Hundreds of technology professionals, investors and entrepreneurs converged on the Woodruff Arts Center this week for Venture Atlanta, one of the largest venture capital conferences in the Southeast.
Attendees mingled as companies handed out pens and branded water bottles, as well as bowls filled with chocolates from a free candy bar. But the goal of the conference wasn’t to fill a goody bag, but to make connections to help budding businesses thrive.
“For 16 years, since day one, the goal has been to connect businesses to capital,” said Allyson Eman, CEO of Venture Atlanta. More than 80 startups from 14 Southeastern states were featured at this year’s event.
Venture Atlanta also marked the launch of in-person events under the new InnovATL brand, which the Metro Atlanta Chamber announced this summer to position the region as a thriving innovation ecosystem.
And Venture Atlanta did something else unique this year: They hosted a conference within their conference. The mini-conference was the Intentionally Good Summit, launched by Goodie Nation, a nonprofit community of diverse founders, investors and experts.
Founder Joey Womack and his team are helping to bridge what he calls the “relationship gap” between entrepreneurs and business influencers by hosting weekly meetings for founders, assigning them a dedicated coach, offering group therapy sessions and industry roundtables, and introducing founders to potential clients. and financing.
The Intentionally Good Summit is a way to bring this community together, but at last year’s summit, Womack noticed that most of his attendees weren’t going to Venture Atlanta because they weren’t aware of what was happening or because they couldn’t afford the tickets. . So this year, he and Eman decided to change that.
“The goal here was to be intentional … ensuring that crowds that normally wouldn’t gather have the opportunity to do so,” Womack said.
Attendees ranged from summit discussions on how to support black and brown founders as diversity programs face lawsuits, to speeches at Venture Atlanta from notable figures, like judge and entrepreneur “Shark Tank” Robert Herjavec.
Herjavec’s keynote led directly into a full day of Shark Tank-style startup pitches, culminating in a pitch competition in which four early-stage companies pitched to a group of investors for a chance to win $500,000. The money came from four funds that created an investment syndicate for Venture Atlanta: BIP Ventures, Florida Funders, Knoll Ventures and Catalyst by Wellstar.
Margo Jordan, founder and CEO of Houston-based Enrichly, a digital learning platform aimed at boosting children’s self-esteem, won the grand prize. Jordan was recommended by one of her mentors at the nonprofit Goodie Nation.
She said being part of Goodie Nation had “changed her life”.
“As a black woman founder of this ecosystem where we are constantly overlooked, underestimated, Goodie Nation has a way of propelling us, taking us out of the crowd and giving us the platform that we need… so that people truly understand that work is important. what we do, not only does it do good in the world, but it actually makes money,” Jordan said.
Black tech founders in Atlanta have consistently credited Womack for influencing them to move to Atlanta or connecting them to important opportunities.
“He’s the heart of the community and the way he treats people and the way he takes care of people, it trickles down,” said Brooke Hill, co-founder and CEO of Atlanta-based braid bar Swella, l one of the startups featured at Venture Atlanta.
But it’s not just founders who participated in the Intentionally Good Summit. Large companies have also emerged, such as Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), the former financial institution of choice for many tech investors and startups before collapsing in March. She has since been acquired and reestablished her work in the startup community. It was a major sponsor of the summit and Jaisa Gooden, vice president of startup banking at SVB, spoke on a panel.
Gooden told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Womack was the reason she wanted to participate.
“Joey,” she said, “has this unique ability that I’ve seen, of being able to organize events and gatherings that bring people from Atlanta together in a way that collectively represents what ‘is Atlanta.’
Venture Atlanta officials announced that Womack will be the new board chair for 2024 and will help organize the entire event next year. He said he thought he would do the conference again with a lecture.
“It exposed the Goodie Nation community to the broader Venture Atlanta experience and community,” Womack said. “It also allowed the Venture Atlanta community to learn about Goodie Nation and support diverse founders… Generally speaking, they don’t hear these kinds of topics in their daily lives.”
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