Atlanta business owners back new startup spaces

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ATLANTA — Atlanta came late to a national push toward more flexible and community-focused offices for startup companies. Now several residents, fresh off their own experiences running companies, are trying to help the city catch up.

The latest is a combination incubator-office building focused on companies that cater directly to individual users rather than businesses. Michael Tavani, a co-founder of the coupon mobile app ScoutMob, is putting $2 million toward buying and rehabbing a downtown Atlanta brick building for the project.

It’s a fraction of the $24 million Atlanta’s David Cummings has poured into a building in the city’s upscale Buckhead business center after selling his software company for $96 million in 2012. About 100 companies rent space at the Atlanta Tech Village, from solo desks on the first floor to 10-person offices on the fourth.

Both investments are sending the same message: One success isn’t enough.

Tavani, 34, said he doesn’t want to see the latest generation of Atlanta startup founders drift away from the city or the industry. When Cummings announced his plans, it shocked a city used to that approach by founders who made a big sale, Tavani said.

“They did the things you’d expect people who made money to do,” he said. “I think David was truly the first to take money and go right back into the scene.”

Cummings said he was focused on creating a culture at the building, renovated from a traditional office space to four floors of all glass walls dividing offices of varying sizes, community kitchens, an event space and – yes – nap rooms. Those quirks are meant to create places for employees of different companies to interact and share ideas.

“You can put a cool building anywhere and say ‘Go, startups,’” Cummings said. “The community is what increases their likelihood of success.”

The concept of a space for young companies isn’t entirely new to Atlanta. The Advanced Technology Development Center is one of the country’s oldest university-backed incubators. ATDC is credited with graduating more than 150 companies since 1980 and inspiring a makeover of the east end of Georgia Tech’s campus in the city’s Midtown neighborhood.

But by 2009, Amy Hoover and Rick Myers of the TalentZoo job listing site found little competition when they allowed employees to start working from home and began renting space in their now empty building on Atlanta’s west side to startup companies.

“When we were getting off the ground, there was one other space,” Hoover said. “Cities out west, Manhattan, Austin, Boulder, Colorado were already going strong.”

When Ian Campbell needed more space than his basement office could offer for NextInput, his company focused on touch technology, ATDC was the only standout option in 2012. It’s still the right place for NextInput because of the incubator’s focus on technology and mentoring programs, Campbell said.

But he’s encouraged to see more options available now.

“That’s the way the model should work,” Campbell, 31, said. “That’s how you start building a true entrepreneurial community that self-sustains.”


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