Atlanta’s startup ecosystem recognized the city’s most successful tech firms, startup pioneers, and leading community advocates Thursday night at the third annual Atlanta Startup Awards. The evening signaled the evolution of innovation in Atlanta, one that continues to be more inclusive and transformative than the tech industry as a whole.
Held at the historic campus of Clark Atlanta University (CAU) in front of an audience of more than 100 startup leaders from across metropolitan Atlanta, this year’s award winners were selected in eight categories:
Award-winning journalist Rose Scott, host of “Closer Look” on Atlanta’s NPR station 90.1 FM – WABE, served as Master of Ceremonies. The awardees marked a top-notch and valuable ecosystem, one focused on gains, impact, and diversity.
For instance, the Shaquille O’Neal backed Steady App has seen over 200,000 downloads and received $9 million in venture funding since launching in April 2018. And then there’s LeaseQuery, a company whose incredible bootstrapped growth preceded an announcement of a $40 million Series A investment from Goldman Sachs’ Merchant Banking Division late last year. LeaseQuery saw 708 percent year-over-year revenue growth in 2018.
CEO Georgia Azih told UrbanGeekz the award was unexpected. “It was humbling,” he said. “I didn’t expect to win. I’m happy for our team.” He also said the LeaseQuery is on track to hire at least 100 employees this year and his big focus is on hiring diverse teams.
Additionally, the night honored two Lifetime Achievement recipients, Charlie Paparelli, Board Chair of High Tech Industries, and Bernice “Bernie” Dixon, Founder and CEO of Launchpad2X and Chairman Emeritus of Atlanta Technology Angels (ATA).
“I set out to help entrepreneurs achieve their dream of starting and running their own company,” Paparelli said in his acceptance speech, further detailing how he began his journey in 1992. He also talked about how he loved to invest in those truly trying to change the world and make Atlanta better. And he advised on being an investor, saying, “you have to share with them everything you have to make them successful [including] money, experience, and network.”
Dixon also tied her acceptance to the entrepreneurs she’s helped through the success of her Launchpad2X program. The organization’s three-day core program has graduated 173 women, with an average growth of 200 percent for companies that have passed through the program. Of those, 9 companies have successfully been acquired. Launchpad2X has achieved close to a billion-dollar economic impact in the Atlanta region.
Dixon has an impressive track record that includes climbing the corporate ladder alongside being a seasoned investor. She told UrbanGeekz, “my life didn’t start out to be a pioneer. No one starts out thinking about being a pioneer. One thing I like to tell women about managing their career because I’ve been in private industry, you always need to think about managing your career and not just your job. So really going for it, giving it your gusto. Showing up every day and being good. And being a little bit better than good the next day. Things [can] happen.”
She also described how encountering a recurring problem of women not having the confidence to thrive professionally led her to create Launchpad2X.
In addition to recognizing this year’s award winners, the event also presented a fireside chat segment entitled “Where are They Now” which looks at the progress of past Startup Award Winners. The chat was moderated by UrbanGeekz Founder/Publisher, Kunbi Tinuoye and featured Joey Womack, Founder/CEO of Goodie Nation and Dan D’Aquisto, Founder/CEO of 2U Laundry. Throughout the talk, the panelists dropped gems on navigating and finding success in the startup community. They chopped it up to putting great emphasis on relationships and having a great trajectory of work.
With the best of Atlanta tech’s past acknowledged and honored, the future looks more than bright for continuing the work.
James Bailey, President and CEO of the Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, who was a partner of the event along with CAU’s School of Business Administration, said during his speech that he’s traveled to Cambridge, the research triangle, and Silicon Valley, and yet “nowhere beats Atlanta”. He also said the collective power of the state’s top universities, including Georgia Tech, Georgia State, and the Atlanta University Consortium could rival that of Stanford.
Kylan Kester, Startup Atlanta’s community coordinator, also talked about why Atlanta is an ideal place to grow personally and professionally. “As the community coordinator of Startup Atlanta, I’ve been in a unique position, because I’ve not only been able to see the entrepreneurs but I’ve been able to see the people funding these companies, and also the people helping build community,” he said. “One thing that I will say is that I love Atlanta because we have such a spirit of southern hospitality that comes so naturally. So that’s one thing that I think gives us a competitive advantage.”
He also talked about how unlike the Valley, there’s a chance for everyone to be involved and successful in tech.
“What is happening now more than ever, is this space of people who are generally underrepresented, people who are women and people of color, who haven’t been able to get access to things like funding [or] building a product with a real design team and development team, they’re so much more of that happening more than ever.”