atlanta skyline

Making Atlanta a Top 5 Tech Hub

The city of Atlanta aspires to be among the nation’s top markets for technology and entrepreneurial investment, and Georgia Tech is well positioned to have a prominent role. 

That’s one of the takeaways from a new report offering recommendations for how the city can “unlock the ‘flywheel effect’ for growth” through a public-private partnership designed to increase opportunity for entrepreneurs and investors.

Produced by the Boston Consulting Group, the report underscores how “a coordinated effort from Atlanta’s higher education system can be its secret weapon in reversing recent trends and lighting a path for future entrepreneurship.”

students work in the flowers invention studio
Students at work in Georgia Tech's Flowers Invention Studio, a 7,000-square-foot space for makers and innovators.
science square groundbreaking
Science Square, located on the west of campus, is set to be the Southeast's premier life sciences development.

Signs of Strength

Atlanta boasts a robust academic ecosystem led by institutions like Georgia Tech. This environment not only nurtures a rich stream of technical talent, but also instills a culture of innovation. The city's cultural diversity stands as a prominent strength, providing the ideas and perspectives essential for technological advancement.

With a lower cost of living compared to other major cities, Atlanta stands as an attractive option for individuals and businesses. The city's well-developed infrastructure, including a major international airport, positions it as a central hub for business activities, ensuring seamless connectivity. The attraction of tech giants like Microsoft and Google underscore Atlanta's appeal in fostering innovation and technological progress.

Research universities play a key role in the communities — expanding and building the new economy. Georgia Tech acts as convener and catalyst for innovation and technology development, including dozens of community, university, and corporate innovators in Atlanta and across Georgia, acting as a bridge between students’ interests and the needs of the workforce.

“Georgia Tech is the largest non-medical university in terms of research budget,” said Raghupathy "Siva" Sivakumar, vice president for Commercialization and chief commercialization officer at Georgia Tech. “We have an amazing pipeline of research and we are investing in resources and creating an entrepreneurial culture where our researchers feel empowered to translate their innovations into solutions for the real world."

A participant presents at Startup Launch Demo Day 2023. Photo by Allison Carter
A participant presents at Startup Launch Demo Day 2023. Photo by Allison Carter
startup launch demo day 2023
A participant presents at Startup Launch Demo Day 2023. Photo by Allison Carter

Minding the Gaps

Despite its strengths, Atlanta grapples with challenges, notably a gap in securing venture capital funding that matches its entrepreneurial ambitions. The city struggles with a perception gap, lacking the recognition and understanding necessary to attract external talent and investment. The decentralized nature of the startup infrastructure poses challenges for collaboration and cohesive support. While Atlanta's universities invest significantly in research — more than $2 billion yearly at Georgia Tech and Emory — there's a gap in effectively translating this into successful startups. There's also a notable disparity in the distribution of venture capital funding, particularly underrepresentation of founders who are women or people of color.

Georgia Tech is working to reverse this trend. Through programs like the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), CREATE-X, VentureLab, Engage, Startup Exchange, Biolocity, InVenture Prize, and the Atlanta Collegiate Entrepreneurship Syndicate (ACES), the Institute has partnered with private and public organizations to attract, develop, and support entrepreneurial talent. Nearly 100 startups were launched through the 2023 Startup Launch program alone, which aims to eventually support the creation of 300 companies per year.

Startups attract investment, create jobs, grow the economy, and drive more innovation and research. It’s a positive feedback loop that spreads prosperity. Georgia Tech’s outstanding community of research pioneers and unique commercialization ecosystem is a testament to the potential for even greater opportunity.

avant south
Avant South, which debuted in 2023, is a conference that showcases the best of technology, innovation, and creativity in burgeoning fields.
georgia tech graduation
Georgia Tech graduates at Commencement. Attracting and retaining talent in Atlanta is key to the city's growth as a tech hub.

Opportunities for Transformation

In the face of challenges, Atlanta finds unique opportunities for transformation. The report's authors propose a public-private partnership, dubbed Startup Mill, as a means of addressing gaps, coordinating efforts, and propelling rapid growth in entrepreneurship. The city benefits from a large annual influx of tech graduates, creating a continuous pool of skilled professionals for the tech industry.

With major corporations investing in innovation infrastructure, Atlanta has an opportunity to solidify its position as a prominent tech hub. Leveraging and expanding cultural events presents another avenue to enhance the city's appeal on a national and international scale.

"Atlanta isn't alone in tackling the challenges of fostering entrepreneurship, but we are determined to be the first in setting a new standard of success in developing an inclusive approach to growing our tech industry," said City of Atlanta Senior Technology Advisor Donnie Beamer. "We can amplify impact by leveraging our collective strengths, such as our esteemed higher education institutions, corporations, and business infrastructure. This concerted step-change produces a transformative leap forward in growth, propelling our city onto an entirely bold trajectory.”

Within this landscape, Georgia Tech serves as an anchor institution, not only producing highly skilled graduates and cutting-edge research that forms the bedrock of startup ventures, but also making investments that demonstrate its commitment to growing the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Atlanta.

GT going on top of coda building
Georgia Tech is visible around the city, including atop the Coda Building in Tech Square.
georgia tech going on top of interlock
Georgia Tech also has a presence at The Interlock on Atlanta's westside.

Good to Grow

Competition from peer cities like Chicago and Austin, which have surpassed Atlanta in fostering entrepreneurship, poses a threat to its ambition of becoming a top-tier technology market. The risk of losing tech graduates to other hubs looms large, necessitating the creation of a compelling environment for professional growth. External shocks or economic instability could affect Atlanta's ability to attract investments and support startups.

Addressing negative external perceptions is crucial to attracting top-tier talent and investors. When CEOs are asked why they chose Georgia, their answers always revolve around their need to attract top, diverse talent. A 2022 news story piece highlighted that Atlanta has become the nation’s No. 4 city for tech talent diversity. As their own client bases become more diverse, companies are becoming more intentional at incorporating that diversity in their ranks.