There is no doubt that the West Coast dominates the technology scene but as the tools we use every day become increasingly diverse and fragmented, there are more opportunities for small and medium businesses to find a foothold and compete. Between apps, online services, and new devices for both the consumer and business-to-business environments, there is a wide space for new ideas to pop up and grow. Investors in San Francisco are more often looking for the next big thing – companies with a $1B valuation. These companies are called “unicorns” and include the likes of Uber, AirBNB, Snapchat, Pinterest, Dropbox, etc. The challenge for angel investors is that for every twenty companies (or more?) that they invest in, nineteen will most likely fail. Thus the single survivor must be very profitable to make up for the losses. Failure is just a part of the Silicon Valley culture and it is expected.
Atlanta investors appear to be taking a more pragmatic approach according to NPR local station, WABE. They are instead focusing on “great ideas and solid business plans”. They more closely examine the business fundamentals like profitability and cash flow. This will help leave Atlanta much healthier if there is a tech shake up and the high valuations of the unicorns come crashing down on Wall Street. It has happened before but investors often have short memories.
Once the businesses are established, there are additional ways that Atlanta can compete with Silicon Valley according to Entrepreneur magazine. We can boast of a long list of Fortune 500 companies already in our back yard and have the third largest concentration of these companies in the U.S. (424 of 500). This gives startups focused on larger enterprise an easily accessible list of customers. We have a lower cost of living compared to other tech hubs allowing worker salaries to stretch farther and housing prices are more competitive. This can also keep salaries at a more reasonable level for startup companies who are stretching limited resources. Another plus for Atlanta is that, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Georgia is the number one state for growth in women-owned businesses since 1997 with over 300,000 women-owned firms and great success stories like Spanx. We also have a great climate and local environment with access to both the mountains to the north and beaches to the south.
The nickname “Silicon Valley of the South” may still be hyperbole and a little bravado, but the trend is positive and we’re getting there. Ultimately this all adds up to more opportunities for the upcoming generation of tech workers and for the students taking up coding today. It’s exciting to think about what they might be able to accomplish in this environment. They can benefit not only from learning to code but also from the skills that come along with it. These students see what is possible with technology and they can work together to come up with new ideas. We aren’t just teaching future programmers but instead are helping the kids feel confident that they can create with technology, no matter what the tools are and no matter how often they change. Whether it’s coding, game design, digital art, 3D modeling, animation robotics or some crazy combination of these skills, if they can find a satisfying career and jobs in Atlanta then we all win with a healthy and vibrant city.