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Four Athens 2014: v3.0 & beyond

It’s a new year and time for some goal setting & accountability checking. Each year, we take time at the beginning of the year to hold ourselves accountable for our plan from last year and to expound on our direction for the upcoming 12 months. Our hope is that each of you will hold us accountable and help us achieve our goals during the upcoming year.

In what’s becoming something of a tradition, we’ve made a structural change to the organization of Four Athens.  Starting Jan 1, Four Athens will officially become a non-profit. Yay!

First, a look back at 2013. At the beginning of the year, we drastically changed our structure – going from an incubator to a membership organization. In our first year of operation (2012), we didn’t know what we were doing (jokes, we still don’t know what we’re doing!) and we set out to be a traditional incubator. By late 2012, we realized that it was more important to create a community of smart people doing smart things than simply attracting a select group of people to work. The change from incubator to membership organization reflected this change and has allowed us to help more people, grow the community, and see drastic positive changes.

Our goals for 2013 were 30 companies, 60 mentors and an active angel fund. Mid-way through the year we upped our goal to 50 members since we had already exceeded the 30 mark. As of December 2013, we have hit our member goal (51) and our angel fund goal (more on this later as its not a direct part of Four Athens). We missed our mentor goal (49), but are going to focus more heavily on this metric in 2014.

Our biggest learning in 2013 was around community. At the end of the day, people build companies. People get funding. People write code. People sell customers. People lead people. By extension, if we want to see more startups hiring more people and building better companies, we need more people involved in the startup community. Seems pretty obvious, right? Well it took us nearly 2 years to figure that out and it’s taken another 6 months to think up some ideas about what attracts the “right” kind of people. We never claimed to be the smartest people in the room.

So what does community look like for Four Athens in 2014?

We are still focused on our core metrics: members, mentors & money. We are aiming to add an additional 50 members, add another 20 mentors and begin the process of raising a true seed venture fund. How do we accomplish these goals? This is where it gets interesting.

First, Four Athens is increasing its focus on events. We are looking for more leaders in the community. The best way to find people doing cool things is to hold events that attract like-minded individuals. Over the course of 2013, we’ve seen a design meetup launch, a hackathon, a law & startups meetup, a code class, a lunch & learn and more. We are looking for more leaders in 2014 to push new meetups and new events. Passionate about e-commerce, marketing, sales or something else? Start a meetup to attract similar people. We’ll help with space, sponsors and getting the word out.

Second, Four Athens is increasing its focus on improving physical space for the community. We are currently housed in two offices in downtown. We’d like to expand our footprint downtown and upgrade our existing locations. In 2013, we saw the addition of a phone booth for our co-working space and a meeting space (thanks to Black Box Operations). Thanks to the amazing Athens Downtown Development Authority, we will soon have our own, dedicated event space in our main location. This will become collaboration central in coming years, connecting the community with the resources they need for launching startups. Finally, we are working with Hackyard Athens, a new non-profit, to launch a makerspace in our main building. This space will become the hub for people wanting to make – electronics, wood, glass, metal – you name it, they’ll have the tools to help you create.

Third, we are working to raise awareness of the importance of building companies within the community. Startups are economic ground zero. Proven over decades, high growth small businesses are the drivers that create jobs, stimulate local economies, and improve our future. In any intelligent economic development plan for Athens, there must be a financial commitment to building companies within our community. Let’s stop chasing behemoths that fit nicely into political narratives and election year time cycles and start focusing on true economic development – one job at a time from local companies looking to improve their community. We’re involved with the Athens Made initiative and are excited to see this grow. This type of development takes a long term vision, fortitude and a willingness to adhere to a plan.  We’re pursuing one vision of this plan, but we need more!

Four Athens is excited to welcome 2014 with the community. We want you to get involved and shape the future of tech startups in Athens.  Our door is always open.  We welcome your suggestions into how we can improve the community, increase access for startups or otherwise help build companies.  Drop us a line anytime at jim@fourathens.com!

jim
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