Lisa 

This is Lisa Calhoun and I’m a General Partner at a venture capital firm, Valor Ventures right here in Atlanta. I’m your host today for a really exciting program with Kylan Kester at Startup Atlanta. Welcome, Ky.

Kylan Kester

Thank you, Lisa. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Lisa  

Well, you have some major news, the fourth Startup Atlanta ecosystem guide just came out. Tell me a little bit about that work.

Kylan Kester

Well, thank you for giving us a shout out. And yes, we’re incredibly excited at Startup Atlanta that our fourth edition of the guide to the startup ecosystem has finally come. Everyone can access it at http://www.startupatlanta.com/2020-ecosystem-guide and it’s a really great resource for entrepreneurs, investors, and folks who are here in the community that are just interested in the startup community and wants to know what’s going on in the ecosystem. It’s a really great resource for myself  as the Community Coordinator at Startup Atlanta. Something that I’m really proud of is the work that we do here in the community because we co-created the resource. We worked with leaders from all over Atlanta, whether they’re in the business space, or they work for startups themselves. We get the guide in front of folks in order for them to give us as much feedback as we can get and we also made sure that we are always iterating on it to make sure that it’s always up to date with the most recent information in the ecosystem, because it’s always changing here as you probably know.

Lisa  

It’s such a dynamic growing ecosystem. For those who’ve never seen the ecosystem guide before, it is detailed. It’s over thirty, detailed pages, listing all of the startup media, all of the investors and so much more. What are some of your favorite features, Ky?

Kylan Kester

We have a number of different categories that we highlight, from media, news to education, and career resources. [They’re] the ones that I find myself using frequently and especially when talking to founders as our venture and funding capital section. There’s a lot of really great work that we put into making sure that we have a nice range of different folks who are investing in companies and from different perspectives, whether they be angel investors, or seed investors, or someone who might be looking for a more mature company. I love that that’s a really excellent resource for a lot of founders who are cash strapped and looking for opportunities to come up in that space. In addition to that, this year, we’ve also included a new section to the guide in collaboration with the metro Atlanta chamber. We now have all the corporate innovation centers that are here in Atlanta featured in the Startup Ecosystem Guide as well. There are over forty corporate innovation centers and I believe like Alex is always over at Metro Atlanta Chamber was on the show as well. He’s talked a lot about corporate innovation and the role it plays here in Atlanta. I think that is a growing opportunity for startups here in Atlanta as well in finding ways to not only pilot and partner with these companies, but also leverage some of the resources that a lot of these companies already have, and are willing to pour into our founders here in Atlanta.

Lisa  

Forty, four-zero corporate innovation centers in Atlanta, that is a huge number. Can you remember what it was in the first or second guide that you did? What’s the growth like?

Kylan Kester

I can’t necessarily remember the exact number and it’s funny enough, I actually have been in this role working with Startup Atlanta since last year. I’ve been here for a year and I’ve gotten to see the third and fourth edition and be hands-on with the creation of it. Charlton Cunningham, who was the Community Coordinator and Executive Director of Startup Atlanta before me, he worked really hard on the Ecosystem Guide on where it was before. I think that there’s been a lot of changes to it since then. I’m really excited about the ones that we have so far but I feel like there is going to always be something to add or something to remove there over time. I feel like it’s just going to continue to just change.

Lisa  

Absolutely. Our ecosystem certainly continues to have a lot of dynamic growth so that makes a ton of sense. It’s an incredible work to capture the breadth of it like you did. One of the things that I think a lot of people don’t realize is there also is the job guide. You actually touch on startup jobs. Can you tell me a little bit more about that section?

Kylan Kester

I think that’s a really interesting point that you make. I feel like a lot of folks, especially right now in the middle of the pandemic COVID-19, everything that we’re going through, and just like unemployment being at an all-time high, a lot of folks now kind of have to go to entrepreneurship or work with startups. Now, I’m in a way that it wasn’t necessarily as much of a kind of pervasive need. I think that it’s really cool to be able to have a resource now where people can go directly to the guide and be able to see where they can go to find jobs working for startups. I’ve worked for startups myself and I think that working for a startup is a really interesting role because you wear many different hats. One of the things I would definitely suggest to anyone who hasn’t worked for a startup that might be interested is definitely staying open-minded and be in a space where you’re flexible. A lot of the times you might be signing up for one particular role but it might change depending on whatever the need of a startup is. That type of experience is so invaluable because it gets you prepared for things you didn’t even know you will face later in the future. 

Lisa

Also if you’re building your own company, you’ve decided the job’s not for you, and you’d like to start something up, the guide highlights over thirty coworking and startup focused workplaces. I knew there were a lot, but thirty? Is that number gone up or down since the last time you did the guide? 

Kylan Kester

It has certainly gone up and we’ve had some really great new additions. One of my favorites and our shout out are The Lola. I’m sure you’re familiar with the folks at The Lola; Eileen Lee and Martine [Resnick]. I think that they’re working on a really great concept around creating a space for women by women and using coworking as an opportunity to bring women together and folks from all walks [of life], whether they be entrepreneurs themselves, or people that are actually working at companies and just need somewhere else to work. That’s just one of many. WeWork has also been making a lot of great growth here in Atlanta. Despite a lot of changes that have happened at the company, like at the larger level, there’s still a lot of really great enthusiasm here in Atlanta from WeWork and the work that they’re doing here. There are tons of coworking spaces. I know right now, it’s weird because I don’t know if everyone is still going into the office or not, but I think that it’s a really interesting time. If you’re considering being in a space where you won’t be working home, I think coworking is still a really great option.

Lisa  

Absolutely. A lot of these places offer resources. You might be coworking and you might be remote but there’s still resources and infrastructure that they offer. I only say that because I got like five emails this morning from different coworking centers that we’re putting on crazy, cool digital programming, boot camps, and coding camps. You don’t even have to come into coworking sometimes to get the benefits of these really great communities. 

Kylan Kester

Exactly. I think that’s one of the silver linings of this crisis, if you will, is just like all of the things that are becoming available and the access or at least the emphasis on access that’s been put on a lot of the different programs and things that are being put out now.

Lisa  

I really want to congratulate you on the depth of this guide. It is so impressive. One of the things that stood out to me because of where we are with jobs and people looking for the right type of work, and the unemployment that’s happened because the pandemic, is the career and training section. You have things in here like Black Men Code, Tech Talent South, Digital Crafts, a coding bootcamp in Atlanta and Houston. There’s so much that can fall off the radar and so much depth in the ecosystem. Did you find any new coding schools or career training that you’d highlight for this fourth guide?

Kylan Kester

Yeah, thank you for asking. I feel like one of the things that I’ve settled into during this crisis and uncertainty, if you will, is just upskilling myself. I think that anyone that is looking to upskill themselves, this is a really great start for the resource. Because if it’s not necessarily something as technical like coding, there are other places you can go to uncover your skills like design and stuff like that, as well, through a lot of these programs. One of the programs I really appreciate that has been here in Atlanta, and they’ve been growing, is actually the Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. What they’re doing at the Russell Center is something really special. They’re not only making sure that there’s a dedicated space for African-American entrepreneurs to have a space to grow and build their companies, but they’re also offering training and connections to the really awesome network that Jay Bailey and the team there has to help a lot of these founders actually come up here in the city as well. It’s not only training folks to become an entrepreneur but it’s also giving you the networks and connections you’ll need to be able to actually be an entrepreneur.

Lisa  

Everyone needs this guide. We’re not going to go into great detail but it’s thirty, odd pages of awesome with each page having ten to fifteen resources on it to give our listeners a sense of the depth here. This isn’t just an ecosystem guide phone book, it has a mission. It has a real mission and vision behind it. And Ky, in your own words, I’d love to have you speak to that about Startup Atlanta and what really drives the organization?

Kylan Kester

Most definitely. Our mission at Startup Atlanta is all about helping connect, promote and grow the local startup ecosystem. Our ecosystem guide helps us do just that. It helps us get an understanding of who’s in the ecosystem currently, and who’s playing what role. In addition to that, we also get to collaborate with a lot of the folks that are featured here in the guide as our partners at Startup Atlanta. It’s really exciting because we’ve been able to work with a lot of folks, including Valor of course, on a lot of really great initiatives that have happened over the last years while I’ve been here. It’s been a really good space to be able to see how we’ve been able to connect and convene a lot of the startup community. A lot of the work that we do, I feel like it’s really interesting and I feel like we have this city where there are different neighborhoods, if you will, the startup community. Depending on where you are in the neighborhood, you might get a different flavor of the startup community. What I love about this role, Startup Atlanta and what we do at Startup Atlanta is where everything kind of comes together. I think that that’s what this guide does. It’s thirty, odd pages and growing. I’m really excited to be able to see where we go in the future.

Lisa  

Your dedication really touched me in this edition particularly and just reading from it, this is the back page, it’s right out there. “Our goal is to use our voice and platform to create a level field” and I feel like that is so resonant in Atlanta.

Kylan Kester

Absolutely. That’s definitely something I’m passionate about as well. I’m not only someone who’s working here as a startup ecosystem builder. I’m also a black founder and very kind of aware of all of the challenges that we face in trying to build companies and being in a space where there’s just not a lot of equity in the industry of building your own company and being in a space where you have the type of support that historically, a lot of other founders have had. I think that when we come to Atlanta, I love it because it’s such a hub for black founders and also founders from all types and walks of life. I also love the impact that we have on women as well here in the city. I think that being in a space where there are platforms that are uplifting others, makes me feel like the work that we’re doing is really valuable. In addition to that, hopefully it’s leaving an impact that will lead beyond me.

Lisa  

It’s extremely valuable. Just a personal testimonial, I remember back in 2015 when I launched Valor Ventures. We raised our first fund in 2016 and I was wanting to get the word out. I was able to connect with Startup Atlanta and being included in the fundraising guide, brought us dozens of leads in a couple months. I was like, “Okay, wow!” Because startups really rely on what Startup Atlanta is doing. You are one of the first resources I think that they go to and I say that because of the inbound we’ve gotten from our association with Startup Atlanta. The way that the program is run, to be listed, to be celebrated, is not about paying an advertising fee. It’s just about contributing to the community.

Kylan Kester

Exactly. I love making sure that we get as many folks as possible now. As you’re probably aware, it’s gotten a little hard to get everybody and so if there’s ever folks who we missed or anything, it’s never intentional, and we’re definitely always iterating on this guide. If you’re not featured in the guide now and you’d like to be, it’s just mostly about reaching out to me directly. You can reach me at kylan@startupatlanta.com. I worked very closely with the design team that we had that helped build us build the guide out, which was the Nebo Agency. The founder of the Nebo Agency is also the President of Startup Atlanta, Adam Harrell. I really just appreciate the work and time that they’ve put into it because it makes it easier for us to be able to all come out and add this really valuable resource to the community.

Lisa  

It sure does. In fact, I was going to ask you a little bit about your own background and path to putting this guide together. What did you do before Startup Atlanta? How did you get into the startup community? [Can you] share a little bit more about you? You’re such a great promoter for the ecosystem, but I’d love to hear a little promotion of Ky.

Kylan Kester

Sure. I’m originally from Jacksonville, Florida. I actually moved to Atlanta about five years ago for school. I attended Morehouse College and graduated last year as part of a historic class. One of the last classes that walked and also a class that had Robert F. Smith, who’s a technology investor, as our commencement speaker. That was also a special class because he paid off our student debt. Out of a really great opportunity to be able to just think through what it is that I want to do with my career after I graduated from Morehouse, and I actually ended up falling into this role at Startup Atlanta prior to graduating. I was working on my own startup and company and I ran into someone who’s working here in the ecosystem. They were telling me about this role at Startup Atlanta because they were one of the board members. This role just sounded like the perfect way to kind of execute on the stuff that I was doing for the company. I was building a marketing media company that was designed specifically for entrepreneurs to help them get tapped with the resources that they need to be successful and sharing that ended up resulting in the opportunity to plug directly into this role at Startup Atlanta, which was amazing. I also ended up working with Accenture. I’ve been in a consultant development program with Accenture for the last year and working these roles in tandem, if you will, and being in a space where I get to see the ecosystem but also I’m gaining a skill set that’s able to help me kind of also support entrepreneurs in a way that I wasn’t prior to joining Startup Atlanta. Those are some of the kind of general experiences that I bring to the role that I have currently. I originally wanted to be a diplomat. I wanted to be an ambassador but as things were kind of shaping up while I was in school and didn’t quite look like working for the government was necessarily the most attractive option for me any longer.

Lisa  

As things were shaping up. Oh, you’re really funny. I can see the diplomatic bit though.

Kylan Kester

Of course, I just had to make a pivot to something that I thought [would] make the same amount of value and also kind of the same impact that I would make in an ambassador style role. I ended up finding that through this work, Startup Atlanta and the startup community. I’m really glad to be here and I’m happy to see where it all ended.

Lisa  

And what did you choose to study at Morehouse?

Kylan Kester

I was a marketing major as I had studied business administration.

Lisa  

Awesome. I would love to hear your thoughts on where you feel like the top three strengths are in the Atlanta ecosystem. I know you have a very broad lens, and you’ve been doing it for a while, and you also come to it with relatively fresh eyes as a younger person. Where do you feel the real strengths of the tech ecosystem are here?

Kylan Kester

One, I’ll say there’s definitely a lot of value in the community. It’s always shifting and changing. Right now, from my perspective, I think what this ecosystem champions and is the brightest part of our ecosystem, is the diversity. I love that we have folks from all walks of life here in Atlanta from everywhere you can think of, and it’s all coming together in one space to come up with solutions, challenges, or even just work and play together. I think that’s really great. In addition to that, I think the creativity that’s here in Atlanta is unmatched. I think what happens here in this city inspires a lot of stuff in the global purview if you will. I think that it’s really great to be in a space like Atlanta because a lot of the stuff that we see here, we see it first, or we influenced a lot of it. I love that part about Atlanta. What is that saying? Atlanta influences everything. I think that we have a really interesting mix up of an ecosystem here where we have the corporations here. There are a lot of large corporations. I’ve shared with all the corporate innovation centers that are here. We also have a lot of colleges here. A lot of universities and folks here in the ecosystem are contributing to this talent pipeline that we continue to boast as a really great part of being here in Atlanta. Lastly, I think it’s a really great place of culture. Being able to actually enjoy what we have here in the south and the best of the south. I think that Atlanta is like an amalgamation of all the things that you can get when you think of the south and it’s like the headquarters on this. I think it’s a really great hub for everything that’s happening here.

Lisa  

I think of us as the regional capital. I absolutely do. All love to the other cities in the south, but hey, I live here. I’m building my business here. I’ve built businesses here. It seems like the capital region to me. The other thing that I thought was so important that you pointed out was, all of it was very good, but I could really resonate with the diversity. I think that a lot of people don’t realize, just by the numbers, Atlanta is living in the future of the rest of the country. With the population being over 50% non-white in our country for people under 40. We actually have that through our population in the Atlanta Metro area. We have this huge opportunity of being actually in the future of the demographic trend in the country and they’re catching up to us, but we’re already there. We have the opportunity to do amazing things like that and really set the trends as you said so eloquently. Atlanta influences the world. I think it’s never been more pertinent than it is now at this time.

Kylan Kester

I certainly agree. I think we have a huge opportunity in being proactive on how we model that but I definitely think that we’re ahead of the game, then more than a lot of other cities, with our diversity and just the spaces that we’re creating to celebrate that diversity as well here.

Lisa  

I know you’re diplomatically inclined just listening to how you’ve answered some of these questions, but I’m still gonna push you to try to go for the top three negatives, stains, issues, fractures, however, you want to phrase it, but what do you think Atlanta could do better?

Kylan Kester

I think this crisis is really kind of emphasizing it more and it was something that I feel like was a challenge before everything kind of hit with COVID-19. But a huge opportunity that I think we have in Atlanta is becoming more synchronized as a group and as a city to really determine who it is that we want to be. I think that’s a really huge opportunity for us because I think that we’re all working in these neighborhoods, like I mentioned, or what people would call silos. I know just like firsthand from the experience that I’ve had working in consulting and working for innovation in companies across different kinds of roles, if you will, that innovation doesn’t happen when things are happening separately. New ideas don’t really come to fruition if people aren’t working together. I think that that’s a huge opportunity for us here in Atlanta and us finding ways to continue to bring us together even through the times now where we might be social distancing, or might be working from home. I think continuously finding ways to bring us together is going to be a huge opportunity here. Second, I think another thing that we can celebrate here in Atlanta more or do more of in Atlanta, is uplift more of our black, indigenous, people of color founders. I think that there’s been really great emphasis on a lot of really great programs and specifically more in the last one to two years. I think we’re catching up and we’re still not there yet. I think there’s a lot of really great opportunities for folks to start to really put their money where their mouth is. We are also in the middle of the pandemic around racial injustice and how we’re going to address racial injustice. I think it’s also super important for folks to actually be proactive and leaders and also supporting black founders and people of color. Lastly, I think that another thing that we have here in Atlanta that is a huge opportunity is just really honing in on what we own, like our culture and our creativity and all of the things that come out of Atlanta. I think a lot of the times we have pride in it when it’s out there and it’s a part of the city, but I think that we could do a better job with making sure that we drive a lot of what is coming out of the city and what people know Atlanta for. I think those are the three things that I would definitely highlight as challenges or opportunities for us to grow better here as an ecosystem.

Lisa 

Thank you for sharing that wisdom. I think there are some real nuggets in that and things for people to take to heart. If you’re listening, I really encourage everyone to take their thoughts and their values into action. The new Startup Atlanta Guide is one interesting way to do that because it lays open the ecosystem and through so many different lenses. Take action. Empower yourself to be the Atlanta that we need to have. See if there’s one more thing that you could take as a do-verb and do, to create the community that we all want to live in and we all deserve to live in this. That’s a level playing field and that really focuses opportunity for all of our citizens. Communities are built every day right now, in the moment, the time is always now for the community. I really, really love what you shared there, Ky.

Kylan Kester

Love that thing. Community is now.

Lisa  

It is. It can be pulled together in a heartbeat. I think everyone has had an experience of being at a concert or maybe with a speaker or a spoken word poet when suddenly a room or an amphitheater gelled and was together. Atlanta can be just like that. It can gel and be together. I think often we are but maybe not as often as we could be. It gets down to each one of us. Each one of us has decisions and actions to take. Speaking of our people and our community, Ky I wanted to ask you about two to three folks who’ve really made a difference to you on your journey. You could give a shout out on the program and let our listeners know about some of the leaders that you see. Maybe a little behind the scenes or maybe really not, but that you really feel every founder in Atlanta should know.

Kylan Kester

Well, first I’ll give a quick shout out again to Charlton Cunningham, for really passing down a torch in this role at Startup Atlanta that set me up for success and to be able to kind of really just pick up and hit the ground running. I think that that was definitely really great. He’s been a really great person also into supporting me as I’ve onboarded, and been in the community, and keeping me plugged in. In addition to him, I’d also love to just plug out another guy that I think you all might be already familiar with, Joey Womack. He’s also been someone who’s been very uplifting and supportive throughout my time here working in Atlanta and just being in a space just trying to be plugged in the ecosystem and understand what’s going on, His knowledge, experience, and willingness to be behind a lot of the things that are going on in the city. It’s been really invaluable to me in this role as well. In addition to that, I mentioned Adam. I definitely want a shoutout to Adam Harrell again, the president of Startup Atlanta, and the CEO of Nebo Agency. He’s the person that has been my mentor, if you will, over this time, and making sure that I keep my head in the right space and think about the right things in this role. Especially in this time here in Atlanta because things are changing. It gets really political. I think that it’s really great to be able to have not just him but all the folks that I’ve mentioned and be in a space where I can lean on them to get advice and be able to go on and be supported in this time. Those are just some of the few folks. Last one I’ll do just because I also think that I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Dr. Tiffany Bussey over at the Morehouse College Entrepreneurship Center. I actually was a part of her entrepreneurship class and we went to European Innovation Academy together. I’ve been able to just learn a lot about being a startup founder. In addition to that, I’m just able to like being able to really find who I am and what I want to do through the work that I did at Morehouse and working with Dr. Bussey. I definitely give her a shout out as well.

Lisa  

Awesome. There’s some people to put on your Action List. Great folks to know as told to you by Ky. One more time Ky, could you repeat how people can get the Startup Atlanta guide?

Kylan Kester

Of course. Everyone can download the Startup Ecosystem Guide which is now available at http://www.startupatlanta.com/2020-ecosystem-guide.

Lisa  

Awesome, thanks so much for sharing your time and your thoughts with us on the program. I look forward to staying in touch.

Kylan Kester

This won’t be the last time, until next time.

Lisa  

Until next time.

Lisa

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