EI2 Asks: A Primer on Placemaking

The Center for Economic Development Research (CEDR), a program of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, provides communities with the data and guidance they need to make smart economic development decisions. Alan Durham is a senior research faculty manager and the International Economic Development Council’s (IEDC) economic development course director at CEDR, and below he outlines some basics of a crucial – and often overlooked – element of economic development: placemaking.

A photograph of a man, Alan Durham
Alan Durham, a senior research faculty manager and the International Economic Development Council’s (IEDC) economic development course director at CEDR.

What is placemaking?
I’m going to start by giving an example of what placemaking isn’t. So, after World War II and the birth of suburbia, development in the United States became very generic, very homogenized, very cookie-cutter, and that has continued through today. If you drive I-75 to Florida, every exit ramp looks exactly the same, with the same fast-food chains, drug stores, grocery stores, and it’s the same in Georgia or Florida, Mississippi or Colorado.

Think about the old Dixie Highway before the Interstate system was built. That was a four-lane divided highway that everyone took to get to Florida, and there was a lot of character – you’d see, for example, local restaurants shaped like coffee pots. We call that roadside architecture. Think about Route 66 and all the crazy motels that looked like teepees. Some of the old Arby’s chain restaurants used to be shaped like cowboy hats. These things were interesting. They were unlike anywhere else. Our Interstate exits could be anywhere, and placemaking is about creating someplace unique.

What characteristics make a particular place appealing?
The heart of their history, and the heart of their character, is usually their historic downtown area, most of which were built in the 1890s through about 1920. That’s where you can find your local mom-and-pop restaurants, your local coffee shop, your pizza parlor that is not a chain. These places are unique, the architecture’s regionally unique – often tied to locally available materials – and your communities differ depending on who the local rich person was and what kind of buildings they wanted to build. You can look at different downtowns and feel like you’re actually somewhere, not just anywhere.

How is placemaking different from the common conception of economic development?
The traditional idea of economic development is business recruitment, retention, and expansion, and communities have been doing economic development through that lens for decades. But we have found that younger generations, especially millennials and Generation Z, don’t move to an area for a job. They move to an area because it’s where they want to live, and once they’re there, they look for a job.

We still do business recruitment, retention, and expansion, but we’re also starting to pay a lot more attention to placemaking to try to attract the younger generation of workers, and the key to attracting them is building a place where people want to live and businesses want to be. That’s my economic development focus: How can I help communities become extraordinary places that stand out from every other place in America? What unique assets make your community a special place that people want to live in?

What are some of the elements that younger generations prioritize?
Number one is the built environment. Historic buildings have a lot more character than a strip mall, so I help communities redevelop their historic downtowns. A lot of those areas are sitting there vacant and boarded up, and people really want that unique coffee shop with wood floors and huge windows. It’s not the same as a Starbucks drive-through.

Number two, it has to be walkable. People are tired of sitting in traffic and filling up their tank with expensive gas. They want to be able to walk somewhere, to bike somewhere – to walk downtown and have dinner at a pizza parlor, walk next door to an ice cream shop, and then afterward have a beer and see a live band.

To facilitate this, town centers need to introduce more residential buildings in walking distance to commercial offerings. The idea of keeping restaurants and retail on the ground floor but converting some of the vacant upper space to residential lofts is coming back in favor, because if you live in downtown, you’re likely to patronize those businesses. Retail follows rooftops.

Do you ever encounter pushback to the principles of placemaking?
You sometimes run into opposition against apartments and rental units. In all fairness, a lot of communities already have too much rental and they need to explore ways to encourage home ownership, and that could be addressed with new development, but rental is always going to be a part of a community. You want to make sure it’s kept in balance.

The second concern tends to be traffic. The worry is, “You can’t put all these residents in your downtown because you’re going to clog up the street with traffic.” But that’s not the case, because if you live downtown, you’re going to walk a block away to get your lunch. So you’re actually reducing traffic by increasing density in and around your historic downtown and central business district.

The best way that I have found to counter some of these false narratives is to show people what other communities have done. “Look – this community is successful and thriving and exciting. They’re attracting young people. This is the workforce of tomorrow. They want to live in this location – and, look, traffic isn’t a problem here.” If you build a place for cars, you’re going to get cars. If you build a place for pedestrians, you’re going to get people on foot.

What types of questions should communities who want to increase their desirability be asking themselves?
Whenever you do new construction in a historic neighborhood, you have to have design guidelines in place to make sure that the new construction is compatible with and complements the existing historic buildings. I’ve seen communities build an apartment complex that looks nothing like any of their historic brick buildings. Instead of becoming a part of their downtown, it’s now an eyesore. They might have gotten the location correct, but instead of creating a place by picking up some of the elements of the historic buildings, they end up missing the mark and destroying the character of their downtown.

So design guidelines are extremely important, and communities need to ensure that developers are building an asset to their community that will continue to contribute to its character for the next 50 years.

What kind of guidance can CEDR offer those communities?
If half your downtown is vacant and boarded up, it’s hard to know where to start. CEDR can go into these historic central business districts and give a community a road map. We show them what they could be versus what they are today, and we can give them step-by-step instructions to help them get from point A to point B.

That involves everything from architectural design to financing building restoration, identifying parking needs, helping them activate festivals, and creating downtown park space to hold small concerts. Every historic downtown is unique, so we go in and work with the community to help them make sure their historic downtown is an asset that attracts people and businesses.

What trends is CEDR noticing in Georgia?
One of the things that we have seen post COVID-19 is people who can work remotely are moving out of inner cities, and they’re not stopping at the suburbs. They’re going to exurbs and small towns, where property is cheaper and crime is less – and the communities that have already done an excellent job bringing back life into their historic downtowns are going to be the winners here. Placemaking helps set these communities aside as somewhere special with unique characteristics that are going to draw residents.

CEDR is hosting its annual Basic Economic Development Course (BEDC) August 26-29 in Atlanta. Can you give us a brief overview of that program?
The BEDC is the longest running basic economic development course in the nation; this is the 57th year that it’s been offered by Georgia Tech. They partner with IEDC, the International Economic Development Council, to put on this four-day course, which covers a wide variety of economic development subjects, from real estate redevelopment to business recruitment. We do marketing and promotion. We do ethics in finance. The people who take the course are usually new to the economic development industry, and the BEDC gives them a very deep and thorough overview of what to expect in their economic development careers.

Every year I’ve taught it, the BEDC has been about placemaking, creating a place where people want to live and businesses want to be. Right now, too many people live where they do because they have to, not because they want to. Smaller communities should look around and figure out what makes them special, because they need to capitalize on their unique assets if they’re going to be a population winner in the future.

Register for the 57th annual BEDC here.

Enterprise Innovation Institute Hosts Foreign Entrepreneurs Through U.S. State Department Program

ATLANTA — In the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, Yevhen Popov is something of an information warrior.

Popov is director of civic partnerships and research with Osavul, a Kyiv, Ukraine-based information security startup founded in 2022.

Using artificial intelligence, the company’s software allows governments, non-government organizations, media, and other private sector clients to collect and analyze data from online networks and platforms to fight disinformation and cyberattacks. It launched just as war broke out in Ukraine.

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Entrepreneurs from around the world were at Georgia Tech as part of a program through the U.S. Department of State designed to help them successfully build their ecosystems in their home countries and scale their businesses. (PHOTO: Chris Ruggiero)

“The invasion was not only on the ground, which was military with military force, but also with the minds of people,” Popov said. “So, with the disinformation attacks happening almost every day — two or three times a day — this is our response to this. It’s a way to guide agencies and businesses to protect them from these harmful narratives, to protect from harm or harmful effects of attacks.”

Popov and 18 other entrepreneurs — mostly from Ukraine but some from other countries, including Sri Lanka, Jordan, Fiji, Botswana, Brazil, and Mongolia — were at Georgia Tech’s Encore for several weeks in May and early June as part of a U.S. Department of State program.

That effort, the Global Innovation through Science and Technology Initiative (GIST), connects innovators from emerging economies who want to scale with faculty experts and ecosystem builders from the U.S. who can help them succeed.

GIST is working with Nakia Melecio, who heads the Innovation Lab initiative at Georgia Tech’s economic development arm, the Enterprise Innovation Institute. Melecio has been tapped to lead several GIST-related ecosystem building efforts in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America.

While on campus, the entrepreneurs met with campus leaders, researchers, and economic development experts from across Georgia Tech, including the Office of Commercialization, VentureLab, CREATE-X, International Initiatives, and the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s EI2 Global.

“We’ve got the opportunity to share not only our resources, but our best practices to help these innovators not only blaze a trail within their own ecosystems, but also to figure out how to penetrate the U.S.,” Melecio said, adding Georgia Tech is slated to host another cohort of entrepreneurs later in the summer from Egypt.

“We’re super excited here at the Enterprise Innovation Institute to provide the level of coaching and support and access that these founders need so they can be successful and hit their goals.”

The visiting entrepreneurs are just as excited.

“It’s very interesting to be here, because the ecosystem of startups is quite huge in Atlanta and in Georgia,” Popov said. “It’s a good opportunity to be here with people who know what they’re doing and know how they’re doing it.”

Expanding her network and eyeing global expansion drew Ariuntuya Altangerel, co-founder and CEO of Brighton EdTech in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, to Georgia Tech.

The language learning startup was founded in 2011 to help facilitate, in an interactive way, mastery of English. Altangerel is exploring if the model can be replicated beyond her home country of 3.3 million people.

“We have a very small population, so for startups, we have no choice but to go global so that they can scale,” she said. Being at Georgia Tech is also giving her and the other GIST-hosted entrepreneurs opportunities to be fully immersed in a successful startup ecosystem.

“In our country, the startup ecosystem is at the seed level. It’s growing faster and faster, but still, there are less opportunities for us to get an investment,” she said. “I just see this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to dive into this ecosystem and learn as much as possible.”

Nevindaree Premarathne is founder and CEO of The Makers in Sri Lanka, a company that aims to inculcate innovation habits in children through hands-on STEM activities and community building. The company has partnered with education institutes, non-government organizations, and private enterprises to reach underprivileged schools and empower female students in STEM.

“We are getting a lot of knowledge from Georgia Tech,” Premarathne said, noting her company ships its activity boxes to 10 countries and is looking to scale.

“As a country, we have a small ecosystem,” she said. “We really want to improve our network here, and seek investment opportunities, and also partnerships, it’s really important for us, because of the space that we are working on in education.”

Learning how to crack the U.S. market is what Vlad Popov sought to achieve for his company, Platma, a two-year-old, no-code software development platform based in Kyiv.

“Our goal specifically is to find investors there and make a partnership that will help us to conquer the USA market,” said Vlad Popov, who serves as Platma’s marketing director.

Driving some of those growth plans is the war in the Ukraine, he said. “The war even accelerated us in this case, because we understand that every day can be the last day, so we work as hard as possible,” he said, noting the team mostly works remotely but workdays are often disrupted by warning sirens, electricity disruptions, and missile strikes.

“Starting a business is good because you give jobs for the people, you pay taxes, you help the economy become strong — it’s important to start a business, even if it’s hard.”

Mesh Medical Shapes: A Soft Landing Success Story

ATLANTA — When David Calle enrolled in the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Soft Landing program, it was with the intention of reaching a new customer base in the U.S. But he never expected that to happen quite so quickly.

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David Calle, founder of Mesh Medical Shapes, visits the Enterprise Innovation Institute offices in Atlanta.

Calle — a product engineer who founded the Medellín, Colombia, company Mesh Medical Shapes in 2018 — had been referred to the program by two different sources: the Medellín Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, which is a project of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, and Luis Restrepo, CEO of Crystal S.A.S and a member of the Advisory Board of the President of Georgia Tech. CES University in Medellín also partnered with Mesh to support Calle’s business goals. Calle decided to take the course himself in fall 2023.

Specifically designed to assist those who are interested in expanding a foreign business into the U.S., the Soft Landing program offers a strong foundation that includes hard research, guidance, and networking, conducted through virtual and in-person instruction modules. In addition to receiving guidance on best practices and navigating national regulations, participants also come away with a nuanced understanding of the American customer mindset.

Since its launch in 2018, Soft Landing has collaborated with 22 companies, and 15 of those have expanded into the U.S. The latest among them is Calle’s company, which designs and fabricates precision dental simulators for student practice. “We accomplished our first sale in the U.S.,” Calle said in April 2024. “We finished Soft Landing about six months ago, and we just closed the deal.”

Mesh’s first export from Colombia was to a university in Florida, which had initially approached the company year and a half prior. Progression started out slow, but after Calle completed Soft Landing, it sped up considerably. American clients in general, he said, “tend to try to buy from a U.S.-based company. It’s easier for them. So knowing that we were backed by the Soft Landing program gave this client the confidence to vote for us and say, ‘Ok, we’re gonna do business.’”

When Calle first began the process of expanding into the U.S. market, he — to put it plainly — didn’t know what he didn’t know. Mesh had already been conducting business in Peru and Colombia, among other countries, but Calle didn’t fully realize the importance of preparation when opening up a new market. Part of that preparation, he said, entailed revisiting the scope and quality of his product, not to mention customer presentation.

Soft Landing helped him determine the necessary steps to get him where he wanted to go. “A unique feature of this program is that it’s really tangible. We were ready to start our journey here in the States, and we didn’t have a clue how to approach clients or how to present our products,” said Calle. “Being part of this program gave us the structure we needed in facing our client for the first time. It helped us determine how we were going to deliver the product and how we can make sure the product fits customer expectations.”

Currently, Mesh’s U.S. market presence entails a handful of annual trips from Colombia to ensure that everything is going smoothly for the client. “That’s the first step,” Calle said. “Now that I’m approaching new customers, we’re looking to expand our business in terms of distribution. We are not planning in the short term to bring manufacturing here, but we plan to bring at least part of the team here in the medium term to expand the business.”

When Mesh does establish a physical presence in the U.S., Calle is confident that it will be in southern Georgia. “When you want to set up your business in the U.S, people will often point you toward Florida or Delaware, so you will pay less in taxes,” he said. “But I had a conversation with a CEO of a company who built her company here 20 years ago, and she told me, ‘David, if the first thing you’re thinking is about where are you going to pay less taxes, is that a smart decision? The first thing you’re going to need to do is to grow your business. Have you got any networking in the U.S.?’”

In fact, he did have a network — in Georgia and facilitated by the Soft Landing program. When the time comes to create a legal framework for his U.S. expansion, Calle said, “I’m going to contact one of the lawyers who presented at the program. Instead of looking online, I think it’s wise to go through the contacts already made for us.”

Fortunately for Calle and other Soft Landing graduates, the support offered by the program is ongoing. Said Soft Landing Program Director Alberto Ponce, “When past participants need more service providers, they can let us know, and we can open those doors. If you open offices here in Atlanta, or just come over for a visit, you can use the Georgia Tech resources for help with funding or hiring, for example. They have an open door with us and access to whatever we can do.”

For Calle, the investment in Soft Landing has been invaluable. “It has helped me understand how to prepare today in the right way, so I don’t lose opportunities in the future,” he said. “I would definitely encourage anybody who is thinking about establishing their business in the U.S. to be part of the program.”

EI2 Asks: Harnessing the Power of Collaboration

a book cover
The book was released in Spring 2024, by the Institution of Engineering and Technology.

Empowering Smart Cities through Community-Centered Public Private Partnerships and Innovations was released in Spring 2024 by the Institution of Engineering and Technology. Co-edited by longtime colleagues Debra Lam, the founding executive director of the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation (PIN), and Andrea Fernández, managing director at C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, the book presents eight case studies from around the world that showcase ways in which cities can harness the power of cooperation to address some of the 21st century’s biggest issues: climate change, digitalization and innovation, economic revitalization, and social inclusion. Here, Lam and Fernández discuss the book in advance of a webinar that shares its name on June 5, 2024.

What is the difference between a traditional public private partnership and a community-centered public private partnership?

a photo of a woman standing in front of a building
Debra Lam, founding executive director of the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation (PHOTO: Daemon Baizan)

Debra Lam: Community-centered public private partnerships (P3s) are not just based on the funding, financing, and operating big public, physical infrastructure pieces, like bridges and dams. Traditional P3s are ineffective against the the backdrop of the rise of Artificial Intelligence, data, and virtual infrastructure, including how people interact between physical and virtual infrastructures. We mapped out different types of currencies that are needed for this new type of partnership. First, it’s not confined to a fixed, limited period of time. You have to go through a much longer period to really address these complex problems, like climate change. Second, it’s based on relationships. You need a lot more actors, not just public sector and private sector, but also civic society and universities. The biggest currency is relationships and building a coalition of sectors that all contribute.

a head shot of a woman
Andrea Fernández, managing director at C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group

Andrea Fernández: One of the things that separates these types of partnerships from the more traditional public private partnerships we’ve seen in the past for infrastructures is its stakeholders coming together, leveraging their resources and experience toward the common good. There’s a shared vision for common good, all around creating stronger, more resilient, greener, healthier cities or places or community. It’s a shared vision, which I think is really key, because these other types of partnerships are dictated by commercial terms, by transactions.

Why is now the right time to introduce readers to this concept?

Lam: There’s a virtual infrastructure that has come about, a technological revolution, so we’re not just living in the physical built environment anymore. There is a whole virtual infrastructure with data and innovations and technologies that we need to account for. The other big driver that sparked the shift is climate change. Within the confines of any one city or community, there have been a lot of shifts regarding the impact of these two factors and what must be done. Andrea and I thought there was a need for a new kind of public private partnership to address the interplay between the physical and the virtual infrastructure, taking into account not only innovation and technology but also ways to address climate change.

How did you decide which projects to feature in the book?

Lam: Not every case study that we looked at was a perfect example of a community-centered public private partnership, and that was intentional, because we wanted to show the process and the outcomes. There were some case studies that had very good intentions — they had all the people together and the vision, but they had difficulty with execution. So there were never any outcomes, but that to us was good, because that showed things that didn’t work and what you could learn from it. Then there were others that had a haphazard startup process but have been durable, and they have been building and improving upon that. What we wanted to show was a variety — at different stages. different development levels, different sizes, different geographies, and different politics — to give people examples to choose from what they see as most relevant. When you pull them together, the sum is greater than each of its individual parts, because you have lessons learned and best practices that can be used for future community-centered public private partnerships.

Can you point to a particular case study that changed your idea of what was possible in this area?

Fernández: One of the youngest of the partnerships we looked at is an initiative in the U.K. called Oh Yes! Net Zero, which is comprised of the Hull City Council; Future Humber, which is the marketing organization for the region; University of Hull; and Reckitt, a large multinational fast-moving consumer goods company that was founded in Hull and has a really strong connection to place. The partnership was formed because the Hull City Council had declared a climate emergency in 2019, but it’s not a huge city and it doesn’t have a lot of resources, and it was clear that there wasn’t a strong enough plan for how to get there.

Reckitt saw the need for bringing stakeholders together to create this initiative, which I would describe as an unincorporated alliance. It’s not a legal entity, but it’s an initiative to bring these partners together so that they could support businesses, including the small SMEs, in not just committing to net zero but actually helping them understand what it means, practically speaking, to reduce your energy use, for example. It was a collective effort, but very much with a strong private sector lead. In the book we reported they got 150 companies to commit, but I believe the number may be a lot closer to 200 now.

Climate change is one of those difficult challenges where you’ve got to set an ambitious target to reduce emissions in line with what science says is needed. In my work, we’ve got cities all over the world saying they need finance, that they need to know how they are going to deliver these ambitious targets. So I was just fascinated that this relatively small city could have such an amazing program to engage its local businesses and its local community. It shows what you can do when you’ve got companies and stakeholders that really care about place and want to do something for that community. You don’t need necessarily need a tremendous amount of resources.

What surprised you most in putting together this book?

Fernández: I think it’s great that three of our longest standing, very successful partnerships — the one in Medellín, Colombia, the one in Gauteng Province in South Africa, and the Malaysia Think City — are all from the Global South, dating back to 2008 and 2009. Leaders recognized back then the need to create these types of institutions — to invest in them, to have them funded — and those are three that get regular funding. It’s pretty impressive to see how long some of these have been around tackling inclusive economic and sustainable development.

Lam: A surprising feature for me was the role of universities in each of these different case studies. There’s a wide breadth of how universities can support these initiatives and the roles they play. Obviously, they’re an important research partner, and they can provide talent, as in students, researchers, and expertise. But having them as a community anchor is also important. They’re at the table because they care about the community, they want to invest in the community. That’s a very different role than what you think of as a university, which has typically been: “We find students and conduct research, but we don’t get involved in this type of stuff.” But it’s crucial that they have a role to play. It’s to their advantage if they are part of that decision making process.

Fernández: I work at a city network organization where we do peer-to-peer knowledge sharing, and that’s the beauty of cities and people who work at this level. They’re happy to learn from the lessons of others and to build on others’ successes. I think it’s exciting that this book is being sold to universities around the world, with the idea that universities think about how they could create these partnerships in their own community and tackle whatever issues matter to those communities. We want to inspire them, and part of that is showing the huge range of models available.

Anything else you’d like readers to know?

Lam: We practice what we preach. The chapters are all written by teams of authors, so there’s not one chapter that’s just one author. That was very purposeful, because we wanted to tell the story from the private sector and from the public sector, and you can only do that when you bring a group of people from those different perspectives together.

Enterprise Innovation Institute’s David Bridges Shares Ecosystem Building Best Practices in Slovakia

Rana and Bridges
Gautam Rana, U.S. ambassador to Slovakia (left), stands with Enterprise Innovation Institute at a Fulbright scholars ceremony May 17, 2024. (PHOTO: Courtesy U.S. Embassy)

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Enterprise Innovation Institute Vice President David Bridges spent part of May 2024 in the Slovak Republic, exchanging and sharing ideas for ecosystem building and economic development success with business and academic leaders there.

Bridges’ visit to the Eastern European country was in his role as a member of the U.S. Department of State’s Fulbright Specialist Roster.

As a Fulbright Specialist, Bridges and other U.S. academics and leaders go overseas to meet with organizations and institutions to share their professional expertise with their foreign counterparts. The Specialist program falls under the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and World Learning as part of its Fulbright exchange offerings.

With the Enterprise Innovation Institute being the largest university-based economic development organization in the U.S., Bridges is recognized as an international expert in ecosystem building.

Slovakia is Bridges’ first country visited in his three-year rotation as a Fulbright Specialist.

Slovakia is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe. (mapchart.net)

A country of 5 million, Slovakia has an estimated economic output of $180.205 billion, making it the world’s 71st-largest economy. Though the country boasts high-income, is a major electronics and automobile exporter, and has low unemployment, it ranks low in regional innovation.

Building processes to foster innovation and create ecosystems is what Bridges is working with his Slovakian counterparts to help them do.

“So far, I have met with companies, governments, universities, and non-profits to discuss avenues for further talent and innovation development and deployment,” Bridges said.

He also met with many of the Fulbright Scholars — faculty, post-doctoral candidates, and experts — assigned to lecture and/or conduct research across a wide variety of academic and professional fields in Slovakia. In that capacity Bridges discussed opportunities they had in maximizing their skills and areas of expertise to support ecosystem building in Slovakia.

The Fulbright Scholars were honored May 17, 2024, in a Fulbright Commission Award Ceremony hosted by Gautam Rana, U.S. ambassador to Slovakia.

Those 22 scholars — Americans in Slovakia and Slovakians in the U.S. — spent the past year on academic exchanges in both countries.

“From teaching English to writing poetry, from studying medicine to expanding business opportunities, our Fulbright exchanges strengthen our bilateral relationship, and our graduates join a global community that includes Nobel Prize winners as well as heads of state,” the U.S. Embassy in Slovakia said in a statement.

“This year we will celebrate 30 years of the Fulbright program in Slovakia, which connects people and nations. We can be proud of what our graduates have achieved.”

Nakia Melecio to Lead Innovation Lab Effort at Enterprise Innovation Institute

Headshot off Nakia Melecio.
Nakia Melecio head’s Innovation Lab at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute. (PHOTO: Péralte Paul)

Nakia Melecio, senior research faculty and director of the Center for MedTech Excellence at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, will lead a new effort focused on economic development support for life sciences companies and bioscience commercialization and ecosystem building.

Melecio, who has also served as the deep tech catalyst in the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s ATDC startup incubator, will lead Innovation Lab, which encompasses new business development efforts in life sciences and biosciences. The Innovation Lab initiative centers on three core activities:

  • Grow healthcare research, innovation, and workforce development practice.
  • Expand EI2 Global‘s international footprint.
  • Support VentureLab‘s National Science Foundation I-Corps activities.

“Nakia has been instrumental in helping to expand Georgia’s life sciences community and ecosystem,” said David Bridges, vice president of the Enterprise Innovation Institute, Georgia Tech’s chief economic development arm. “Leading Innovation Lab already builds on a foundation he created since joining us in 2019 and further supports our broad economic development mission.”

He’s already leading in the healthcare research practice expansion with his work in the MedTech Center and running the ScaleUp Lab Program for deep tech innovation.

Under Melecio’s leadership as founding director, the MedTech Center, which has the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership and Global Center for Medical Innovation as partners, has worked with and evaluated the innovations of more than 200 companies. Since launching in 2021, the MedTech Center’s 66 active startups have raised $13.1 million in investment capital and an additional $6.4 million in federal, non-dilutive funding grants.

In 2023, the MedTech Center was selected to join the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health’s ARPA-H Investor Catalyst Hub to accelerate the commercialization of practical, accessible biomedical solutions.

He is supporting Georgia Tech’s efforts to collaborate with Atlanta University Center schools — Spelman College, Clark-Atlanta University, Morehouse College, and the Morehouse School of Medicine — to collaborate with those minority-serving institutions as they build out capacity for their scientists and researchers to create more life sciences technology companies, following an award from the Economic Development Administration.

Similarly, Melecio is working with the University of Alabama at Birmingham on a collaborative project in biologics and medical devices to move more of its researchers’ innovations out of the lab and into commercial markets.

As Innovation Lab lead, Melecio, who has secured more than $5.76 million in federal grants and awards to Georgia Tech, will also work to develop biomanufacturing partnerships for Georgia Tech.

With EI2 Global, the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s program that fosters economic opportunity through collaborations with universities, innovators, governments, and nonprofit organizations worldwide, Melecio will serve as an instructor on Lab-to-Market and CREATE-X programming for entrepreneurs. He will also create and provide educational content for EI2 Global’s university and ecosystem partners.

Closer to home, his Innovation Lab work includes ongoing projects as a principal in VentureLab, a program of Georgia Tech’s Office of Commercialization. In that capacity, he will work on VentureLab’s National Science Foundation-related Innovation Corps (I-Corps) programming. Those efforts, overseen by Commercialization Vice President Raghupathy “Siva” Sivakumar, include the NSF I-Corps Hub Academy, where Melecio will serve as director.

“Our efforts with Innovation Lab are centered around finding new opportunities, new markets, and new industries by leveraging our areas of expertise at the Enterprise Innovation Institute and Georgia Tech to build economic development capacity in the life sciences and biosciences space,” Melecio said.

“We’re looking to take a broader perspective, away from being hyper-focused in one or two niche areas in life sciences, to ensure that we maximize opportunities to support new ideas, build stronger practice areas in this space, and secure funding to bring those innovations to scale.”

Georgia Tech Delegation Advancing Partnerships with India

David Bridges, Bernard Kippelen, Devesh Ranjan, and Shreyes Melkote visiting Raj Ghat in India.

The Georgia Institute of Technology sent a small delegation to India April 8-12 for the purpose of strengthening existing and building new collaborative opportunities in the fields of research, education, and economic development.

The team was comprised of Bernard Kippelen, vice provost for International Initiatives and Steven A. Denning Chair for Global Engagement; Devesh Ranjan, Eugene C. Gwaltney, Jr. School Chair in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering; Shreyes Melkote, Morris M. Bryan Jr. Professor of Mechanical Engineering and executive director of the Novelis Innovation Hub at Georgia Tech; and David Bridges, vice president of the Enterprise Innovation Institute.

Over the course of the week, they met with representatives of the Indian government, leadership at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Mumbai and New Delhi, and an array of private-sector companies ranging from startups to corporations, including the Aditya Birla Group, which is associated with the Birla Institute of Technology and Science at Pilani and Hyderabad and is the parent company of Novelis Inc., which is headquartered in Atlanta.

A number of factors make the country a promising candidate for future collaborative projects with Georgia Tech. Among them are an increase in onshore manufacturing, government education and research strategies that support further development of talent and innovation, a large potential for creation of workforce training programs, and an openness to alliances between business and public interests.

In addition to observing a growth mindset among those they encountered in government, university, and corporate contexts, the Georgia Tech group also noticed an overall receptivity to engagement with top-tier U.S. universities, especially engineering and medical schools.

“Looking at the number of undergraduates coming from India to study in the U.S., I believe it’s the right time to invest in our relationship with India,” said Ranjan. “The growth in the country in the last 10 years is unlike anything I’ve seen before. When the economy goes up, so does the desire for higher education.”

Indeed, higher education was central to the group’s itinerary. For Kippelen, one trip highlight was an “inspiring” visit to New Delhi, where he and fellow Georgia Tech delegates “had a productive time and stimulating discussions” with representatives from India’s Department of Higher Education, the University Grants Commission, and the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India.

Ranjan acknowledged the strong value India places on education and tied that ethos, in part, to the historical influence of Gandhi. “A memorable moment of our trip to India was visiting Raj Ghat, where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated. My colleagues were able to learn more about him and how he pushed kids toward an educated society,” Ranjan said, adding, “Anyone who goes to India usually begins their visit by paying homage to the Father of the Nation.”

Across a range of institutions, the visiting cohort took opportunities to engage with Georgia Tech graduates, who were enthusiastic about strengthening ties to their alma mater and more than willing to facilitate fruitful connections to further the cohort’s discovery mission.

“I was most impressed by the Georgia Tech alumni,” said Bridges, citing “how supportive they were of us coming to India and how committed they were to being part of a successful collaboration. The alumni network there was just phenomenal.”

Melkote especially appreciated the warm welcome extended to the team by government officials and IIT faculty and leadership at the New Delhi and Mumbai campuses, as well as the overall eagerness to establish and further strengthen relationships with Georgia Tech.

He recalled the Georgia Tech cohort’s meetings with the Aditya Birla Group — a $65 billion global conglomerate with a wide range of holdings worldwide — and the leadership of the Birla Institute of Technology and Science at Pilani and Hyderabad, characterizing these encounters as “very enlightening.”

Said Melkote, “It is clear to me that we have a number of opportunities for expanding Georgia Tech’s impact in India through academic, research, and economic development initiatives.”

Jenny Houlroyd Earns Doctor of Public Health Degree


Jenny Houlroyd, CIH, MSPH, DrPH

Jenny Houlroyd, an occupational health group manager for the Safety, Health, and Environmental Services (SHES) Program, successfully defended her dissertation in March 2024 to complete a doctorate in public health (DrPH) from the University of Georgia. Her degree is from the College of Public Health in public health policy and management. Graduation is scheduled for May 10. The SHES program is part of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute.

Prior to joining Georgia Tech in 2005, Houlroyd earned a dual master of science in public health (MSPH) from Emory University, focusing on epidemiology and environmental and occupational health. As a certified industrial hygienist with the OSHA 21(d) Consultation Program, she helps small Georgia businesses ensure that workplaces are hazard-free and workers are protected from potential health threats.

She also serves as faculty for the OSHA Training Institute Education Center (OTIEC) at Georgia Tech and for the professional master’s in Occupational Safety and Health program for the School of Building Construction within the College of Design.

“My dissertation was on respiratory protection,” said Houlroyd. “In health and safety, we follow a hierarchy of controls, and the last layer of defense is personal protective equipment (PPE).”

Respiratory safety ranks consistently among the top ten concerns of OSHA, and Houlroyd conducted a qualitative study focusing on the manufacturing sector. Through the process of exploring elements that might contribute to a worker’s reluctance to wear PPE, she developed what she calls the FACT model, which tracks fit, acceptance of risk, comfort, and type of respirator.

Houlroyd views her doctor of public health degree as an achievement that not only enhances her own skill set but also benefits colleagues and contributes to the greater good. “I’m really hoping that it helps my entire team open doors, to apply for more competitive grants and make connections with other research groups,” she said. “I really see it as essential for our team to have this kind of expertise in-house.”

Those doors are already opening. On May 16, Houlroyd is attending the conference Preventing Silicosis – An Ancient Disease in Modern Times: Silicosis Caused by Artificial Stone in the U.S., hosted by the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at University of California, Los Angeles, where she has been invited to speak on exposure and control technologies. “My doctoral program includes leadership training, and it gave me the confidence to speak up about issues that are important to me,” she said.

“At the Enterprise Innovation Institute, we are committed to making workplaces healthier and safer,” Houlroyd added. “We want people to go home from work to their families in the same or better shape than when they left. My dad got sick with brain cancer from exposure on the job; he died two years ago. I really do see it as a personal mission. We are saving lives.”

David Bridges Receives Fulbright Specialist Award to Slovak Republic at Digital Coalition

David Bridges.

The U.S. Department of State and the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board are pleased to announce that David Bridges, vice president of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, has received a Fulbright Specialist Program award.

Bridges, who was named Fulbright Specialist in February of 2024,  will complete a project at Digital Coalition in Slovak Republic that aims to exchange knowledge and establish partnerships benefiting participants, institutions, and communities both in the U.S. and overseas through a variety of educational and training activities within Public Administration.

Bridges is one of over 400 U.S. citizens who share expertise with host institutions abroad through the Fulbright Specialist Program each year. Recipients of Fulbright Specialist awards are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement, demonstrated leadership in their field, and their potential to foster long-term cooperation between institutions in the U.S. and abroad.

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to build lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The Fulbright Program is funded through an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations, and foundations around the world also provide direct and indirect support to the Program, which operates in over 160 countries worldwide.

Since its establishment in 1946, the Fulbright Program has given more than 400,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists, and scientists the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas, and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.

Fulbrighters address critical global issues in all disciplines, while building relationships, knowledge, and leadership in support of the long-term interests of the United States. Fulbright alumni have achieved distinction in many fields, including 60 who have been awarded the Nobel Prize, 88 who have received Pulitzer Prizes, and 39 who have served as a head of state or government.

For further information about the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State, please visit eca.state.gov/fulbright or contact the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Press Office by telephone 202.632.6452 or e-mail eca-press@state.gov.

Georgia Tech’s Top-ranked Basic Economic Development Course Explores Placemaking

The Georgia Institute of Technology is hosting its 57th annual Basic Economic Development Course (BEDC), an immersive in-person event that explores the multifaceted theme of placemaking, Aug. 26 – 29, 2024, at the Georgia Tech Global Learning Center.

BEDC is presented by Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute in conjunction with the International Economic Development Council (course completion can be applied toward certification) and the Georgia Economic Developers Association.

The Enterprise Innovation Institute is the longest running, most diverse university-based development organization in the U.S. Through the application of Georgia Tech’s world-class research in science, technology, and innovation, it helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers, and communities hone their competitive edge.

Since its founding in the 1880s, Georgia Tech has been committed to promoting economic development in the state of Georgia, and BEDC — which was the nation’s first course of its kind when it debuted in 1967 — continues that longstanding tradition.

Led by the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Center for Economic Development Research, and under the guidance of a collaborative team of economists, city planners, and economic development practitioners, BEDC attendees spend four days participating in interactive workshops, networking with industry professionals, and listening to guest speakers whose expertise spans a range of disciplines.

The course delves into different strategies for fostering local economic development, from crafting effective incentives and creating quality communities to promoting economic recovery and resilience — not to mention navigating all the opportunities and challenges that arise in the process.

In short, there’s a lot more to economic development than simply providing jobs.

“Today’s society is more mobile than ever,” said Alan Durham, a program manager and BEDC course director with the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Center for Economic Development Research.

“Because an increasing number of number of workers are no longer tied to a centralized office location, they are embracing the opportunity to move to farther-flung areas. As a result, quality of life is becoming essential for attracting talent and retaining existing companies. This course trains influential local leaders who can assist their communities in doing exactly that.”

BEDC welcomes enrollees of all experience levels. Whether they are new to economic development or looking expand their existing knowledge base, participants can expect to complete the course armed with an amplified understanding of essential principles — and the skills to put them into practice.

What: Basic Economic Development Course (BEDC)
August 26 – 29, 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. EDT
Global Learning Center, 84 Fifth Street N.W., Atlanta, GA 30308
Presented by: The Georgia Institute of Technology in conjunction with the International Economic Development Council and the Georgia Economic Developers Association
Program director: Alan Durham, 404.660.0241, alan.durham@innovate.gatech.edu
Register: gt-bedc.org
For more information, contact: Krystle Richardson, 404.894.7174, krystle.richardson@innovate.gatech.edu