The Pandemic’s Impact on Atlanta’s Black Tech Ecosystem: What’s Happening Now, What Should Happen Next?
Our current reality for knowledge workers is that we can now live just about anywhere and continue working for the same company. We have been witnessing over the past year the mass exodus of people moving away from coastal centers and areas with a high cost of living to cities like Miami and Austin, as well as Atlanta. No official data or numbers are out yet, but I have the sense that we’ve experienced a significant influx of Black tech talent.
New talent brings with them new energy, new relationships and new opportunities. So let’s take a closer look at this trend and what it could mean for Atlanta, and in particular the Black tech startup ecosystem. What will be the impact of this influx as it overlaps with our existing network?
The amount of diverse tech talent that has relocated to Atlanta during the pandemic has the potential to drastically alter our tech startup scene, and is likely to do so in other cities as well. Why is this so? It’s because these individuals are working for the Googles, the Microsofts, the Amazons of the world.
While Atlanta has large companies, not many are “true” tech giants, or unicorns such as these. But our new transplants – many of whom are possibly still employed by such companies – are bringing with them their existing relationships, their access to different networks and their background of working for a big tech brand name. Relationships and connections at the big tech companies and networks at top universities can help fill a void needed by Atlanta’s current startup ecosystem.
Now in many cases these individuals are employed in technical roles, such as software developers. But here’s where it gets interesting. In Atlanta’s current culture, generally speaking, our Black software developers stay employed by someone else. Which is fine. But the reality is that the culture in Silicon Valley carries the expectation that eventually many will start their own company or even work for a startup organization. These entrepreneurs leverage the relationships from their previous big brand employers to raise capital to grow their business.
I’ve heard that many Black software developers in Silicon Valley don’t leave and start their own company. However, some do. The difference is that the “some” is still likely more than what is currently happening in Atlanta. Therefore, even if a few of the “some” do take their technical talent, their network, their brand name, their access to investors and capital and create an interesting startup – after they have relocated to Atlanta – it could significantly alter our landscape by potentially opening up new doors for those already here.
We don’t yet have a true idea of who has moved here and how our talent pool has shifted. But as society is opening back up, the impact of this talent inpouring will be evident quickly, and by 2025 Atlanta’s tech ecosystem could have a totally different look. And how we have been treating our new neighbors will help determine the result.
As the founder of Goodie Nation®, a national support nonprofit for tech-focused social entrepreneurs and diverse founders, you will often hear me say that I’m super serious about helping one billion people by the year 2039. But I’m even more focused on crafting and perfecting the process of how to make that happen.
So what should our strategy be? Do we simply let things happen? Do we attempt to exert control? I don’t advocate either approach.
Rather, I suggest a guiding hand. Let’s have a collective vision to make Atlanta a place where we welcome and steer talent in the right direction. For example, one tactical approach could be developing something like a series of “welcoming committees.” We host virtual small group dinners, with a mix of perhaps five veterans and five recent transplants. We extend some Southern hospitality. We offer to connect them with our relationships and networks. We talk about Atlanta, our ecosystem, what it is like to live here, and truly help these newbies plug in.
And there are other things starting to happen. This Thursday, we partnered with Venture Atlanta and Metro Atlanta Chamber for the Atlanta edition of Creating Momentum, an initiative designed to highlight tactics diverse founders can leverage to showcase their potential when pitching to investors and applying to accelerators and pitch competitions. Next Monday, Atlanta Black Tech will be giving an update about the plan to bring the community back together for the rest of the year.
Goodie Nation exists to eliminate the relationship gap that stands in the way of success for too many promising entrepreneurs, especially those who are people of color, women, or aren’t located in coastal financial centers. It’s my view that by making sure that every entrepreneur, no matter their background or location, can access the relationships they need to thrive, we are building a more sustainable and prosperous future for all.
More interconnectivity brings more innovation for everyone. Let’s develop networks that matter, communities that move our changing ecosystem forward, and ultimately, close the relationship gap.