Midtown Monthly: Why Georgia Tech ATDC Start-Up Grads Are Planting Their Flags in Midtown

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Grads of one of the world’s top startup incubators are choosing to remain in the district for access to transit, arts scene + more.

Published 4/4/19

Midtown is a thriving hub for tech companies of all sizes, from Fortune 500 giants like NCR down to startups with just a handful of employees. Many of these smaller companies get their start at Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), one of the world’s top startup incubators.

At any given point, more than 100 companies are going through ATDC’s various programs. The process definitely pays off: 90 percent of ATDC companies are successful after five years, and these companies have generated a combined $12 billion in revenue in Georgia.

Once a company proves it is sustainable, robust and able to pull in at least $1 million in revenue per year, it’s time to leave the nest. But many companies who graduate don’t look too far for office space.

Lots of them choose to plant their flag in Midtown, though office space can be costly — in 2018, average office rent was $35.97 per square foot, the highest among all submarkets. We spoke with six different tech startups that call Midtown home and asked what kept them in the district.

Florence Healthcare has office views of Downtown and Midtown from Bank of America Plaza.

Access to MARTA and other transit options

Steve Robb, CEO of Cognosos, which allows customers like car dealerships to track assets and inventory, said Midtown’s four MARTA stations, bus service and access to other modes of transit are a big attractor for his company.

“We have a lot of employees in the Perimeter that bike to work now,” Robb said. “We do have people taking MARTA to work or to other places like the airport. We’re also just a Bird scooter away from a lot of other tech companies, and we’re watching plans to do some work on Spring Street to add a bike lane. I think even more people would ride scooters if there were a safer place to ride.”

First Performance Global, a platform that captures and augments credit card transaction data in real time, takes advantage of Midtown Alliance’s transportation benefits for employers. Midtown Transportation tailors commute options programs at no cost to area workplaces, and it tracks results to keep employers informed about how much money employees are saving by choosing commute alternatives.

“Midtown Alliance has been awesome to work with,” CEO Bill Hernandez said. “The young employees that we have on staff who have just graduated enjoy the discounts and access to MARTA, which is only half a block away.”

Vibrant restaurant and arts scene

No matter what type of cuisine you’re in the mood for, Midtown likely has it within walking distance.

“As a company, we like to eat lunch together, and there’s probably 30 restaurants with a huge variety nearby,” said Chris Hermann, founder and CEO of Clean Hands Safe Hands, a monitoring tool for hand hygiene compliance for hospitals and medical centers. “Midtown has that infrastructure that most mature cities have, but it’s still a friendly place to work.”

The district also has a plethora of good spaces available to rent for meetings, said Brooks Robinson, co-founder and CEO of Springbot, a personalized eCommerce marketing platform.

“We love having access to Piedmont Park, where we’ve held quarterly meetings,” said Robinson, whose offices are located at Colony Square. “We’ve also held events at SCADShow and the Woodruff Arts Center. Many members go to the High Museum after work or at lunch to get access to arts, which is a key element for us. And we’ve also volunteered with area nonprofits.”

A putting green at Groundfloor’s offices is a popular way for employees to spend their break time.

Cool office spaces

Clean Hands Safe Hands, which subleases its office space at 730 Peachtree Street from another tech company, Kabbage, is allowed to have up to two dogs in its office.

“We take turns bringing our dogs in, and they come and say hi and then go curl up in a corner and nap,” said Hermann. “You’re not going to be able to do that in a Buckhead high-rise, so that’s another benefit to the building.”

Clean Hands Safe Hands has both two- and four-legged team members.

First Performance is also located at 730 Peachtree, a building that has recently undergone a major makeover.

“Our office with the new owners at 730 Peachtree has changed from an old, stodgy 90s building into an edgy tech building,” Hernandez said. “It’s a great transition, it’s not totally finished but they’ve done a great job in terms of changing the building. The entire lobby has been renovated, and they built a communal startup space. We’ve got room to grow here, which is good because we have grown significantly since graduating from the ATDC.”

When Groundfloor, a company that allows people to fractionally invest in real estate, was looking to move out of the ATDC, it was important to CEO Brian Dally to find offices with a “modern, updated feel.” Groundfloor eventually chose to lease space at Bank of America Plaza.

“The fact that so much office space had come online in Midtown means that the landlords are willing to be aggressive and innovative in what they offer in order to attract tech startups,” Dally said. “I saw a difference in Midtown versus other areas in that respect.”

Shorenstein Properties recently renovated several floors at Bank of America Plaza to appeal to startups — think open plans with an industrial look, much like the ATDC itself.

“It keeps the cohesiveness of a startup vibe, and the amenities are great,” said Blake Adams, director of marketing for Florence Healthcare, a software company that provides document management workflow capabilities for clinical trials. “It’s such an iconic building, and when I went to Georgia Tech we called it ‘the beacon,’ because as long as you’re pointed toward the Bank of America tower you know you’re headed home.”

Proximity to other tech companies

The benefits of ATDC don’t end for companies once they graduate, and many companies choose Midtown to be close to the incubator, other tech businesses and Georgia Tech.

“Midtown is kind of the technical heart of Atlanta,” Robb said. “There’s certainly a lot of tech companies up in the suburbs and spread around, but when it comes to being an easy, convenient place to meet with investors and influencers in the tech community and beyond, it’s extremely convenient to be here. A lot of that happens in the ATDC, Biltmore Hotel, Georgia Tech and the Fifth Street area.”

Being near the university also makes it easy to recruit interns and future employees.

“We have a robust internship program, so students can bounce over after calls or as their schedules allow,” Hermann said. “Many of the people who work here are Georgia Tech grads, so they’re familiar with the area and grew up here.”

ATDC Director John Avery said he loves it when graduates stick around.

“One value we bring is connecting CEOs to each other,” he said. “We provide curriculum, coaching and events, but the relationships we help foster between them is equally helpful.”

Startups can be a “lonely endeavor,” said Avery, but everyone at the ATDC is going through a similar process.

“You can’t share what’s keeping you up at night with just anyone, but these companies can share their concerns with each other and share ideas of how to get past the difficulties. We provide a framework to form relationships with each other, and that turns out to be one of the main values of this entrepreneurial journey — their support network.”

To learn more about the ATDC, click here.

Springbot is located in Colony Square, making it easy to plan volunteer days with Boys and Girls Club of Metro Atlanta.

To read the original article in Midtown Alliance’s April Midtown Monthly, click here.

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