Startup Community Vision

A lot of people ask me about our goals and metrics for Four Athens – what does success look like for Four Athens this year? How many companies are going to be worth a million dollars in the next 12 months? How will we know when we’ve been a success? What are our graduation metrics? The list goes on. Truthfully, I think all of these questions are off point.  In following the Boulder Thesis, we are taking a 20 year view toward building a viable, sustainable startup community in the Athens area.  This is very different than building one or two successful companies.

Today, if Four Athens focused on one or two companies, I feel confident we could make them successful – we have the talent, knowledge, connections and skills to understand how to build a business. But one or two successes does not make for successful, repeatable economic development.  To date, Athens has followed a “one hit wonder” economic development strategy.  In other words, we’ve had success at bringing big companies to Athens, but we don’t truly know why they came, nor can we make it a repeatable process (or worse, we equate luck with skill).  Without building a culture that embraces a clear, long term vision of economic development, we will not have success with development in Athens.  The result is continued high poverty rates and low income.

At its core, Four Athens is working to develop a community that produces repeatable success.  Such a community is built around a culture – a culture that believes that the jobs of the future are not the jobs of today. A culture that believes that we need to be on the forefront of change and innovation in order to capture these new jobs.  This culture paves a new path instead of reacting to one created by others.  We don’t take culture-building lightly.  It is a long process.  In the interim, an outsider may not seem much change.  Over the long term, however, we believe the shift will be monumental and impact the entire community in a positive manner.

We’re making an effort to build this culture and community in 5 year blocks.  We are transparent about our metrics (and I’ll outline them below).  When answering the questions from the opening of this blog, I typically give the below answers.

Years 1 -5. We are rapidly approaching year 2 of this cycle.  In our first 5 years, we are less focused on the growth of any individual company and more focused on the growth of the community.  This means we are focused on: (1) the number of companies working on real projects, (2) the number of mentors assisting these companies and (3) the size of the broader startup support community (talent pool, funding sources, strong service providers).  To build these pillars that will support the community for decades, we are focused on providing quality events to educate, accelerate and connect the startup community.  Examples of these are our weekly happy hour, our “how to talk” series, the meet and greet, or angel investor seminars or any of the community led events like the software meetup, the design meetup, the game jam, hack for athens, etc.  In addition to these events, we are hyper focused on creating density in the downtown core so that those working on innovative projects can efficiently and effectively connect with others working on similar challenges.  We believe that this density will raise the profile of startup companies, allow them easier communication and be a building block for a more robust downtown.  Our goal for Y1 was 10 companies renting space in downtown Athens, 40 mentors and a small angel fund investing in companies.  We hit all of those metrics.  Our goal for Y2 was 30 companies renting space in downtown, 80 mentors and an active angel fund.  About half way through the year and we have had to re-adjust. Our new goal is 50 companies renting space, 50 members,  60 mentors, an active angel fund and the start of a venture fund.  We believe we’ll be able to hit all of these metrics by year end.  From Y3 – Y5, we will continue to grow the number of companies in downtown, while focusing more heavily on members (with a long term goal of 200 members) and mentors.  By the end of the 5 year cycle, we’d like to have increased the quantity significantly enough to be able to focus heavily on quality.

Years 6 -10. In this cycle, we believe we’ll have created a sustainable core of a startup community and can focus more heavily on growing sustainable, local companies.  We will not lose a focus on downtown density, high quality events or a reliance on the mentor network.  Instead, these three tenants will help achieve our goals during this time.  We’d like to see 10 tech companies generating $1M or more in revenue annually and we’d like to see 3 companies with over 50 employees.   Our belief is that this would be the beginning of a long-term sustainable cycle of business creation driven by software and innovation.

Year 11 -15. During this time period, we are aiming to have 15 tech companies over $1M in revenue and another 5 over $20M in revenue.  In addition, we’d aim to see at least 3 companies at over 75 employees. Beyond this time frame, I think it becomes increasingly unreasonable to predict future success (even this may be too far out!) Future metrics should include the number of large employers growth in revenue, some indicator of a healthy liquidation market (M&A, IPO, etc) and an increase in per capita income.

By 2030, we believe the landscape, job market and skill sets that drive the Athens economy will be completely altered.  As a town, Athens can be insulated from regional and national economic impacts due to the University.  However, we can not let this complacency allow us to miss an incredible opportunity.

With a young, educated, innovative population, we have the tools, skills and financial capital to make Athens an area that is redefining the tech industry in coming decades.  This won’t happen by accident or by luck though.  As a community, we need to embrace a culture of change that will allow us to take advantage of this changing landscape instead of wondering what happened in 15 years when all of the new jobs are going elsewhere.  Four Athens is working to make this dream a reality and we hope you’ll embrace our vision of a stronger, more prosperous Athens designed by its residents rather than dependent on outside forces.

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