Think Georgia’s entrepreneurial universe begins and ends in Atlanta? Well think again. The Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), the internationally recognized, state-funded technology business incubator, is based at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, but it takes its statewide mandate very seriously. In fact, the ATDC works with entrepreneurs and tech companies across Georgia. And its reach just expanded into Macon and Albany, with Columbus on the horizon.
ATDC is a part of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, the nation’s largest, most comprehensive, university-based program of entrepreneurship and startup development, business and industry growth, and international outreach. Through the ATDC@ program, the incubator’s expertise and resources are available around the state, with representatives known as catalysts seeking out tech entrepreneurs in Alpharetta, Athens, Augusta, Forsyth County, Peachtree Corners, Savannah, and now, Macon and Albany.
“Historically, to do a tech startup, being in a large metropolitan area has been a key part of that,” said Ben Andrews, ATDC’s statewide program manager. “You need access not just to talent, but also resources like law firms and accounting firms that have specialized skills to work with scaling companies.”
As with so many things, COVID completely upended that idea. “With remote work becoming a lot more possible and something a lot more companies are embracing, you now can have a distributed workforce,” Andrews said. “We’re also trying to bridge that gap so that you can get access to finding that workforce and having access to business partners you may need.
“We help make those connections for you, even if you’re not in an area like Atlanta. We were looking at population centers that had entrepreneurial activities already going on. We’re trying to bring them extra resources. We’re near a lot of different population centers, and a lot of people are within a short drive to one of our coaches if they want to meet in person.”
Albany native Jud Savelle is the new catalyst for ATDC@Albany.
“I’m from Albany, which is a big part of why I want to do this,” he said. “I care about the community, and I want to see it thrive.”
He’s also a Georgia Tech graduate, with a bachelor’s and master’s in industrial engineering, and is excited about working for his alma mater. After graduating, he worked for several companies in Atlanta, including Delta Air Lines. Then, in 2008, his mother began to talk about selling the family business, Bishop Clean Care, a residential and commercial cleaning and restoration company in Albany.
“I was glad for the 10 years in Atlanta,” Savalle said. “I got a lot of great experience.” In 2010, he put that experience to use when he bought his mother out and moved home with his wife and family. They’ve grown the business since then, with a focus on advancing it through technology.
“When I heard about this [position], it really felt like an exciting fit for many reasons,” he said. “We’re not going to be traditionally thought of as a startup environment or a high-tech environment down here. We’re agriculture. But I think there are a lot of really smart, sharp entrepreneurs here that — given the right tools and resources, and just knowing about the resources that are available to them through Georgia Tech — could really expand on what our community is capable of doing. I just want to be a part of that.”
The Albany Area Chamber of Commerce is part of the excitement as well.
“Albany has a strong, diversified economy that supports mom-and-pops, large service-sector employers, and global brands across a range of industries,” said Bárbara Rivera Holmes, president and CEO of the Albany Area Chamber. “ATDC’s expansion to Albany indicates the wealth of innovation and opportunity that exists here for entrepreneurs to launch and grow their companies. We’re thrilled to partner with ATDC and Jud to maximize the impact of this unmatched Georgia Tech resource for our community and our region.”
Savelle and the chamber have already been brainstorming on the types of industry that might be a good fit in the area.
“We have a big opportunity with agriculture and AgTech,” Savalle said. “There’s a lot of traction, really nationwide, right now in AgTech. I think my role is to find these companies or these individuals who are eager to solve a problem and use the ATDC through its coaching resources, its educational resources.”
There’s incredible potential in the Albany area and in most parts of rural Georgia, Holmes said. “Having the ATDC will unlock some of that and help activate some of that potential. And then of course, bringing Jud on board — the smartest thing that could happen.”
The Macon technology ecosystem is getting a boost from Macon native and entrepreneur Robert Grant, the new ATDC@Macon catalyst.
The entrepreneurial bug hit Grant hard after he was laid off from a series of jobs, the last one in 2016. At that point, he decided to work for himself, and he’s never looked back. “I thought it was silly that I was putting my only source of my livelihood in the hands of people who didn’t care anything about whether I had a livelihood or not. That drove me to push entrepreneurship and push to always have multiple streams of income.”
His businesses include the YouTube channel That Guy You Met Today, where he v-logged about travel and restaurants. “That was actually how I supported myself for almost three years,” he said, “making YouTube videos about food and travel, and local tourism, sponsorships, and the hospitality industry.”
A marketing business with a focus on the hospitality/travel industry grew out of the YouTube channel. Then the pandemic hit his clients hard.
“From that I was able to pivot my marketing business into a printing business,” he said. “It’s called Print Your Sheet. It’s an Etsy store, where I make pop culture greeting cards. In fact, I just came off a sales record for Mother’s Day.”
He brought his wife, who works as a medical lab scientist, into the next venture. “I was able to leverage the revenue from that greeting card business to get a loan to start a genetics laboratory that me and my wife run where we do noninvasive prenatal genetic testing and sell at-home prenatal gender tests. We sell kits by mail. Moms, they get our kits, they draw their blood, they send it back to us. And we tell them if they’re having a boy or girl in three days.”
Now, he wants to help others bring their entrepreneurial dreams to fruition. “I am passionate about our local startup community,” he said. “As a fairly small yet rapidly growing community, many of the resources that can be found in larger communities have not quite made their way to Middle Georgia. I am excited to be at the forefront of this new wave of resources that will add more diversity to our startup ecosystem.”
Members of the entrepreneurial community share Grant’s excitement.
With ATDC@Macon, “you can be here in Middle Georgia, you can grow your team here, while you are able to take advantage of the programming and support that ATDC can bring to a company without having to go to Atlanta,” said Robert Betzel, a local tech entrepreneur and SparkMacon board member. “We’ve lacked that local known connecting resource. The fact that ATDC is investing in that resource to help foster that community I think is going to help the community grow to be more than it would have been without ATDC.
“Robert is somebody who has been investing in the local community as SparkMacon director and a local entrepreneur and a member of the Startup Week program with us for years,” Betzel said. “That he is now doing this as part of his role in the community means that people will know him, they already know who he is and how he works, what his story is.”
Grant is eager to write the next chapter of Macon’s tech startup story. “I look forward to providing our local tech entrepreneurs with resources that will allow them to remain in Middle Georgia hopefully bringing more high-tech jobs to our community,” he said.