This is the first of an eight-part “Best New Small Businesses” series highlighting Atlanta’s thriving entrepreneurial scene. This series is sponsored by PNC Bank.
In recent years, some smaller cities have been able to compete with larger areas — such as New York City and San Francisco — as places for entrepreneurs to start new businesses.
In the South, Atlanta has quickly become an attractive place for entrepreneurs with its low cost of living, convenient transportation, available tech hubs, and diverse talent pool.
In fact, between 2000 and 2006, Atlanta’s population grew by 20.5 per cent, making it the fastest-growing urban area in the country.
This has given the city a diverse feel much like larger metro areas that attract talent from all over the world, says Gail Margolies Reid, a business consultant and author of the book “The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Low Cost Startups.”
We spoke to Reid about the opportunities Atlanta offers entrepreneurs that have allowed it to quickly climb the ranks and become one of the top places for starting a company. Here’s what she told us:
1. Low cost of living
This is an extremely important factor for new businesses that have limited financial resources and are in their early stages. Compared to larger metropolitan areas, Atlanta is a relatively inexpensive city, where you don’t have to make as much money to experience a similar lifestyle as those living in larger cities.
And as more companies rely on technology to grow and expand their businesses, it’s become less important where the business actually is, as long as you’re able to access all of the resources you normally would if you were living in a bigger city.
“It’s become so much cheaper to start a business, especially here,” Reid told us. “Atlanta has a lot of free classes for entrepreneurs and it’s really easy to find people to help and advise you. There are a lot of opportunities for innovation here because Atlanta is still not as innovative as Chicago, New York or Los Angeles,” so there’s a lot of room of movement and growth.
2. Convenient transportation
The world’s busiest airport — Hartsfield-Jackson International — is located in Atlanta, which means that business travel is easy and more affordable if you’re already living near the city. You can meet with international clients and transport goods much more easily, in and out of the city.
Furthermore, MARTA — the city’s bus and railway system — is the “key to attracting tech employees” in the area. David Dabbiere, CEO of Airwatch calls Atlanta’s transportation system the “secret weapon” for his tech and security firm.
3. Tech hubs
Tony Riffel, the owner of coffee shop Octane in Atlanta, tells Tim Donnelly at Inc.com, that sometimes he feels more like “he’s running a business incubator than a corner hang-out,” because his customers frequently ask him for advice or suggestions for their businesses.
But Riffel isn’t the only one that’s been seeing this trend. In 2012, the Atlanta Tech Village opened its doors as a business that brings entrepreneurs together to exchange ideas, along with providing actual workspace for business owners to operate their daily tasks.
And the city isn’t just a booming startup tech hub. Georgia hosts at least 13,000 technology companies — including AT&T Mobility, CNN and Damballa Inc. — employing 250,000 tech workers, according to Sam Williams at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
4. Diverse talent pool
Atlanta is home to some of the most advanced universities in technology and bioscience degree programs, such as Georgia Tech, Emory University, and Georgia State University. In fact, Georgia Tech has one of the oldest business incubators in the country: the Advanced Technology Development centre, a startup accelerator that has helped launched more than 130 companies, according to its web site.
Many of the graduates of these top universities end up residing in the area and greatly contribute to Atlanta’s business growth.
The city’s growth and identity in recent years have made it one of the country’s best places to start a new business, but aside from being a significant tech hub for entrepreneurs, Reid said that there is a Southern hospitality quality that isn’t evident in larger cities. For example, businesses seriously “become a part of the community that they’re in,” meaning that if they run into financial hardship, the community will get involved to keep the business sustained.
“It’s not unheard of for the community to have fundraisers for the business, bridging that line between just strictly doing business and reaching out to people.”
“Not sure if that is just a Southern thing, though,” Reid said.
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