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Four Athens 2015: Building the Athens Startup Community

We are going to nominate talent as the word of the year in 2014 at Four Athens.  Much of the year, and our time, was spent connecting entrepreneurs with skilled individuals, identifying gaps in the talent pool, and helping to train the next generation of developers, entrepreneurs, and skilled service providers.  By the numbers, we added 53 new members, our member companies hired over 70 people (through end of Q32014), and we worked with 5 companies that received funding this year.

It’s never been clearer to me (since helping to start Four Athens 3 years ago), that the most critical component of building big companies is talented people.  And yet, because it’s the least tangible piece, it is the one that everyone most often screws up.  One of our core values is to give without expectation.  Like Paul Graham, we believe “… that one of the most distinctive things about startup hubs is the degree to which people help one another out, with no expectation of getting anything in return.”  This simple test has enabled us to begin the process of attracting highly talented people to build an amazing startup community in 3 short years.

Over three years ago, when we held our first happy hour, we weren’t sure if there were people starting tech companies in Athens or if they’d care enough to give of their time to come help others.  Since that time we’ve been overwhelmed by the response.   Not only are there hundreds of Athenians that are creating their own jobs in the tech sector, they also have dreams and ambitions of building big companies that employ thousands, reshape our town, and impact our world.

As with most things within Four Athens, it’s the community that has willingly given of their time, energy, and efforts to help build amazing things.  A few highlights from 2014:

  1. We launched the Quad, our first co-working facility, under the guidance of Matt Smith which now houses over 20 creative professionals in the Bottleworks.
  2. We witnessed the birth of the Hackyard, a makerspace, which teaches hardware skills (3D printing, electronics, and more!) to people of all ages in Athens.  Under the leadership of Josh Marsh, the group holds 2 classes per month.
  3. Jordan Burke taught our first multi-week coding course, Intro to Rails.  With the skills learned in this class, the participants are able to apply for entry level developer jobs.  Our next class starts in February.
  4. Through the Software Developer Meetup a spin-off, Athens Women In Tech, was launched to provide awareness and visibility to the challenges of increasing the number of women in tech fields.
  5. In partnership with UGA, The Launch Institute, and Tarketon Companies, we held our first summer startup accelerator for UGA students which launched 1 new company by the end of the program.
  6. With the help of Antoinette Stevens and a generous sponsorship by Georgia Power, we will be holding our first after-school program within the Athens Clarke County School District this winter teaching middle school students javascript, html, and css.
  7. Internally, the first official Board of Directors for Four Athens was created and spearheaded our fall donor campaign which raised over $20,000 to help us continue our mission.

This list doesn’t begin to include the numerous companies that were launched, the events (such as Talk Tech, Open House, Startup Stories, Pitch Camp, S3, and more) that attracted hundreds of Athenians to engage, connect, and accelerate startups, or the contributions of our wonderful mentors that guide so many new companies.

In 2015, our goals will remain focused on helping connect entrepreneurs to funding, talent, and mentors.  To track this success, we’re aiming to add another 30 members and work with companies to raise $1.5m in capital.  We also plan to help train 15 developers in the community that had no previous development experience.  We have a number of exciting initiatives launching in 2015, including most of our youth educational initiatives and we’d love to have your help!

I’ve never felt more positive that we, as a community, can build big, meaningful companies in Athens, but we need your help.  We need local companies that are built from the ground up that employ thousands of people.  They provide the jobs, wage stabilization, and wealth creation that our community needs to grow.   And they are starting to grow right now.  These companies don’t get created from some magic formula.  They get created when we, as a community, decide to support them.

I’d challenge everyone to identify one small, personal, and concrete way of helping a company grow in 2015.  It can be as small as donating $10 to an event, spending time connecting a startup to a customer, new hire, or investor, or as big as creating an event designed to connect people or volunteering at an existing class or event.  Brad Feld has a great blog on leaders and doers.  Become one in 2015 and help us build big companies in Athens.

jim
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