A New Generation of Black Founders Is Rising in Atlanta–and the Startup World Is Taking Notice

Forget Silicon Valley. Black entrepreneurs have discovered the best tech scene in the country. This story originally appeared on Inc.com.

Partpic co-founder Jewel Burks Solomon (left), Myavana founder Candace Mitchell, and Empowrd founder Horace Williams.

Partpic co-founder Jewel Burks Solomon (left), Myavana founder Candace Mitchell, and Empowrd founder Horace Williams. CREDIT: Lynsey Weatherspoon

On the 7th floor of Atlanta’s historic Biltmore Hotel, high above the Bird and Lime e-scooters below, Paul Judge stands by a window. He points toward nearly every building within a few-block radius. “Five years ago, these spaces were all dirt,” he says.

Now, they’re full of startups–and Judge, a serial entrepreneur who’s been on the tech scene for 21 years, is responsible for much of that growth. The cybersecurity firm he co-founded in 2011, Pindrop, occupies office space on three floors of the Biltmore. Judge’s early stage venture capital firm, TechSquare Labs, is a five-minute walk away–and as he passes by, a man leans out the front door. “Hey, Paul!”

Judge is practically a celebrity in Atlanta’s entrepreneur world, partly because he’s the most accomplished black tech founder in the city. The 41-year-old Baton Rouge native moved here in 1995 to attend Morehouse College, and never left. After a few successful startups, he started using his capital to help other Atlanta-based entrepreneurs get off the ground. Now, a new generation of young and ambitious black founders are working to craft their own versions of his career path.

Atlanta has a 52 percent black population, according to census data, and it’s brimming with entrepreneurs who benefit from what Judge describes as the “three Cs”–colleges, corporations, and culture. Atlanta’s schools–including Georgia Tech, Georgia State, and black universities like Morehouse College and Spelman College–are churning out talented black developers and engineers. Pair that with the city’s thriving black culture–from actors and musicians like Tyler Perry, Donald Glover, and Outkast to politicians like John Lewis and current mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms–and the result is what Mike Ross, a local black angel investor, describes as an atmosphere “like Harlem was in the ’20s.”

Three years ago, entrepreneurs Ryan Wilson and T.K. Petersen opened The Gathering Spot, a private membership club created to build community between black entrepreneurs from local colleges, Atlanta’s celebrities, and executives from corporations like Coca-Cola and Home Depot. “The Gathering Spot, humbly, has become one of the places in town where people know that important conversations are going to be held,” Wilson says. “We’ve been fortunate that other people have come to see this space as one of those central places where you can connect with people.”

His proof: The club has more than 1,000 members, including founders of black-led startups like consumer robotics maker Monsieur, political engagement app Empowrd, and visual recognition tech company Partpic, which was sold to Amazon for an undisclosed sum in 2016.​​ In particular, Partpic co-founder Jewel Burks Solomon, 29, is one of the city’s most recent success stories.

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