Innovation Week in Georgia 2022

The purpose of this BLOG is to recap Georgia’s 2022 Innovation Week conducted at the Ritz Group October Angel Club held at APRIO.   This Angel Club was our first physical in-person meeting since Covid and proved to me that online is a great way to deliver content, but seeing everyone in person and all of the side-bar discussions are so valuable.   Therefore, we have decided to that we will conduct a physical Angel Club once a Quarter and the other two months will be online.   Aprio was great, and we are working on sever physical location options (corporate office/restaurants).  Suggestions welcome.

Our meeting mission was to review Georgia innovation week Events- Venture Atlanta, PIN at MAC and TIE’s New VA Start-Up Pool 11/2 at ATDC.

Venture Atlanta.   Again this year VA did not disappoint.  The 15th year conducted at the Woodruff Arts Center was another Grand Success.   Great Venue, over 1,000 attendees, over 200 Investor funds, 500 applications to pitch, 23 early stage and 19 Seed Stage pitched for 3” each in the Auditorium.  40 Seed Stage Companies were showcased in two rooms for 2 hours.

My favorite venue was the 27 VC and Corporate Venture Funds each had a numbered table in the mezzanine where you could meet representatives, talk  and  exchange Business Cards.   Of course, plenty of side-bar rooms for extended discussions.   The VA traditional Show Book contained the tear sheets for the pitching companies and a thumbnail of the 40 Start-up Showcase Companies.   Cocktail hour, Investor dinner and after party were all well done.

Monday night Tech Stars featured 10 incubator Graduates and at VA the Tech Start-Up Battle featured the 4 finalists to judge and crown their “$100K for Stock” Award.

VA is pricy and rightfully so.  VA is geared for the later stage funding rounds with VC investors and big boy Sponsors.  VA has become a Regional Success with over 60 percent of the companies featured from out of State.  This means Georgia companies must compete with out-of-State companies for Funding. VA represents the “Best-of-the-Best”.   Nothing wrong with that.  Infact,  it is all good.

I applaud VA for trying to leverage their success to include their Seed Round Showcase companies that are not quite ready for VC funding.   Their raise is targeted for Angel rounds.   This capitalization provides the growth to qualify for Series A and B rounds from VC.

The problem or challenge is getting Angels to attend VA, even with a segmented Start-Up Showcase for $199.  VA is not an Angel Event, but a VC Event.   The other challenge is where can the ecosystem see the 2,000 companies that applied to VA, Tech Stars and Start-up Battle, or even the 40 Seed Showcase companies or 50+companies that Pitched at the three events?

The answer is you can’t.   Simply wait until the next Tech Stars Demo Day, Start-Up Battle or the 2023 VA to see  their new curated batch of winners.   That’s why they have the Events.

We think there is modern way to extend the above events engaging more Angel Investors,  as well as providing pipeline to more companies to grow and engage in the capital funding food-chain.

We would like to see VA extend their “public” web presence into an “Private” online VA Member Community consisting of Angels, VC,  Institutional investors and the 80+ companies with their Tear Sheet, investor collateral, and video featured this years VA Event.   The Member community can be free or fee based on the member type and extends the 2 day show experience.   The VA Membership platform goal is to serve regional and national Angel Investors, Angel Pools, VC, institutional and corporate innovation centers.

Second, we would like to see VA have a Pavilion on the Capital Expo with a Lobby, Sponsors, Aisles based on VA Exhibitor Categories and eBooths for the 80 companies selected for the current year VA.    Capital Expo serves as a “Public/Private” Feeder-Farm for the State of Georgia providing an excellent training ground for new entrepreneurs and investors.  Capital Expo also covers the State of Georgia and quantifies the engagement of our ecosystem.   It serves as a gateway to applications, membership in VA and more sponsors for both the VA in Capital Expo, the VA Member Community and the VA Annual Event.

The second topic discussed was the TIE Angel Pool consisting of the Best of VA Seed and Early State Companies as curated by TIE and Dr. Paul Lopez.     This is a unique approach reducing the risk for individual investors.   The pool of companies consists of the best VA.   TIE sets the terms sheets for each and manages the POOL through exit to include K9s for each company on behalf of the investor.

The third Topic discussed was PIN standing for the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation.  PIN presented their program and featured 3 companies they funded on 11/21 at the MAC Offices in Atlanta.   What makes PIN unique, besides a public/private partnership to create a fund is their fund candidates,  are tech and non-tech innovation initiatives that helps society state-wide in Georgia.   Funding is the issuance of Grants and candidates go through a strict qualification criterion organized around 4 pillars.  (Economic Opportunities, Student Engagement, Communities Research and Workforce Development).     Applying companies are ideas, projects, inventions, and businesses.  Many may not qualify for bank and most would not qualify for Angel Funding.    PIN investment represents the capital to advance and position the innovation for the next stage funding round – if required.

Ritz Group and PIN.   PIN represents a vital community partner for the Ritz Group.   Our mission statements to make Georgia the Tech Capital for the East Coast and model for inclusive Innovation are identical.  However, the Ritz Group has a very focused lane.   We serve entrepreneurs with pilots, or established businesses that are scalable and can meet the Angel Investment model.  We provide training and services to help Entrepreneurs and Angels create and manage stockholder companies.

The Ritz Group role is to polish and refine, as necessary, and showcase early stage ventures for Angels.   ALL are welcome to JOIN the Ritz Group, but the problem is 9 out 10 do not make the private equity funding criteria and no amount of polish, incubation, or acceleration will help meet the bar for Angel Investment.

This is where the PIN Partnership is vital.   If the companies are societal based, then PIN provides a screening and funding program that can provide growth opportunity enabling Innovations to launch and grow.    They can grow into a viable business with proof of concept.   Then, they become banking loan qualified.   If scaleable – they become Ritz Group, or any of our 21 organizations in Georgia,  viable candidates for private equity Angel Funding.

The Ritz Group believes so strongly in this concept that we are nominating Ritz Group Advisory Board Member,  Barbara Guillory,  to serve as Ritz Group’s  Societal Ambassador.  In that role,  Barbara will manage our relationship with PIN, the Georgia Center of Innovation, plus other organizations focused on Innovation related to society, diversity and equality within the great State of Georgia.   Barbara, also serves as the Ritz Group Ambassador for Shark Attack Food and Beverage.   She has been following PIN for 2 years before recommending them to the Ritz Group.

The Ritz is proposing a member Societal-based project, created in 2015, called the Capital Expo to PIN for launch funding.   Capital Expo is a virtual trade show for Georgia’s Entrepreneur State-wide Ecosystem.  Its goal is to digitally connect innovation resources state-wide using the latest web 3.0 technology to simulate a physical trade show.

Capital Expo provides digital space to Pavilions, like PIN, TIE, TAG, VA, Ritz Group, ATDC, Tech Stars, Tech Square, The Farm, Universities, Co-Working Spaces, Accelerators, Incubators and anyone who hosts students, inventors, entrepreneurs, employees with innovation projects, ideas, ventures, or businesses.   Each Pavilion brands their own lobby, aisles, auditorium and approves their exhibitors and sponsors.

The Ritz Group will recommend other Societal Projects such as eLink 911 providing Georgia with a free State-wide Emergency Registry for first responders,  911 Centers and ER  to quickly identify a victim’s Medical Alerts and I.C.E. Contacts, plus existing health care resources.

Other Ritz Group member societal Innovation companies address a Match Market for Veterans (i-Serve) and a Match Market for Georgia’s $10B Entertainment Industry (i-Create), in addition to Sports ventures targeting youth sports and eSports.

The Capital Expo, in addition to providing visible analytical proof of Georgia’s leadership in Innovation, provides exposure of Georgia companies to visitors from National and Global markets.  That is not to ignore intra-state mash-ups and M&A with like-minded,  or synergistic companies to scale into a larger project.

Capital Expo features a single Visitor and user sign-up/on front end, a multi-Pavilion based trade show within a trade show, powered by a Microsoft cloud SaaS Match Community platform.  Capital Expo is the Future of our Ecosystem.   It is the logical extension complimenting Georgia’s physical venues and events and transitioning the innovation ecosystem into the Web 3.0 Metaverse.