Monday, July 27, 2009

VentureLab merges with ATDC

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ATDC, one of the nation's largest, longest running, and best-known university-based technology accelerators, is expanding its mission. ATDC has been merged with Georgia Tech's VentureLab and with the Georgia SBIR Assistance Program. By pooling resources, the new ATDC has increased the staff available to serve its expanded mission of helping Georgia entrepreneurs launch and build successful technology companies. The change will allow ATDC to greatly extend its reach to serve more technology companies along multiple growth paths and at all stages of development.

Founded in 1980, ATDC has helped create millions of dollars in tax revenues by graduating more than 120 companies, which together have raised more than a billion dollars in outside financing. However, according to Stephen Fleming, vice provost at Georgia Tech, "the startup market has changed dramatically over the past few years. Many startup companies do not want or need to pursue venture funding. Some are not even seeking traditional office space. ATDC's new initiatives directly address the demands of today's startup environment."

ATDC will open its membership to all technology entrepreneurs in Georgia, from those at the earliest conception stage to the well-established, venture-fundable companies. "We're interested in any technology business opportunity" said David Sung, one of ATDC's startup catalysts and a former partner with H.I.G. Ventures. "There are many ways ATDC can help startups, from business coaching and providing networking opportunities to financing through angel investment, government grants and contracts, corporate partnerships, and classic bootstrapping. We will support all entrepreneurs, whatever path they may take, through their entire growth process."

ATDC will continue to offer traditional "bricks-and-mortar" incubation space on entrepreneur-friendly terms, both in midtown Atlanta and Savannah. The center will be expanding its recent SeedSpace offering of small single-office leases in Technology Square for the earliest entrepreneurs and will provide a variety of co-working spaces to promote casual interaction among entrepreneurs. Recognizing the sprawl of the Atlanta metro area, ATDC will offer programs outside the Perimeter where dense clusters of entrepreneurs can benefit from its services. ATDC will also take full advantage of social media to build connections with entrepreneurs across the entire state of Georgia.

Since 1999, the state-funded ATDC Seed Capital Fund has made equity investments in Georgia startup companies alongside angel investors and traditional venture firms. With this new merger, ATDC will also manage the Georgia Tech Edison Fund, an innovative investment fund established in 2007 which draws its resources from charitable donors who are interested in helping expand the entrepreneurial ecosystem surrounding Georgia Tech.

"ATDC has always been a focal point for entrepreneurship in Georgia" said Sig Mosley, president of Imlay Investments and member of ATDC's board of advisors. "With these moves, ATDC now is aligned to support the specific needs of the new startup environment. The open door policy is a strong, positive shift and reinforces ATDC's leadership role in the startup community not just within the Atlanta metro area, but throughout the entire state."

The merger of the three units will bring together a broader knowledge base to provide comprehensive services to Georgia's technology entrepreneurs.

"By working at the very earliest stage with university spinouts—not just pre-revenue but pre-incorporation—we have learned a great deal about the coaching required by brand-new entrepreneurial teams that are still establishing their business model" said Roberto Casas, previously assistant director of Georgia Tech's VentureLab. "To date, we've focused on startups based on Georgia Tech intellectual property. By merging with ATDC, we'll be able to offer similar services to any Georgia startup, whether connected to Georgia Tech or not."

ATDC, the former Georgia Tech VentureLab, and the SBIR Assistance program are part of the Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2) at Georgia Tech, which helps Georgia enterprises improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. Stephen Fleming, the former head of Georgia Tech VentureLab, was recently promoted to vice provost of Georgia Tech overseeing all of EI2. He will serve as the initial director of the new ATDC.

"Despite the economic downturn, it's still a great time to build a startup company in Georgia" said Fleming. "The last four years have seen an explosion of groups and organizations supporting the early-stage entrepreneur. With this expansion, we're rebooting the franchise of ATDC as the hub of technology entrepreneurship in Georgia. We hope to work with everyone, at any stage, along any path, to accelerate more technology startups and weave them into the economic fabric of Georgia."

All employees of ATDC, Georgia Tech VentureLab, and the SBIR Assistance Program will be retained in the consolidation. The new ATDC organization will continue to assist Georgia Tech faculty members and other research staff in forming new companies, and will continue to provide assistance to any Georgia small business seeking SBIR funding.

About ATDC
ATDC helps Georgia entrepreneurs launch and build successful technology companies. Founded in 1980, the Advanced Technology Development Center has provided business incubation and acceleration services to hundreds of Georgia startups—most of which are not based on Georgia Tech research, but which benefit from the close proximity to the university. ATDC currently has three facilities; two at Georgia Tech's main campus in Atlanta, and one at Georgia Tech's satellite campus in Savannah.

About SBIR Assistance Program of Georgia
The state of Georgia has one of the nation's leading SBIR/STTR assistance programs which, since being established in 2005, has educated and helped hundreds of Georgia entrepreneurs access these sources of federal funds. With the program's direct assistance, 150 companies have submitted one or more proposals resulting in more than $30 million in federal awards. By merging into ATDC, the program will be able to interact with more entrepreneurs across the state, including those who may have never considered applying for federal grants, and bring more of these awards into Georgia's startup ecosystem.

About VentureLab
In 2001, Georgia Tech became a founding member of VentureLab, a program of the Georgia Research Alliance (GRA). VentureLab helps build spinout companies around cutting-edge university research. With its emphasis on technologically-grounded business analysis, access to early-stage funds, and recruitment of experienced management, Georgia Tech's VentureLab has launched more than two dozen successful companies and serves as a model for other universities seeking to commercialize their discoveries. GRA's VentureLab Program now extends to four other research universities in Georgia; with an investment of some $13 million from GRA, more than 150 Georgia-based startups have been created around university intellectual property in the state. GRA also recently launched a new venture fund to make equity investments into these spinout companies.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Doing Business Locally

There is nothing more important to a startup than customers. They are the lifeblood of a business; providing much needed cash, credibility and hope. Your first customers are always the most difficult to land. You are not a known entity. You don't have the money for any advertising. And you don't have a sales history with any customers yet. So, what to do? Go local I say.

Even if your product can be sold over the Internet, it is usually best to find customers physically close to you. Why? Because you can meet them in person. Without a history to fall back on, you must build a rapport with your prospects. They have to learn to trust you and believe that you will take care of them This is critical to closing your first sales.

How do you find these first prospects? Your best bet is always a warm referral. I can't teach you to be a great networker, but I can tell you that being humble and asking lots of questions will get you a long way. People want to help you.

Unless you just got off a spaceship from Mars, you surely know a number people. Think outside the box. Talk to people in your neighborhood. At church. In your class from school (maybe Facebook will come in handy some day?). Don't forget your lawyer or accountant. As long as you are specific with what you're looking for, a referral is an easy thing to get. You're not asking for money or even any work on their part, just a name and maybe an email on your behalf. And it is going to take time and be painful at times. Remember, a startup is hard work. For some, this can be quite uncomfortable, especially if you're not used to socializing. But landing your first customers is never something you can outsource. Only YOU can close the first sales. Just get out there, never give up and believe the payoff will happen.

As a final note, you must know what is going on in your community. If you're in Atlanta, you must invest in a subscription to the Atlanta Business Chronicle and try to read the AJC every Sunday.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Baseball and Startups

You've heard the 'startups are like baseball' analogy 100 times. Maybe 1,000 times.

"How many of those companies would have had solid base hits exits if the venture investors had not been swinging for the fences?"

"To be a premier venture capitalist, one must hit a home run."

"For every Google-type home run there are countless other startups that strike out"

I think it is a useful, but sometimes overused metaphor. But, the one thing that for me holds true, is that it is a statistical game. Hank Aaron did not hit a home run every time he was at bat. Tony Gwynn did not get a base hit every time. And, there was no way to predict when the home runs or base hits would come. They just got back in the batters box and tried again, even though they failed nearly 70% of the time.

There is no such thing as a guaranteed hit in a startup. It is a risky proposition, many times driven by the vagaries of marco economic conditions, technology disruptions, competitive forces beyond our control and simple fate.

How to get past this? Develop the skills to be a top entrepreneur and get up to bat as many times as you can.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Suniva wins Envention Prize

Have we really not blogged about Suniva in nearly a year?

Have to brag about one of our poster children spinouts. Dr. Ajeet Rohatgi from Georgia Tech's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering has been leading one of the world's top photovoltaic research centers for twenty years. A couple of years ago, VentureLab helped him pull together a business plan, management team, and seed financing to launch a startup company to commercialize his inventions. It's exactly what VentureLab is all about.

With a billion-dollar backlog in orders, the company now employs more than 60 people in its solar cell fabrication facility in Norcross, with expansion planned soon.

Last week, the Atlanta Business Chronicle awarded Suniva its Envention Award, given to a new product developed by an Atlanta company or individual that exhibits outstanding environmental or green benefits.

Read the entire article here.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Simatra in TAG Top 40

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The first slot in the 2009 TAG Top 40 has already been spoken for! Simatra Modeling Technologies -- a VentureLab graduate and ATDC member -- won the special Startup Gauntlet competition in December. Simatra is developing high performance computing technologies for numerical simulation and analysis in industries such as aerospace, pharmaceutical research, and finance.

TAG is now looking for 39 more companies to be featured at the annual Georgia Technology Summit, March 3, 2009, at Cobb Galleria Center. This year's Summit will feature a keynote presentation by Thomas Friedman, author of "Hot, Flat and Crowded" and "The World is Flat."

The competitive selection process will focus on the companies' products, services and technologies. The Top 40 companies will participate in a showcase at the Summit, expected to draw over 1,000 leaders from the state's technology community. Ten particularly outstanding companies from the Top 40 will also make short presentations to the Summit attendees, including venture capitalists, angel investors, potential customers and partners.

Applications for the Top 40 Innovators program will be accepted through the end of January via the TAG Web site at


Thursday, January 8, 2009

It's the Execution, not the Idea that Matters

A recent Slashdot article addressed a question from a Computer Science student about whether his ideas would be 'stolen' by the University. I am not going to directly address the question or get into the explanation of University IP ownership and Bayh-Dole. I'll leave that for someone else. :-)

But, what I though was interesting was something said by a commenter to the article. It was this anecdote:

Frank Herbert, author of Dune, told ... how he had once been approached by a friend who claimed he (the friend) had a killer idea for a SF story, and offered to tell it to Herbert. In return, Herbert had to agree that if he used the idea in a story, he'd split the money from the story with this fellow. Herbert's response was that ideas were a dime a dozen; he had more story ideas than he could ever write in a lifetime. The hard part was the writing, not the ideas.
Herbert might as well have been talking about technology. Don't get me wrong. Ideas are important. Research is critical to advancing our society. But when it comes to commercialization, it is only a small part of the puzzle.

Building a business involves a tremendous number of challenges completely unrelated to the technology itself. Building a team, finding capital, identifying a target market, creating a sales channel, designing complete products, printing sales collateral, finding efficient and low cost manufacturing, structuring partnerships, recruiting a strong board, raising more money, setting up customer service, drafting useful documentation, crafting whitepapers and example designs, legal issues, human resources, leasing office space, attending board meetings, making customer visits, going to trade shows ... I'd go on, but I'm out of breath. You need to do well in all of these areas and still get lucky if you want to have a successful startup business. That is called execution.

The bottom line is that customers, those people who pay our bills, care about your solutions, not your ideas. And if you don't execute and deliver a complete solution, you don't get paid.

At VentureLab, we look at ideas all day long. Many of them are brilliant, exciting, compelling and completely original. But we have to add in the cold reality of execution details and try to envision a path to the market that involves the hundreds of details completely unrelated to the original idea.

Keep coming up with ideas though, they are great places to start.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

VentureLab is Hiring!


VentureLab just celebrated its seventh birthday, and our impact on the Georgia technology community has been growing every year. Our mission is to commercialize technology developed in Georgia Tech research labs. We review all the intellectual property being reported by faculty, decide how best to use the technology, and then nurture startup companies coming out of the process.

So far, we've evaluated more than 1,000 inventions, identified 117 potential startup opportunities, and launched 22 companies since 2001. Beyond those raw numbers are the dollars: we've managed $7.3 million invested by the Georgia Research Alliance to start these companies; the survivors have attracted more than $250 million in venture capital -- a 34-to-1 leverage!

You can read the list of current VentureLab projects here, or more about how the program works here.

We're expanding our staff to deal with the increasing percentage of biotech and life sciences opportunities at Georgia Tech (mostly, but not exclusively, coming from the School of Biomedical Engineering). You get to work with some of the smartest people in the world, and help shape their inventions into successful startups. We have a great group of people working here already, and now we need one more.

The position profile and requirements are posted here and we're accepting applications already. If you're interested and have relevant background and experience, please click on the link and apply!