Venture Atlanta: Heavyweights Declare Us Among the Top Five U.S. Startup Cities

Venture AtlantaI posted last month about the Venture Atlanta Entrepreneur’s Reception as a preview to this year’s Venture Atlanta event, held at the Georgia Aquarium on October 22 & 23. I attended both days from start to finish, and it affirmed my hunch that investors are increasingly focused on real business people with real business ideas. The 32 presentations in two days were remarkably solid overall.

This year’s Venture Atlanta drew a record number of investors, with over 700 people registered. Dozens of established, highly capitalized funds were represented. As one of the speakers, Dick Kramlich (Apple investor, 1977!) said: The tourists have gone home and those remaining are seeking deals. In other words, the recession got rid of the dabblers, and it’s game on.

“Game on” at Venture Atlanta is a series of six-minute pitches by entrepreneurs, with the audience seated in groups of ten at round tables. Presenters pitch from a stage, and strategically placed monitors provide a close-up view. Consistent with Atlanta’s tech strengths, companies seeking funding were largely focused on new B2B financial, mobility, security and automated sales & marketing solutions.

It was interesting to watch investors turn attention on and off, engaging with select pitches according to portfolio sweet spots. This year’s event included Android and Apple apps that audience members used to view a presenter’s website and download contact info for follow-up – very nice touch.

My two biggest takeaways from this year’s Venture Atlanta:

1. There’s more investment interest from outside metro Atlanta than ever. Funds represented are based all over the country, including several from the West Coast. Clearly these investors have become impressed with Atlanta’s creativity. During a lunchtime panel discussion on the first day, John Balen, Jeff Leavitt and Kramlich declared Atlanta “one of the top five startup cities in the USA."

2. We have clearly bounced back from the recession. We’re moving quickly again. We’re not irrationally exuberant, but have an unmistakable exuberance with informed optimism. Real companies are coming on the scene and growing quickly. The accomplishments of many of the presenters were already formidable.

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I’ll never forget a story Kramlich told about getting a phone call many years ago, tipping him off to an Atlanta entrepreneur worth looking into. The entrepreneur was Bernie Marcus, and his start-up was Home Depot. Kramlich had retail experts evaluate it, and the experts told him the Home Depot concept would never work. Kramlich passed. He said his lesson learned is that experts evaluate based on what exists, not what could be.

Here’s to Atlanta entrepreneurs who envision what could be.

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