Decision Vision

A Podcast
for Decision Makers

 

Episode 11

The Atlanta Startup Ecosystem
and the Siggie Awards

 

Episode 11: The Atlanta Startup Ecosystem and the Siggie Awards

Startup investor and mentor Gordon Rogers speaks with “Decision Vision” host Michael Blake on the history and development of the Atlanta startup ecosystem, the pivotal role of Sig Mosley in this community, and the “Siggie Awards,” which honor Sig’s contribution and recognize other noteworthy Atlanta investors.

Gordon Rogers, Avondale Innovation District

Gordon Rogers is a three decade veteran in the Atlanta startup community, particularly in the field of education technology and online learning. In 1992, he founded a company that created one of the industry’s first learning management systems. He led the start-up from the bootstrapped stage to an IPO, through a merger with Paul Allen’s company, Asymetrix Learning in 1998, now part of SumTotal Systems, a SkillSoft company. He has spent the past 15 years working with startups in the ed-tech sector, including K-12, higher-ed, and career and tech ed programs.

He mentors early stage ventures at Georgia Tech’s ATDC incubator and Flashpoint programs. As a social impact investor and entrepreneur, he advises Village Capital’s Ed-Tech Accelerator and Points of Light Civic Accelerator programs. He’s served as an advisor to over a dozen startups, including Authentica Solutions (now BrightBytes), Crescerance, ExceptionALLY, and RapidLD. In his role as advisor to CTE Portfolio, he works with Career & Technology Education directors to streamline Work-Based Learning and Apprenticeship Programs. CTE Portfolio can be thought of as a student-friendly version of LinkedIn.

He is Past President of Atlanta Technology Angels, and serves on the TAG Top 40 committee. He co-founded Teachers & Techies, a group of educational innovators working to improve technology in schools. He also serves as a guest lecturer and business competition judge at Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Emory, University of Georgia and Kennesaw State University business schools.

The Avondale Innovation District™, located in downtown Avondale Estates, is a place-based urban development designed specifically to support entrepreneurs and creative professionals, foster open innovation, attract and accelerate new business ventures. It is the venue for the inaugural Siggie Awards. The “Siggies” are a way to recognize some of the unsung heroes in the Atlanta startup community: early-stage investors. The Siggies are named after Sig Mosley, Managing Partner of Mosley Ventures. To nominate an Atlanta investor for a Siggie award or to get more information on the inaugural event on May 15, 2019, click here.

Decision Vision Podcast Episode 11 | Gordon Rogers | Brady Ware

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Intro:
Welcome to begin Decision Vision, a podcast series focusing on critical business decisions brought to you by Brady Ware & Company. Brady Ware is a regional, full-service accounting and advisory that helps businesses and entrepreneurs make vision a reality.

Michael Blake:
And welcome to another episode of Decision Vision, a podcast giving you, the listener, clear vision to make great decisions. In each episode, we discuss the process of decision making on a different topic. Rather than making recommendations because everyone’s circumstances are different, we talk to subject matter experts about how they would recommend thinking about that decision.

Michael Blake:
My name is Mike Blake, and I’m your host for today’s program. I am a Director at Brady Ware & Company, a full-service accounting firm based in Dayton, Ohio, with offices in Dayton; Columbus, Ohio; Richmond, Indiana; and Alpharetta, Georgia, which is where we are recording today. Brady Ware is sponsoring this podcast. If you like this podcast, please subscribe on your favorite podcast aggregator, and please also consider leaving a review of the podcast as well.

Michael Blake:
So, today, we’re going to talk about a startup project in Atlanta called the Siggie Awards. And we’re going to talk a little bit about the award program itself, but also dig into what goes into launching an award program, what it takes to build and sustain one, and whether you, as a business owner or decision maker, should consider being involved in an award program in your community.

Michael Blake:
And to help us today is Gordon Rogers, the Avondale Innovation District. Gordon is a 25-year veteran of startups in the field of digital education and learning management, both as a founder and an investor. Gordon is a mentor at Georgia Tech’s ATDC and Flashpoint Accelerator Programs, as well as Managing Director of Vernon Bridge Ventures, an early-stage capital advisory firm. He serves on the advisory boards of Authentica Solutions, Crescerance, ExceptionAlly, and Rapid LD.

Michael Blake:
As a social impact investor and entrepreneur, he advises Village Capital’s Education Accelerator, as well as Points of Light Civic Accelerator programs. He is also past president of Atlanta Technology Angels. He sits on planning committees for Venture Atlanta and TAG, Technology Association of Georgia, Top 40. He also serves as a guest lecturer and business plan competition judge at Georgia State University, Georgia Tech, Emory University, Kennesaw State University, and the University of Georgia Business Schools. He has made angel investments in mobile learning, online language training and employee wellness companies, and virtual world startups.

Michael Blake:
Gordon’s newest project is serving as venture partner of the Avondale Innovation District located in downtown Avondale Estates, which is almost due, well, I guess north and east of Atlanta. Avondale Innovation District is a place-based urban development designed specifically to support entrepreneurs and creative professionals foster open innovation, attract and accelerate new business ventures. It is the venue for the inaugural Siggies Awards. The Siggies is our way to recognize some of the unsung heroes in the Atlanta startup community. The Siggies are named after Sig Mosley, who is the Managing partner of Mosley Ventures and is widely regarded as the godfather of the Atlanta early stage investment community.

Michael Blake:
In addition, Gordon, how many children do you have? Seven or eight?

Gordon Rogers:
Seven at last count.

Michael Blake:
Severn at last count.

Gordon Rogers:
We’re holding.

Michael Blake:
And holding steady. Very talented, by the way. I’m an amateur musician. Gordon’s family is a gaggle of musicians and have some fascinating YouTube videos. In particular, a couple where they all play around the same piano doing a couple of songs. He’s doing percussion, playing the strings, playing the keys. And it’s remarkable, not only the musicianship, but they all get along well enough to accomplish that.

Gordon Rogers:
For those three minutes.

Michael Blake:
For those three minutes. Well, I have two, I have two kids, I’m not sure I can accomplish that for those three minutes. So, congratulations to you.

Gordon Rogers:
Thank you.

Michael Blake:
And I guess I didn’t realize how much you’re involved in addition to your expansive family. How on earth do you find the time for this?

Gordon Rogers:
Well, as you know, kids grow up. So, most of them have finished college by now. So, they’re “self-sustaining adults.”

Michael Blake:
Congratulations.

Gordon Rogers:
And we have one about to graduate from high school. So, we are not quite as encumbered as we once were.

Michael Blake:
The herd is somewhat thinning, I guess.

Gordon Rogers:
Yeah, but it’s kind of like a herd of cats.

Michael Blake:
But you’re still — I mean, you’re still busy, but you somehow found time to take on this new project. So, you, obviously, have a lot of demands on your time. You don’t say yes to everything. Why did you say yes to this?

Gordon Rogers:
Well, it was a chance to work with two people that I’ve admired and enjoy working with for quite some time. Ed Rieker, who is the guy who started and launched Avondale Innovation District, a serial entrepreneur from ATDC and others who have several healthcare startups that have gone on to success. And he’s always been a great supporter of the startup community.

Michael Blake:
Yes, he has.

Gordon Rogers:
And I’ve worked with him for, at least, 10 years. As a matter of fact, fun fact, I think, Mike, you and I were behind the microphones at a different podcast in 151 Locust in 2010.

Michael Blake:
That sounds right. Yeah, the old Startup Lounge Podcast.

Gordon Rogers:
The Startup Lounge Podcast was there. And you and Scott were kind of the originators of this whole process. And 151 Locust was an old farmhouse that Ed converted in the middle of Avondale Estates into a co-working space. And we held a lot of events there, one of which was hosting your Startup Lounge Podcast.

Michael Blake:
Yeah. And that was sort of a co-working space before it became cool to have co-working spaces. Really, I mean, before Atlanta Tech Village, before Tech Square, before Opportunity Hub, before for any of these guys, right?

Gordon Rogers:
Ed was a man ahead of his time.

Michael Blake:
And so, you’re involved now in the Avondale Innovation District. And then, at some point the conversation came up, “Let’s have, I guess, an awards ceremony,” or was that you’re just sick and tired of Sig getting every award there is? So, we’ve got to find a way to give an award to somebody else. How did that conversation come around?

Gordon Rogers:
It was a little bit of both. We thought, “Okay, Sig has received a lot of awards. Maybe it’s time to put him on the other side instead of being on the receiving end,” which is well-deserved over all those years. But to give him yet another award might be just another of the same old, same old.

Gordon Rogers:
And we both recognized that Sig has been around, a fixture really, for three decades or more. And he really is the guy who got the whole angel early startup program off within Atlanta. And, now, it’s time that he kind of takes a little more time to go off to his villa in Costa Rica and other places. And there’s so many other people around the community that are doing similar work but may not get such recognition. So, we thought, what better way to honor that legacy that Sig has created and let him provide some accolades to others, other deserving souls?

Michael Blake:
And I think there’s another benefit. I do want to get into the notion of recognizing people are social contributors. But, also, for a long time, this town was basically Sig, and maybe Charlie Paparelli, and maybe Steven Fleming. And if those three said no, you basically felt like your deal was done.

Michael Blake:
And Sig is still so highly regarded. He’s such an important fixture that I think a lot of people who would like guidance and funding themselves don’t realize there are many active people, maybe more active at their stage of their lives versus Sig at this point that can be resource to them. It’s an opportunity to highlight that and pass the baton on in a way, sort of, kind of, this group succession planning. Is that a reasonable way to think about it, or am I off the reservation?

Gordon Rogers:
No, I think you’re right. And let’s go back to another throwback to that Startup Lounge here. I don’t know if it was you or your buddy, Scott, that came up with that t-shirt “Sig said No.”

Michael Blake:
That was Scott. He was the funny one.

Gordon Rogers:
All right. So, just for those who weren’t around in that era, there was a T-shirt that kind of threw a little bit of humor at. If you got a no from Sig, essentially, your startup was dead in the town of Atlanta. And that put a lot of pressure on Sig, of course. And it just didn’t give a lot of opportunities for people with ideas to go somewhere else.

Michael Blake:
I think Sig would tell you, he didn’t want to be in that position.

Gordon Rogers:
Absolutely not.

Michael Blake:
He did not want to be that that grand inquisitor, that grand executioner.

Gordon Rogers:
Right, exactly. But he was the default. And I look back, and if you look at Silicon Valley, if Ron Conway was the only guy out there that made angel investments, where would that be today? There’s a lot of Ron Conways out there. And I argue there’s a lot of folks like Sig, but they don’t have the same name and reputation. And, now, it’s time to build more pillars. I mean, he’s been the central tent pole, but we need others holding up the tent as well.

Michael Blake:
I think part of that is cultural too. I think Silicon Valley has a culture where if you’re an angel investor, you’re kind of like the rock star mentality, you’re kind of okay with the spotlight and drawing a lot of people to you. I think, in Atlanta, we still have a little bit more keep it close to the vest. Yeah, I’d like to make some investments, but I don’t necessarily want everybody knowing that I have the wherewithal financially to make those investments too.

Gordon Rogers:
Fair enough. And, yeah, Sig is kind of the unsung hero. And he is, obviously, responsible for a lot of successes. But you know what, you can’t rely on one person because that one person is not going to do it forever. And so, if you want a sustainable ecosystem you got to have a lot of people in the game.

Michael Blake:
So, you’re setting up this award program. What are you looking to reward? What are you looking to acknowledge and bring to light? What categories do you want to acknowledge people in?

Gordon Rogers:
Well, the first people who we’re turning to are those entrepreneurs who have raised capital and want to recognize the angels and mentors that have helped them do that. So, for founders that have started companies and raised anywhere between, say, 250K up to a million dollars, it’s an actual seed stage investment.

Gordon Rogers:
We want them to nominate angel investors and others who have helped them raise that round because anyone who’s done a startup knows that that first round is probably the hardest. And the more people that are involved in that process, the better chances you have of getting that first round. So, that’s the launching pad. So, that’s one award.

Michael Blake:
Okay.

Gordon Rogers:
The other one is Investors’ Choice, which comes from angels choosing other investors and recognizing other investors. And that’s not necessarily people who write the biggest checks or the most checks. It’s the people who are there helping those startups refine their pitch deck, work on product market fit, mentor them through the many different programs that are around here today, which were not around back in the Startup Lounge days.

Gordon Rogers:
Besides ATDC, which has been there all along, but you’ve got the Farm, you’ve got TechStars. Most of the universities have entrepreneurship programs. All those rely on outside mentors and many angels to help provide that support. And those are the people we’re looking to recognize.

Michael Blake:
Now, you also have a category, an award called the Resurgent Award. What is that? Who do you think the ideal nominee for that award would be?

Gordon Rogers:
Well, yeah. We had a list of potential award categories, and I came up with 8 or 10, and we had to pare it down. But the two that Sig really, really wanted to make sure got recognized, one of those was that, originally, we call it the Comeback Kid, but it’s recognized as a fact that not every founder and, certainly, not every startup is successful the first time around. And we need to recognize and honor those who have gone through failure and be willing to do it again, and maybe got socked by the markets, or they had missed the product market fit, but they learned from that, and that wasn’t the end of their journey. And so, by giving this award and this recognition to someone who is “resurgent,” we want to encourage failure, and learning from that, and continuing. And that’s how you build the ecosystem.

Michael Blake:
And Bill Gates is famous for saying that, “That success is a lousy teacher.” I think that concept is so important. My wife is in entrepreneurial venture. And her business partner, who himself has had a couple of failed ventures said that, I think is very profound, “If you don’t start a business after the failed one, then you’ve wasted the most expensive education you’ve ever had.”.

Michael Blake:
And I think that’s profound, right? When you get to sort of rewind, you realize, “I should have paid more attention to marketing,” or “I should have had a compensation program that was different,” or “I should have pivoted.” Whatever those would have, could have, should have were, you gain no value from them if you don’t find some way to, sort of, act upon them and profit that, right? And profit from that.

Gordon Rogers:
Exactly.

Michael Blake:
And, of course, the other part of that is it requires an investment community to be accepting a failure. And one of the criticisms of the Atlanta ecosystem for a long time has been, one and done. You lose money, you get that reputation, you’re damaged goods, and you’re just done. Do you think that’s changing now in the Atlanta area? Can you get a second shot?

Gordon Rogers:
Absolutely. And that’s what the purpose of this award is to recognize that shift. Before 2010-2011, I would say what you just described was absolutely the situation. As more capital has come in and as investors have become more sophisticated, they are looking at the founders and say, “Did you learn from this? Are you coachable? Are you willing to try again?” And they’re willing to give them another shot. And that’s the whole purpose of this award is to recognize that the shift has occurred and to encourage that failure. We’re willing to try and try again.

Michael Blake:
So, you’ve mentioned the timeline of the startup community here in Atlanta. And you and I have both been referred to as the OGs of the community. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I’m going to lean into it for the time being. What are some of the other ways you’ve seen the startup community here evolve in the last 10-15 years?

Gordon Rogers:
Well, again, the support infrastructure that did not exist back when 151 Locust was, as you’ve mentioned, the first co-working space, before it became cool. Now, you cannot throw a rock without hitting either an accelerator, incubator, or co-working space. And that’s also part of a stronger ecosystem. Back before, if you try a startup, and you were working out one or two places that were the only place you could go, if you failed there, you might want to go somewhere else, but there really wasn’t anywhere else.

Gordon Rogers:
And, now, you can bounce around from one accelerator program to the next. And, hopefully, you’re learning something from those. And those accelerator programs, they’re not all based just here. They’re part of national chains and international organizations, such as TechStars, for example. They are bringing international focus to these startups. And so, they plug those founders into a network, not just of national but international investors and customers. And so, none of that infrastructure was there even five years ago. It’s really shifted in the last few years.

Michael Blake:
Yeah. Even in Chamblee, where I live, there are, at least, two co-working spaces of, which I’m aware. And then just three miles north up Peachtree Boulevard, this Prototype Prime, Sanjay Parekh is out there. We’ll get him on a podcast at some point. And, now, you’re seeing some market segmentation, right? Each of these are bringing something a little bit different to the table. Globe Hub in Chamblee has sort of an international focus, and Prototype Prime has a maker space, and Opportunity Hub has become a focus for minority entrepreneurs or entrepreneurs of color. Kind of interesting how that’s shaking out, isn’t it?

Gordon Rogers:
Yeah. Well, because there’s so many products out there, there has to be some product differentiation. One aspect, a potential downside that I worry about is growth of a species called accelerators surfers. And that’s people who really don’t necessarily have a business plan, but they can exist and survive three months at a time going from one accelerator program to another. Hopefully, they’re learning from that program, but it could also be a lifestyle. It’s like, “Hey, this is cool, I get to hang around with other innovative thoughtful people,” and they go through three or four accelerators, and they still don’t have a product. But, hopefully, that’s not going to be the case with most entrepreneurs.

Michael Blake:
Now, one thing I would argue has been, I think, a refreshing constant of the Atlanta community is even though capital has been hard to come by, historically, and to some extent appropriately so, there’s always been, I think, a very broad willingness to kind of pitch in not necessarily because you think you’re going to get something out of it, but I think people like you, like Sig, like many others, Scott Burket, have been very willing to give of their time to be a resource to help the entrepreneurs up their game, because I think that’s been another shift. I think entrepreneurs on the local market are better. I think they’re more skilled, they’re more sophisticated. What do you think?

Gordon Rogers:
Well, I agree. And I agree, the mentorship aspect has always been healthy and robust. But without the other side of that coin, literally, which is writing checks, the capital does still have to be there. Now, arguably, you can do more with less capital, and that has created a much bigger funnel of choice for VCs and angel investors because if you have an idea, and you can set up a wireframe, and get yourself a cloud account, you may have a company.

Gordon Rogers:
And so, as a result, thousands of companies are created. How many make it across the finish line? How many are actually able to raise capital? That’s a tougher thing to look at. And so, with a large pipeline, one of the benefits of these accelerators is you can help whittle down the actual likely people who are going to succeed out of those programs.

Michael Blake:
I guess, part of it, also, and I post this on a chart of the day about a week and a half ago, and you just alluded to it, the cost of starting the business now is so much less. It’s down to orders of magnitude in the last 20 years, right? I guess, part of the other side of the coin is you may not need the coin, right? Bootstrapping a company is much more viable than it was even five years ago. So, there’s actually a little, I think – tell me if I’m wrong- – there’s a little bit of a supply crunch to of companies that might have been coming to you, or to Sig, or to Atlanta Technology Angels. They’re not coming to them anymore because they’re finding they can do it on their own, thank you very much.

Gordon Rogers:
Well, absolutely. And the more of that, the better because startups should not have to rely solely on VC and venture funds to get off the ground. And by being able to go further and achieve some kind of customer penetration with bootstrap funds, and they become healthier, then that just raises their own valuations, and then puts those founders in a much better position, more in the driver’s seat when it comes to negotiation for valuation, when it comes time to actually raise capital.

Michael Blake:
Now, I understand you’re partnering with a nonprofit organization in putting the Siggies together. Tell us about that.

Gordon Rogers:
Yes. Well, one of the important things that we wanted to do here is to bring members of the investment community, angel community together with those who are supportive of nonprofits. And so, we wanted to find a nonprofit that followed the philosophy that we all support. And in this case, STE(A)M Truck is the one that we selected. And STE(A)M Truck, started by Jason Martin three or four years ago, essentially, is maker labs on wheels. They travel around the schools that don’t have their own facility, and it teaches STEM and STEAM skills to middle-school kids, and it gives them the access to those facilities that they might not otherwise have. And he’s grown from one pickup to five or six trucks and trailers in the last four years.

Michael Blake:
And so, why them? What’s that connection that you saw, or what connection did they see with you?

Gordon Rogers:
Well, I first met Jason when he was in the Civic X Accelerator Program, which Points of Light started several years ago. And that’s where nonprofits and social enterprises learned, build, and perfect their business model, so they can become sustainable. And they were scrappy, they figured out how to do it. And they’ve lasted several years now and grown to serve thousands of kids all around Georgia.

Gordon Rogers:
And so, to me, that’s a model that more nonprofits and social enterprises need to be able to follow. Still, they need capital, they need help. And by bringing them in the same room as investors in more for-profit startups, hopefully, there’s going to be some serendipity there, and people will take a look and say, “Yeah, this is a great model.”

Michael Blake:
Okay. So, I want to switch a little bit to kind of the nuts and bolts because, I think, a lot of people think about starting awards programs, getting involved in awards programs. You’re now doing it. Is this the first one? I guess not because you’ve been involved with Tag top 40, Venture Atlanta, and awards program of sorts, at least, as competitive to be invited to make a pitch. And that’s become a very successful exercise on its own right. Probably one the most awarded in Atlanta now.

Michael Blake:
From your perspective, you’re a successful individual, you got a lot of demands in your time, why choose to be involved in awards programs? Why is that a good outlet for your time or a good use of your time?

Gordon Rogers:
Well, I guess, I looked at this, and Ed and I kind of put our heads together, and we decided, “Okay, let’s go from ironic to iconic.” And so, we’re going to start off with — it’s sort of tongue and cheek. It’s not-

Michael Blake:
That sounds like Ed, by the way.

Gordon Rogers:
Yes, yeah. We decided not to take this too seriously. And, thankfully, Sig is happy to play along. So, we’re not giving out any kind of gold statuettes. We’re actually giving out bubbleheads with Sig’s likeness on it. And, again, we stole that idea from Scott because he had that idea back in the day. And we’re looking at some interesting things. Our version of the swag bag for the winners is the Siggie sack. And so, there will be some interesting things in that for the winners.

Gordon Rogers:
And so, we hope to have fun along the way, not take it too seriously. It is the first one of these awards. So, it’s the inaugural Siggie awards. But we’re hoping it will become an annual event, a must-attend event. And, again, as people age out of the ecosystem like Sig, he’s not going to be here forever, we need to build that next generation. So, my tag line for this is “Star Trek the Next Generation.”

Michael Blake:
Okay. Well, yeah. And I think for something like this, it is important not to take it too seriously.

Gordon Rogers:
That’s why we’re bringing you and Scott in to help with that.

Michael Blake:
I clearly see. Clearly, you’re not afraid of failure. That’s for sure.

Gordon Rogers:
Right.

Michael Blake:
Just as a side note, we’d contemplated doing some kind of awards program. We just didn’t have the time to pull it off. But we did get as far as we were going to name at the Shafties.

Gordon Rogers:
Okay.

Michael Blake:
Because the Startup Lounge logo was a gear shift. So, we’re going to give people like a golden gear shaft or something like that.

Gordon Rogers:
Right, right.

Michael Blake:
But we couldn’t really decide if that was going to be kind of too edgy or not. So, it kind of died there.

Gordon Rogers:
Well, we think the community is matured enough that they are ready for this kind of event.

Michael Blake:
I think so. I think you’re going to find that there’s going to be a tremendous amount of community support. Of course, Brady Ware supporting the program.

Gordon Rogers:
We appreciate that.

Michael Blake:
And we’re delighted to be a charter sponsor, so.

Gordon Rogers:
We know Sig is willing to play along because, again, going back to the 151 Locust days, we had those events called the Spring Fling. And we took over the streets. And there was a dunk tank, and guess who was in the middle the dunk tank? Sig Mosley.

Michael Blake:
He was. I did the dunk tank as well, and I learned a couple of things. The one I learned just how much my children hate me because when they couldn’t hit the target, they would just simply walk up and smack the target to make sure that I would be dunked.

Gordon Rogers:
Right.

Michael Blake:
Have you ever done a dunk tank?

Gordon Rogers:
I did. At that point, yes.

Michael Blake:
It is-

Gordon Rogers:
I didn’t let my kids participate though.

Michael Blake:
It is jarring.

Gordon Rogers:
It is.

Michael Blake:
I don’t think my back has ever been so wrenched as to when, all of a sudden, the seat just sort of gives way. And even though you fall into a tank of water, now, I know how the coyote feels basically when that happens. It’s a surprisingly weird physical experience.

Gordon Rogers:
Well, as I said, Sig has a good sense of humor, but he drew the line at that. He wouldn’t do the dunk tank this time.

Michael Blake:
Well, everybody has to draw the line someplace.

Gordon Rogers:
Yeah.

Michael Blake:
Thinking as somebody, then, who is a financial contributor, what’s the case for a company that has limited funds, limited marketing budget to support awards programs like this?

Gordon Rogers:
Well, I think it shows that they are recognizing the importance of building the community. And I hate to use that proverbial, it takes a village term, but it really does. And by participating in that, I mean, these things don’t happen automatically. We have to pay caterers. And, thankfully, Ed is really digging into his own because he’s providing the facility without charge.

Gordon Rogers:
And it’s also to showcase the fact that there are other centers of activity besides Midtown, and Buckhead, and Alpharetta. Avondale Estates is kind of a well-kept secret, although it’s due east, five miles due east of Ponce. So, we just want to show showcase the fact that there’s other parts for entrepreneurship activity around Atlanta. And it’s a stone’s throw from downtown Decatur.

Michael Blake:
You’re right about that. I mean, Decatur is sneaky entrepreneurial. Avondale is sneaky entrepreneurial. Chamblee is sneaky entrepreneurial in that way as well. I haven’t thought about that, but you’re right. A way to sort of — and there’s nothing wrong with the center of gravity, and the Georgia Tech Mafia and so forth, but there’s a lot of Atlanta that is not Georgia Tech, and TechSquare, and ATDC. And they’re great organizations, but they’re not for everybody. They’re not for everybody from a programmatic perspective. And we know how hard it is to get around town too, that for somebody coming in from Avondale Estates having to go into Midtown, that’s not an insignificant time commitment anymore. So, being able to localize these things, I think, is really important.

Gordon Rogers:
That and the fact that, as you’ve pointed out, as the economy has improved, rates for per square foot have gone up in those areas that you just mentioned. And most startups are pretty cash-strapped. And while some of these programs do give them free rent for two to three months, eventually, they have to start paying. And no one wants to commute two hours to get to their office. And so, they can find affordable space along with other people – mentors and co-workers – who are doing similar things with startups that provide that support. Then, they shouldn’t have to drive for two hours to get there.

Michael Blake:
So, how do you define — have you set a vision for this program will be a success if A, B, and/or C happen? And if so, what are those A, B, and Cs?

Gordon Rogers:
I guess if we get a flood of nominations for these different categories and get a lot of people recognized for what they’re doing, and we get a great turnout on May 15th at Avondale Innovation District, I think those are the things. And if we get people who were not prior to this event, didn’t have that awareness, or didn’t have that recognition. And so, then, founders can say, “Well, here’s some more people that I can tap into that I didn’t even know existed.” And so, again, it’s spreading the word about the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Michael Blake:
Is there also a hope that perhaps by recognizing those who have made those contributions that it might inspire others to follow suit and maybe be that generation after next?

Gordon Rogers:
Yes, what you said, exactly.

Michael Blake:
And, hopefully, inspire the current one maybe to expand that as well, I guess.

Gordon Rogers:
Absolutely.

Michael Blake:
So, I think one of the challenges that awards programs have is they can become a little cynical. I think, you’ve probably seen it. I know that I have. They can be taken over by sponsors. They can start to become a vehicle, whereby the primary goal starts to become not so much recognizing whatever it is the award program was supposed to recognize. But then, sponsors want to recognize their clients, people on the board selection committee want to nominate p they can generate business. We’ve both seen that. And I’m sure you’re very aware of that. How do you keep an award program like this from going in that direction to make sure that it maintains its value over the long term?

Gordon Rogers:
Well, I think, by adhering to the standards. Ed, as I pointed out, has graciously agreed to put this event on. And, obviously, he’d love to have help from others, but there’s no real necessity to bow to that kind of financial pressure. We want people who are going to contribute on the basis of recognizing and helping building that ecosystem. And so, hopefully, we can stay true to that philosophy.

Michael Blake:
Do you see this award continuing to be to be run 5-10 years from now?

Gordon Rogers:
I would think, yeah, that’s quite a possibility. I mean, I think, it’s a — again, a lot depends on the first couple of years. It always takes a while to get these events off the ground. I remember with Tag Top 40, that was a much smaller production than it is now. And it takes two to three years to get these things into momentum. Even Venture Atlanta started off relatively small scale back in, I think, 2010 when they started or ’09. And it’s been a great success, but it’s taken a few years to get to reach their stride.

Michael Blake:
One of the things I’ve found, as I’ve been involved in a few of these things, it’s surprisingly hard to get nominations. I’ve always found that. I always figured, “Well, having award and nominations are flowing. Who wouldn’t like to have the public recognition, have people clap for you, etcetera, etcetera, so they get a front seat of the banquet?” But it’s actually deceptively hard to get a good nomination flow, isn’t it?

Gordon Rogers:
Well, it is. And, also, people don’t necessarily like to follow directions. When I send out this-

Michael Blake:
I have teenager, so I’m familiar with that. Yes.

Gordon Rogers:
Well, yeah, but even adults. You send them an email saying, “Hey, we’re having this event. Here’s the link to the Siggie awards site. We’d love for you to nominate.” And they reply, “Oh, great idea. Here’s five people I want to nominate.” And they missed the fact that, well, you need to fill out the form because why you’re nominating this individual, et cetera. So, I appreciate their willingness to help, but they’ve got to take that final step to actually get the nominations.

Michael Blake:
Yeah, if you break the — And we ran this at Startup Lounge to is that people want to be in the program, but they know us. They figure they can just send us an email, but the thing is we have systems of knowing who’s going to be in. If you break the system, then we might remember you’re coming, or we might not remember that you’re coming, right?

Gordon Rogers:
Right.

Michael Blake:
It’s not personal. It’s just Scott and I aren’t all that bright to, sort of, remember everything.

Gordon Rogers:
Well, you got a lot going on.

Michael Blake:
So, in order to sustain this program, what do you think are the key two or three things you need to make sure that this program is sustainable, so 5-10 years, we are still talking about, hopefully, as, by then, an institution of the Atlanta startup scene?

Gordon Rogers:
Well, for that, I would almost prefer to throw that over to my colleague and your good friend as well, Peter Baron of Carabiner Communications, because they are our communications partner. And they are starting to socialize this. And they are the experts on how to make something like this become, hopefully, a meme or something that people want to get to, what’s the buzz, and let’s find out what this is all about, and it’s a must-attend event.

Gordon Rogers:
Now, that doesn’t happen overnight typically, but by getting it into the hands of the right people and building awareness in the communications side of things with the owners and the investors, hopefully, the VCs will pay attention to this because this is helping their pipeline down the road. Typical VCs aren’t going to invest in the seed round, but they do want to keep their eyes open for the promising entrepreneurs. So, it behooves them to have this event continue because five years from now, they’re going to be writing series A and B checks for those same entrepreneurs.

Michael Blake:
It is a visibility into who is working with lots of entrepreneurs too, right-

Gordon Rogers:
Oh yeah.

Michael Blake:
… because you’re networking your pipeline?

Gordon Rogers:
Yes.

Michael Blake:
So, all right. So, I’m running out of time. So, we have to kind of wrap this up. How can people contact you or follow you to learn more about the Siggies?

Gordon Rogers:
Well, I’m on LinkedIn at Gordon Rogers. The Siggie Awards has its own site, siggieawards.com. And so, I would start with those two.

Michael Blake:
All right. Well, that’s going to wrap it up for today’s program. I’d like to thank Gordon Rogers so much for joining us, and sharing his expertise with us, and helping us learn more about the Siggie Award Program.

Michael Blake:
We’ll be exploring a new topic each week. So, please tune in, so that when you’re faced with your next business decision, you have a clear vision when making it. If you enjoy this podcast, please consider leaving a review with your favorite podcast aggregator. It helps people find us, so that we can help them. Once again, this is Mike Blake. Our sponsor is Brady Ware & Company. And this has been the Decision Vision Podcast.

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