Partnership for Inclusive Innovation Announces 2022 Smart Communities

Four Georgia communities receive support for projects that leverage applied research, technology and data to advance innovation in smart resilience

 

WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — The Partnership for Inclusive Innovation, a public-private organization designed to position Georgia as the leader for innovation, opportunity and shared economic success, today announced the winners of the 2022 Georgia Smart Communities Challenge, at Central Georgia Technical College in Warner Robins.

 

Representatives from the 2022 Georgia Smart Communities Challenge cohort (Photo: Matt Hummel)

The award-winning Georgia Smart Communities Challenge supports teams of applied researchers, municipalities and nonprofit groups to work together over the course of the year on locally driven priorities ranging from installing sea level sensors for hurricane resilience to building digital twins for public safety and transportation.

 

The 2022 theme, Smart Resilience, sought projects that address topics including disaster response, energy efficiency and public safety.

 

“This year, we add four communities from across Georgia, spanning three economic development districts and including multi-disciplinary researchers from Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia, Kennesaw State University, Morehouse School of Medicine, Middle Georgia State University, Clayton State University and Augusta University,” said Stephanie Broxton, the Partnership’s community research manager.

 

“The selected communities submitted strong multi-disciplinary, multi-university research project proposals that aim to advance innovation by leveraging technology and data. Communities from throughout Georgia were selected to ensure impact across the state.”

 

Each of the projects will receive financial and technical assistance to support and continue the work of implementing applied research from university partners, as well as assistance from the Partnership for monthly meetings, community engagement and promotion of project outcomes.

 

Georgia Tech is a proud member of the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation,” Ángel Cabrera, president of Georgia Tech, said. “We’re truly committed to creating opportunities for all Georgians to drive innovation and to make Georgia the Tech Capital of the East Coast.

 

Cabrera congratulated the Georgia Smart winners and added, “This work is sure to create lasting transformative change, not just for the winning communities, but also for their neighbors and everyone who benefits from this research in the future.”

 

The 2022 cohort communities and projects are:

 

City of Atlanta: The project will use innovative diagnostic techniques to perform energy audits in Atlanta’s Thomasville Heights community, with the goal of achieving significant cost savings compared to traditional building energy auditing practices. The audits are done with minimally invasive drones equipped with remote sensing instruments to analyze building exteriors. The method holds promise for overcoming homeowner hesitancy about weatherization programs and can be replicated in distressed neighborhoods throughout the city. The project is especially timely in the Thomasville Heights community, where ongoing challenges such as acute unemployment and poverty will soon be compounded by the closure of long-neglected subsidized housing. Researchers from Georgia Tech and Morehouse School of Medicine, and representatives from Focused Community Strategies will work with the city of Atlanta on this project.

 

“We are currently supporting neighborhood stabilization in Thomasville Heights,” said Dr. Latrice Rollins, assistant professor for community health and preventive medicine at Morehouse School of Medicine. This project will allow “us to use utility rebates and bulk purchasing as solutions for poverty amelioration and will reduce the cost of energy.”

 

Atlanta Project Team:

 

Athens-Clarke County: The Climate Resilience Project through Technology and Transportation Innovation will evaluate and improve community preparedness in response to the growing severity of environmental disaster and the region’s increasing population. The project will include the development and deployment of a survey to gauge existing disaster preparedness and resident interest in improving preparedness in their communities. Leaders will engage with the community to create an all-hazards mitigation plan, neighborhood disaster playbook template and strengthened neighborhood-level resource and relationship network. The goal is to minimize risk and work toward providing equitable outcomes for all members of the community in the event of a catastrophic disaster. Researchers from the University of Georgia, Augusta University and Kennesaw State University will work with Athens-Clarke County on this project.

 

“Athens-Clarke County is dedicated to building a culture of readiness and resiliency for all of our residents,” said Mayor Kelly Girtz. “Through this partnership, I believe we will make Athens-Clarke County a safer, strong and adaptable place to live.”

 

Athens-Clarke County project team:

 

The Henry County Smart Resilience Decision Support Tool (DST) will be an interactive web-based tool to assist county planners, policymakers and county officials as they assess and explore the impact and potential of new greenspace, warehousing and freight-related infrastructure projects. The tool will help county officials answer the question: How can Henry County reconcile community economic development objectives with quality of life and energy resilience concerns? Researchers from Georgia Tech and Clayton State University will work with Henry County on this project.

 

“We are so excited and honored that Henry County has been chosen to receive the Georgia Smart Award,” said Carlotta Harrell, chair of the Henry County Board of Commissioners. “We continue to look for ways to improve and enhance transportation for Henry County residents and this continued partnership with Georgia Smart allows us to do just that.”

 

Henry County project team:

 

City of Warner Robins: The project will develop and test a Citizen Safety Digital Twin for Community Resilience through the integration of a dynamic license plate reader solution with police department investigation practices. The project team will build on previous work to refine an interface that enables the police department to see where crimes are predicted to occur and suggest placement of license plate readers to detect them. The team will engage with the community and key stakeholders to collect and analyze feedback about the system. This project will help Warner Robins to maximize both deterrence and detection, with the aim of lowering crime rates across the city. Researchers from Georgia Tech and Middle Georgia State University will work with the city of Warner Robins on this project.

 

“Police departments are under-resourced and understaffed around the nation,” Warner Robins Mayor LaRhonda Patrick said. “The use of technology has been a force multiplier to reduce crime. This grant will give Chief [John] Wagner and the entire police department team the tools they need to provide public safety for our city. This is proactive crime prevention.”

 

Warner Robins project team:

 

The Georgia Smart Communities Challenge has a strong track record of success. Alumni have implemented their projects and garnered additional funding and technical assistance to continue projects beyond the two-year program period, allowing them to continue serving their residents and meeting community goals.

 

“As an initial Georgia Smart partner and long-time supporter of the Partnership, Georgia Power is proud to support innovation across the state through this announcement of a new cohort of Georgia Smart communities,” Chris Womack, chair, president and CEO of Georgia Power, said at the event. “This cohort of Georgia Smart community projects is unique because it is inclusive, it supports multi-disciplinary and multi-university projects, and it fosters collaboration, with all communities working toward smart resilience initiatives.”

 

About the Georgia Smart Communities Challenge (GA Smart) program:

When municipalities experience 21st century challenges that require strategic planning, Georgia Smart is an award-winning program that assists leaders in identifying solutions that are researched, tested and evaluated by subject-matter experts. Often referred to as simply “Georgia Smart” this community research assistance program empowers communities on their journey to innovation by helping them to envision a smart and connected future. This program has served 20 communities across the state of Georgia, helping to activate over 140 technologies and facilitate over 30 community engagement meetings. Alumni of the program have gone on to experience wide-ranging success, including recognition on a national and international scale.

 

About the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation:

Launched in 2020, the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation is a public-private organization that was created to lead coordinated, statewide efforts to position Georgia as the leader for innovation, opportunity, and shared economic success. The Partnership’s focus pillars of community research, workforce development, student engagement, and economic opportunity are a powerful combination that provide technical and financial support to democratize innovation through collaboration. Since 2020, the Partnership’s work has catalyzed 30+ projects with local governments, universities, startups and nonprofits. The projects have created new businesses, increased access to financial and social capital, and deployed more than 170 technologies. More information is available at pingeorgia.org.

You asked. We listened.

GaMEP now offering marketing services to manufacturing clients

 

Katie Takacs, GaMEP group manager for marketing

From automobiles and their components to food production, technology, and floor covering, manufacturing is a huge sector in Georgia. In fact, manufacturing represents 10 percent of state gross domestic product (totaling nearly $62 billion in 2019), according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Center of Innovation for Manufacturing. The industry accounts for 92 percent of exports and employs more than 380,000 people across the state.

 

The sector’s importance is no accident. It’s the result of Georgia’s pro-business climate, a well-trained workforce, and a location and logistics network that allows companies to reach 80 percent of the United States in hours by truck, train, or plane, and access the world via the ports.

 

Given the huge economic impact manufacturing has on Georgia, it might seem that marketing isn’t essential for manufacturing firms in the state. They just need to sit back and let the dollars flow to them. But that’s not the case. According to the biannual Georgia Manufacturing Survey, over the past 12 years manufacturers have continuously identified marketing as one of their top needs.

 

That’s where the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) at Georgia Tech comes in. The GaMEP, a program of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, has been in operation since 1960, with the singular goal of enhancing global competitiveness for Georgia manufacturers. Now, GaMEP has added marketing services to its tool kit, which has long included services such as leadership development, technology adaptation, quality systems, energy, sustainability, and implementation of lean tools to improve processes across the plant.

 

“What we’ve found is that many small to mid-size manufacturers either don’t have an internal marketing team, have one person supporting marketing, or the company is project managing multiple agencies,” said Katie Takacs, GaMEP group manager for marketing. “GaMEP has a robust internal marketing team and great partners we’ve worked with over the years, so we knew it was time to begin support manufacturers in this area and helping them meet their growth goals.”

 

The marketing services GaMEP offers include everything from strategic plan development through tactical execution, as well as improving a company’s digital presence.

 

Oneda Corp., a Columbus, Georgia-based precision metal stamping manufacturer primarily for the automotive and heating and air industries, worked with Takacs to develop and implement a strategic marketing plan for the company. The project grew to include writing customer success stories, launching a new website with improved usability and content, planning, and creating LinkedIn content, and training Michael Brooks, Oneda’s manager of marketing, customer service, and logistics, to manage the company’s social media.

 

Brooks, an engineer, recognized the importance of a strong, relevant social media presence, and knew he needed help to create it. “If you’re not on social media, and you’re not keeping up with that, you will lose your audience,” he said. “The audience now is younger and more savvy. They turn to your website and look at your social postings to determine if the content meets what they are looking for. Then they determine if they sense a business relationship before they even contact you.”

 

Learn more about the work GaMEP does with manufacturers around the state and the ways GaMEP can help manufacturers strengthen relationships with their customers at gamep.org.

 

For more information about GaMEP’s marketing services for Georgia manufacturers, contact: Katie Takacs at katie.takacs@innovate.gatech.edu.

Engage Celebrates Ninth Cohort of High-growth Startups

 

Reps from cohort nine companies: From left, Ian Bresnahan, co-founder and CEO at Itential; Dan Johnston, co-founder and CEO at WorkStep; Emil Davityan, founder and CEO at Bluedot; Christine Tao, co-founder and CEO at Sounding Board; Kristen Sonday, co-founder and CEO at Paladin; Van West, co-founder and CEO at Vocalytics AI; Michael Scharff, co-founder and CEO at Evolv AI; and Brandon Card, co-founder and CEO at Terzo

Engage, the Enterprise Innovation Institute program that connects high-growth startups with Fortune 500 decision-makers, recently celebrated its ninth cohort at the 2022 Spring Executive Reception.

 

The Engage idea started in 2015 “with a conversation with some of the city’s leading CEOs,” said Blake Patton, managing partner of Engage and Tech Square Ventures. “They were talking about the need to drive innovation in their companies and the desire to bring additional capital to the region.”

 

Since that discussion, 67 startups — 33% of them from Atlanta — have been through the Engage program. They have created over 2,000 jobs and raised $1.7 billion.

 

More than 180 people attended the reception hosted at Honeywell’s Innovation Center that featured the founders of the cohort companies, as well as discussions by program alumni, and a keynote address from Georgia Power Chairman and CEO and Engage board member Chris Womack.

 

Keith Townsend, a partner at King & Spalding, spoke about how the city of Atlanta is the perfect place for a program like Engage. “We’re in a great city that has a diverse, talented, and skilled population. It has one of the densest populations of Fortune 500 companies in the country, with a vibrant art, music, and now movie production scene. You roll that together, and it gives companies, large and small, a very talented workforce to draw from, which I think is just terrific.”

 

The evening featured a fireside chat with Allison Robinson, co-founder and CEO of Engage portfolio company The Mom Project, and Kellie Schönberg, Invesco’s global head of corporate social responsibility. They discussed Robinson’s experience in the first Engage cohort in 2017. The Mom Project — Allison herself is the mother of three — is a platform for connecting moms, dads, and allies with companies that value the work-life flexibility parents need and want to tap into this often overlooked and deep talent pool.

 

Robinson’s background at Proctor & Gamble — working on the Pampers brand, where she was immersed in all things mom — and then becoming a mom herself made her realize “there’s a huge need in the marketplace to help create these opportunities for moms,” she said. “There’s so much dormant strength in the economy that could be captured if we could help meet her on her terms.” This was the birth, so to speak, of The Mom Project.

 

Since its founding, The Mom Project’s platform has unlocked over $300 million in earning potential by connecting our more than 1 million moms, dads, and allies with opportunities at more than 3,000 companies, including Invesco, Georgia-Pacific, Nike, and Apple.

 

Following the pandemic with its especially huge impact on women of color, The Mom Project launched RISE, a scholarship program committed to accelerating equity for moms of color. RISE provides access to upskill certifications while harnessing the power of community, support, and job placement — all in as little as three months and at no cost to participants.

 

Go Far Together

 

The program continued with a chat about sustainability, a topic growing in importance for large corporations and startups. Lisa Carlson, Engage’s corporate director, moderated the discussion with Kim Cobb, Georgia Tech’s Georgia Power chair, professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, and director of the Global Change Program and Doug Wright, president and CEO of Honeywell Building Technologies.

 

The purpose of the discussion, Carlson said, was “to get two dynamic leaders, one from the world of higher education and one from the business side, to talk through the actions that are going to be required in this new frontier [of sustainability], and what some of the challenges are, and how we can work together in a new collaborative manner to drive some scalable changes around the globe.”

 

Cobb discussed ways Georgia Tech is working to solve some of the problems of climate change and sustainability as part of Drawdown Georgia, a “research-based roadmap for achieving carbon neutrality in Georgia,” she said. “We just launched the Drawdown Georgia business compact community, which already has 30 members, including some of the Engage partners, who are working together to enhance collaboration, share best practices, accelerate the development of voluntary targets, and make sure that the business community is involved in what may be some nascent policy development in the state.”

 

Wright talked about the importance of large corporations and smaller businesses working together to help solve problems. “Smaller businesses move faster,” he said. “They can work to solve problems at a higher clock speed. And then as a larger organization, what we can do with that is we can take it to scale. So, maybe there’s some innovation that we identify in a startup around air quality monitoring, but I can take that to tens of thousands of customers overnight, as a large organization. There’s a virtuous circle that I think works together.”

 

Keynote speaker Chris Womack started by touting the benefits of being part of the Atlanta technology ecosystem. Then talked about the importance of that ecosystem working together to ensure it continues to thrive.

 

It’s not enough to leave it to legislative leaders to solve the challenges, but individual changemakers and communities and networks that drive innovation should take the lead and do so collaboratively, Womack said.

 

“There’s an African proverb that says if you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together. If we want to go far, we go together,” he said. “I think that’s the opportunity that we have, as we invest in this focus on entrepreneurship.”

 

Connecting to Grow

 

Womack’s words on entrepreneurship and the importance of working together, reinforced the mission of Engage, which is to promote innovation through a network of connections between startups, corporations, university researchers, and the venture community. It’s these connections to a diverse range of corporate and business leaders that helps accelerate startups in the program.

 

The value of connection is also echoed by the cohort leaders themselves.

 

“My favorite part of the Engage experience was meeting with the other founders,” said Kristen Sonday, co-founder and CEO of Paladin. “Oftentimes, you’re going through a lot of different situations that they’ve already been through and being able to share best practices and experiences is really helpful.”

 

The founders all agreed that meeting with the other companies in the cohort was an important part of the Engage experience. They also valued time spent with corporate partners and learning from them how to navigate relationships with Fortune 500 companies.

 

“The number one thing that I learned through the Engage program was that there are so many different ways to connect with partners and stakeholders in the corporates that we’re trying to work with,” said Emil Davityan, founder and CEO at Bluedot. “Everybody has their core day to day role and the mission that they’re on as a business. And every business is driven by its own unique culture. So instead of just trying to sell technology, we have to ask how do we situate ourselves and our own company culture in the context of the teams that we’re working with? Are they driven through data, through personalities and relationships? What is the overarching strategy? And for us, learning how to connect with that from the very first conversation and build those relationships was incredibly valuable.”

 

Engage’s cohort nine companies are:

  • Bluedot: Its location software helps improve curbside pickup, loyalty, frictionless drive-thrus, and augmented reality gamification.
  • Evolv AI: Uses machine learning to continuously find better ways to digitally connect enterprises with customers.
  • Itential: Automation platform that supports both network and cloud infrastructure, helps organizations maintain network compliance, reduce manual operations, and simplify network management.
  • Paladin: Streamlines legal pro bono programs, helping attorneys reach their professional responsibility goals more easily while decreasing administrative work and costs for Fortune 500s.
  • Sounding Board: Works with enterprises to develop strong leaders using a solution to manage, scale, and measure coaching.
  • Terzo: IT/workflow and data hub for vendor processes and contracts that enables enterprises to better manage vendors and transform them into strategic partners.
  • Vocalytics AI: Software for health, safety, and customer experience listens to ambient noise and sends real-time alerts when needed most.
  • WorkStep: Helps manufacturing, logistics, and retail companies hire and retain their hourly workforce by matching candidates and driving engagement and retention initiatives.

ATDC Names Caroline Ford as Investor Connect Catalyst

Caroline Ford headshot
ATDC Investor Connect Catalyst Caroline Ford.

Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute welcomes Caroline Ford as the new Investor Connect Catalyst at the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC).

 

ATDC is the internationally recognized state-funded technology business incubator. It is a program of the Enterprise Innovation Institute, the nation’s largest, most comprehensive, university-based program of entrepreneurship and startup development, business and industry growth, and international outreach.

 

At ATDC, Ford will work to connect Georgia startups with investors. “We’re the advocate,” she said, “as [our companies] negotiate or talk to venture capital or other private equity investors about investing in their business.”

 

It’s a position that’s hardwired into her DNA, she said. Her father was involved in tech startups in her home state of Arkansas, and she worked in or founded several successful family-owned startups in the marketing technology space. That background gives her a strong understanding of the tech companies that are part of ATDC and adds to the excitement she feels about this new position.

 

“I worked in an incubator in Arkansas,” she said, “and it was the most stimulating, challenging, invigorating workplace that I’ve ever been in — just the energy, the hope, the optimism. Everybody wants to be there, because everybody’s got an idea. To me, it’s like a microcosm of possibility,” she said.

 

Her enthusiasm for the optimism and excitement of incubators – happy places, she called them – led her to write and present an academic paper Beyond a Social Capital Agenda: Exploring Metrics and Motives Inside Business Incubators in Arkansas, for a conference.

 

She has also run Arkansas-based nonprofit organizations, including the Wolfe Street Foundation, which serves women in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction, and Dills House for Women, a transitional facility for underserved women struggling with addiction. It’s not her first time working on a college campus, either. She’s been an assistant marketing professor at Kennesaw State University and a part-time faculty member at Hendrix College in Arkansas.

 

Ford holds degrees from cross-town institution Georgia State University, where she received a bachelor’s in French, a master’s in marketing, and an executive doctorate in business administration.

 

In her quest to find her own happy place outside of work, Ford escapes underwater as a scuba diver. Her favorite spot: St. Maarten in the Caribbean. Her other passions include Orange Theory exercise classes, and last, but certainly not least, her two college-age kids.

Serena Williams Lobs Venture Funds to Enterprise Innovation Institute Client Lillii RNB

Barbara Jones-Brown headshot
Barbara Jones-Brown.

ATDC and Georgia MBDA Business Center client Barbara Jones-Brown has received $3 million in venture funding, led by tennis great Serena Williams’ early-stage venture fund. The investment in Jones-Brown’s company, Lillii RNB Inc., will support Freeing Returns, a platform that analyzes product return data to detect fraud.

 

Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, home to ATDC and the Georgia MBDA Business Center, first met Jones-Brown in 2015, when she and her team were the grand prize winners of the ATDC FinTech Hack Competition, sponsored by payment processing provider Worldpay.

 

“I think at least four or five of the problems they wanted to solve during that hackathon were related to [retail] returns. We knew that space very well,” Jones-Brown said. “We took on all of the challenges they had around returns, we built all of that into the application that is now Freeing Returns, and that has gotten us this $3 million investment.”

 

The hackathon was the beginning of a fruitful relationship with Georgia Tech. She has also worked with the Opportunity Hub at its home in Tech Square, received support from the ATDC following the hackathon win, hired Georgia Tech students as interns and employees, and now is a client of the Georgia MBDA Business Center. “We’ve taken full advantage of having Georgia Tech in the backyard,” she said.

 

And while the resources Georgia Tech offers have been important – and were, in fact, the catalyst for the development of Freeing Returns – Jones-Brown has also participated in other entrepreneurial programs in Atlanta.

 

“One of the great values of the Enterprise Innovation Institute is we engage in hand-offs — from external partners and to external partners, as well as within Georgia Tech,” said Enterprise Innovation Institute Vice President David Bridges. “We are a valued connector and capacity builder within the Atlanta and Georgia ecosystem.”

 

That ecosystem came full circle in 2020. Jones-Brown was graduating from the Morehouse Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center’s Ascend Atlanta program, a small business support program for minority and women-owned companies funded by JPMorgan Chase & Co. Georgia MBDA Business Center Director Donna Ennis spoke at the graduation. Jones-Brown reached out to Ennis and became a client.

 

“We’re really helping her with capacity building,” Ennis said about the work her program is doing with Jones-Brown. “That’s the coaching that she’s getting and connecting her into different networks. We’ll continue to work with her to try to identify opportunities for her product.”

 

Meanwhile, Jones-Brown has $3 million to spend. Part of it will support work her company is doing with Salesforce. She’s also recruited new talent into the company, leaders in the retail loss prevention arena, to work on predicting fraud rather than responding to it, she said. “We’re adding artificial intelligence and machine learning to the data analytics that we’re collecting. We will start getting better at predicting the fraud before it happens, so that we can alert retailers to potential fraudulent transactions.”

 

And it all started with a hackathon at the ATDC.