to grow. Johnson describes the startup culture in Atlanta as being severely underrated when compared to more well-known entrepreneurial cities. "'Community' is too often thrown around in the vocabulary of business today, but Atlanta has curated a truly robust startup community over the past couple of decades," he shares.
Several academic institutions and private equity and venture firms are responsible for growing the momentum. Johnson lists Georgia Tech’s ATDC, HBCUs, Kennesaw State, GSU, Emory University and TiE Atlanta amongst those that are fostering entrepreneurship in Atlanta. With so many valuable networks and local resources willing to help, Atlanta is truly an underrated business hub.
“Networking must be top of mind for every entrepreneur,” Johnson believes, and that seems more than possible in Atlanta.
Despite a great sense of community, new business owners need to be aware of the obstacles that may come their way. Johnson says, "The challenges of launching a startup can be all-consuming at times, both mentally and physically, and they can vary from day to day, week to week or even hour by hour. Entrepreneurs need to learn how to build up a massive amount of EQ (emotional intelligence) and couple that with a work ethic to match."
Lauren Longo – Talli
Lauren Longo moved to Atlanta in 2012 when the firm she was working with relocated her family. She found the move beneficial. “Atlanta is a welcoming city to live and work, and it has so much opportunity. I’m thrilled and proud to have built my company here. It’s a place that values hard work and grit, but also really values family,” she explained.
Longo started her own company, Talli, when she was just a new mom and needed to log information on feeding times, diapers and sleep patterns. She and her husband developed the original Talli tracker and app to do this in a much easier way but soon decided to launch it to the world to help other mothers manage a newborn.
Starting a new venture doesn't come without its challenges, though. "For me, the biggest battle has been against imposter syndrome. The day-to-day juggling act gets very taxing, with having to wear so many hats at work and do the best I can by my family as well. When things get especially hard, it’s easy for thoughts to creep in like, 'Who am I to be doing this?' Or 'Do I really have what it takes?' Every entrepreneur I know has similar thoughts." Longo beats these intrusive thoughts by focusing on her reason for building her business and her desire to show her kids to never give up.
No doubt, for Longo, Atlanta's local resources for budding entrepreneurs also helps. With a variety of startup incubators, eager investors and bootcamp programs, it’s a perfect city to start your business journey. Not only does it have great resources, but Longo describes it as a “welcoming and generous” city.
“I was so nervous going to my first pitch competition with a brand-new idea that didn’t really have legs yet. Everyone went out of their way to make me feel comfortable,” she explains. "And all the founders I’ve met here in Atlanta are so eager to help each other and so generous with their time. There are so many people I can go out for a drink with when I need it."
Jim Berryhill – DecisionLink
Jim Berryhill is the co-founder of DecisionLink, one of the world’s leading SaaS-based customer value management platforms. He describes his journey towards becoming an entrepreneur at 60 years old as “a series of aha moments over the course of over 30 years.”
Identifying an unmet need in the market was Berryhill’s first realization that they had a successful business idea. “We never lost faith or doubted the mission and the objectives,” despite knowing that over 90 percent of tech startups fail.
He believes that having great enthusiasm is key for entrepreneurs and finding that enthusiasm in Atlanta is quite effortless.
“Atlanta is awash with…great young people with big hearts and visionary ideas and a great community to nurture and support them,” Berryhill says when asked about Atlanta’s startup culture. "Visionaries like David Cummings, founder of Pardot and the Atlanta Tech Village, resources such at ATDC affiliated with Georgia Tech and other resources have made a big impact."
However, he does warn that the investment commitment in Atlanta might be lacking compared to other cities. Although, with such a boom in the startup community over the past few years, “hopefully the local capital will catch up to the startup trajectory,” he says.
Berryhill has some great advice for new business owners:
- Identify an unmet need in the market.
- Be an order of magnitude (10x) better than status quo.
- Make sure your solution is valuable — real valuable.
- Believe in yourself, but make sure it's something you're good at.
- Have enthusiasm, be ready for "hard" and be ready for disappointment.
Aspiring business owners from across the country have found an innovative community and endless inspiration in Atlanta's growing tech scene. With a little advice, some resources and ambition, Atlanta, Georgia, can be a great hub for launching or growing your business.