Georgia Institute of Technology Collaborates with Morehouse College and PRENEURology Global to Boost Minority Innovation in Metro Areas

Initiative is part of a federal push to strengthen entrepreneurship, growth, and sustainability for minority business owners across the Southeast.

 

The Georgia Institute of Technology has partnered with Morehouse College and PRENEURology Global to launch the Southeast Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Business Growth Hub to serve entrepreneurs and innovators in eight southeastern states.

 

The two-year pilot is funded by a $1.4 million cooperative agreement from the U.S. Department of Commerce MBDA to establish a collaborative support network for minority entrepreneurs in the Hub, which, along with Georgia, includes Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

 

The Southeast MBDA Business Growth Hub will be a valuable resource for programs serving minority business enterprises (MBEs). As a pilot effort, it could serve as a model yielding sustainable economic wealth for minority entrepreneurs in other regions of the country. (For more information about the Hub, please visit: businessgrowthhub.gatech.edu.)

 

Led by the Atlanta MBDA Centers at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2), the Southeast MBDA Business Growth Hub will operate virtually and in-person as a regional, blended network of entrepreneur spaces, education pathways, and engagement programs. The Hub will also serve as an access point to corporations, financing, and other government programs. This cohesive, blended network will foster MBE participation in ecosystems. It is designed to overcome the limited participation of minorities in local innovation ecosystems while giving them access to a broader regional network of connections, experiences, and expertise in the eight-state region.

 

The Hub will operate as a collective partnership of the Atlanta MBDA Centers, Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), the Morehouse Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center (MIEC), and PRENEURology Global.

 

Donna Ennis Headshot

Donna M. Ennis, C.P.F., is EI2’s director of diversity engagement and program development.

“The goal of the Hub is to connect the ecosystems throughout the Southeast in a way that will provide greater access for all MBEs and entrepreneurs regardless of the stage of their business,” said Donna M. Ennis, C.P.F, EI2 director of diversity engagement and program development and the Atlanta MBDA Centers. “We realized while there are highly effective ecosystems throughout the Southeast, minority entrepreneurs often struggle with making viable, long-term connections to enable the acceleration of their products and services to the market.”

 

ATDC, Georgia Tech’s statewide technology incubator, will host the MBDA@ATDC to attract technology startups and innovators with diverse backgrounds to the program. “The Hub is designed to enhance the reach of services available to entrepreneurs of color by connecting nodes or services like ours together in a more dynamic way through broader regional connections,” said John Avery, ATDC director. “This gives us an opportunity to enhance ATDC’s presence in communities of color while bringing our access to resources and expertise.”

 

The Morehouse Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center (MIEC) at Morehouse College will help the Hub identify minority-serving institutions (MSIs) — Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other institutions of higher education with predominantly Latino or other minority populations — that have programs and resources aimed at fostering entrepreneurship and building wealth for people of color. “We will form a Southeast cluster of MSI innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystems to connect and stimulate the growth of each MSI, said Tiffany Bussey, DBA, executive director of the MIEC. “This partnership will further help us accelerate entrepreneurship among students and faculty at MSIs.”

 

PRENEURology Global will establish the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Pathways for new relationships within and among MBEs, collective workspaces (traditional and non-traditional hubs), state, regional, and local governments, corporate partners, financing resources, and accelerators/incubators. This approach will create an integrated network of resources to help MBEs grow and scale their businesses. “We’re seeing a lot of business activity in these ecosystems but there is lack of connectivity,” said Le’Kiesha French, CEO of PRENEURology Global, “Our goal is to create more efficiency by eliminating barriers of access to opportunities and resources within the Southeast region for Black, Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) business entrepreneurs so they can experience equitable pathways to starting and growing their businesses.”

 

About the Atlanta MBDA Centers
As part of a national network of over 40 centers and special projects, the Atlanta MBDA Business and Advanced Manufacturing Centers help MBEs access capital, increase profitability, and scale their businesses. Funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce Minority Business Development Agency, the Atlanta MBDA Centers are part of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, the nation’s largest and most comprehensive university-based program of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization, and economic development. To learn more, visit mbdabusinesscenter-atlanta.org.

 

About the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC)
The Advanced Technology Development Center at Georgia Tech is a startup incubator that helps technology entrepreneurs in Georgia launch and grow successful companies. ATDC is one of the oldest and most successful research university-affiliated incubators in the United States and was named by Forbes as one of the “Top 12 Business Incubators Changing the World.” Founded in 1980, ATDC has fostered innovation and economic development by graduating more than 150 companies, which together have raised over $2 billion in outside financing. To learn more about ATDC, visit atdc.org.

 

About Morehouse Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center (MIEC)
MIEC is a global model for higher education and industry collaborations to foster innovation and entrepreneurial leadership by promoting local and regional economic growth and development with people of color on and off-campus. The Center was established as a unit of Morehouse College in 2004 and has secured grants and contracts worth more than $20 million, impacted over 2,100 students, partnered with more than 17 large mentoring corporations, and assisted over 120 technology growth companies nationwide. The MIEC also serves as the lead institution in the JP Morgan Chase Small Business Forward Ascend Atlanta program, where it has accelerated 80+ minority tech startups over the past three years and helped them raise more than $5.5 million in funding. Visitmcecenter.com for more details.

 

About PRENEURology Global
As a Social Enterprise serving entrepreneurs around the world, PRENEURology Global has worked with organizations, educational institutions, corporations, and government agencies across the globe for more than 15 years, to support emerging innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystems through a human-centered approach. With its team of bilingual professionals (English and Spanish), PRENEURology revolutionizes mindsets within communities at risk by empowering people with tools for innovation and economic growth. For more information, visit preneurology.org.

Donna Ennis Named EI2 Director of Diversity Engagement and Program Development

Donna Ennis Headshot

Donna M. Ennis, C.P.F., is EI2‘s director of diversity engagement and program development.

The Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2), the Georgia Institute of Technology’s chief economic development and growth arm, has named Donna M. Ennis, C.P.F., director of diversity engagement and program development.

 

In this new role, Ennis will lead efforts to find funding and program opportunities, particularly those with a focus on underrepresented and underserved communities and organizations. As part of her responsibilities, Ennis will ensure that diversity and inclusion are part of each EI2 program’s mission.

 

Ennis, who also serves as director of the Atlanta Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Business and Advanced Manufacturing centers, has been with Georgia Tech since 1992. Under her leadership, the two centers have assisted client companies secure more than $3.5 billion in contracts, financing, and sales and create or save more than 6,000 jobs.

 

“I’m really encouraged and pleased with the development of this new role,” Ennis said. “It signals that Georgia Tech is committed to ensuring that diversity and inclusion are  central to its mission and that of the Enterprise Innovation Institute.”

 

Comprised of 11 programs, including the two Atlanta MBDA centers, EI2 is the oldest, largest, and most diverse university-based economic development and economic growth organization. With a history that spans more than 60 years, EI2 has expanded to serve innovative enterprises of all sizes in Georgia and beyond.

 

EI2’s client portfolio includes pre-company, technology-focused entrepreneurs, startups, and existing businesses, as well as communities, governments, universities, and nonprofit organizations.

 

“We have a wide variety of clients and focus areas from manufacturers and startups, to universities and minority-owned firms to municipal governments. Diversity and inclusion efforts need to be an integral part of our outreach, not only in terms of the types of clients we serve, but also in leveraging EI2’s resources toward bringing more diverse business relationships to Georgia Tech as a whole,” said David Bridges, EI2 interim vice president. “This furthers our overall economic development mission and mandate to serve all of Georgia and ensures we are reaching out to all of its communities.”

 

For example, the U.S. Department of Commerce MBDA recently awarded EI2 a grant to launch the Southeast MBDA Inner City Innovation Hub. This initiative includes the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), the EI2 program that serves as the state of Georgia’s technology incubator. “With ATDC serving as one of the major partners in the Hub, we now have two ATDC startup catalysts who are focused on ensuring that the minority business community is more engaged in ATDC,” Ennis said.

 

She stressed the diversity and inclusion discussion is broader than race and gender. “It’s inclusive of people from rural Georgia, veterans, older citizens, the disabled, and members of the LGBT community, among others,” she said. It’s developing a culture where everyone is not only included but more importantly, are welcomed and feel like they belong.”

 

One of Ennis’ current projects is participating in Tech’s Diversity and Inclusion in Procurement Working Group. “Initiatives like these are examples of the commitment Georgia Tech has made to diversity and inclusion in all areas of the Institute,” Ennis said.

 

“As a leading higher education research institute, Georgia Tech has ensured that diversity and inclusion are part of it strategic mission. And as an employee who has seen Georgia Tech evolve in many ways over my 30-year career here, I must admit that it’s a really exciting time.”

Ready for the Smart(er) City: How Community Improvement Districts (CIDs) are Building the Future

Malaika Rivers (left) is a partner with Lexicon Strategies. Debra Lam is managing director of Smart Cities and Inclusive Innovation at Georgia Tech. They are co-authors of a report on CIDs called “Ready for the Smart(er) City: How Community Improvement Districts (CIDs) are Building the Future.”

A comprehensive report by the Georgia Institute of Technology and Lexicon Strategies shows CIDs are an important economic growth tool.

 

Community Improvement Districts, or CIDs, are best known for being mechanisms commercial property owners and local governments use to beautify streetscapes or support infrastructure projects.

 

But a new, comprehensive analysis of their use in Georgia finds CIDs have had significant impact in leveraging dollars and driving growth. The report was produced by the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Smart Cities and Inclusive Innovation program and its Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development, in partnership with Lexicon Strategies. [Read the full report here: cidreport.com]

 

Since the 1980s CIDs have become a competitive necessity in the growth of commercial centers and submarkets, the report’s authors said.

 

“CIDs are now driving major infrastructure projects and providing community enhancements that are traditionally the purview of local government,” said Malaika Rivers, a partner at Lexicon Strategies, and a co-author of the report. “But because CIDs are so effective at attracting additional resources, the commercial real estate owners and investors get more effective ways to manage and deliver projects and services important to their businesses.”

 

This report, which analyzed CID usage in metro Atlanta, marks the first time they have been evaluated for economic impact and ability to drive innovation. It also establishes a framework for comparing CIDs, a previously difficult task due to significant differences across the metro region.

 

Among the report’s key findings:

  • Between 2005 and 2020, the number of CIDs in Georgia doubled to 34, with the most common driver being to attract funding and investment.
  • On average, every $1 spent by a CID generated $5 in outside funding.
  • Collectively, CIDs represented more than $16 billion in assessed value in 2019 and about $41 billion in fair market value.
  • CIDs are growing; about 89 percent of Georgia’s CIDs report plans to expand project and service offerings.
  • The public sector is playing a larger role in CID formation, accounting for nearly 60 percent of the ones created between 2010 and 2020.

“Our findings show that Community Improvement Districts are not only crucial for traditional infrastructure, but also to the advancement of smart cities applications on future infrastructure,” said Debra Lam, co-author and director of the Smart Cities and Inclusive Innovation (SCI2) program at Georgia Tech. SCI2’s mission is to develop innovative approaches to help build resilient and sustainable communities. It is an offering of the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation, a public-private collaborative effort that launched in 2020 to lead coordinated, statewide efforts to position Georgia as the technology capital of the East Coast.

 

With nearly three dozen CIDs currently in operation in metro Atlanta, Lam said they lay the foundation for a thriving environment that supports a host of CID organizational models in a wide variety of commercial product types, from Class-A office to dense industrial centers.

 

“CIDs are and will continue to be a driving force in innovation,” Lam said.

T-Mobile, Georgia Tech, and Curiosity Lab Team Up to Fuel 5G Innovation in Drones, Autonomous Vehicles, Robotics, and More

New 5G Connected Future incubator program will support growth and development of 5G entrepreneurs and startups.

 

Outside picture of Curiosity Lab at Peachtree Corners

Curiosity Labs at Peachtree Corners is home to the 5G Connected Future incubator that will be managed by Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC).

The new 5G incubator is located in the city of Peachtree Corners’ 500-acre smart city technology park, a living lab powered by T-Mobile 5G where more than 8,000 people live or work. The facility features a 25,000 square foot Innovation Center and 3-mile autonomous vehicle test track. T-Mobile has deployed its Extended Range 5G and Ultra Capacity 5G network across the park enabling developers to build solutions in a real-world environment. Here developers will build and test new 5G use cases such as autonomous vehicles, robotics, industrial drone applications, mixed reality training and entertainment, remote medical care, personal health and fitness wearables, and more.

 

“What a match-up! America’s leading 5G network, the brilliant minds of Georgia Tech and the most advanced living lab in the country — now that’s a powerhouse combination,” said John Saw, EVP of Advanced & Emerging Technologies at T-Mobile. “We cannot wait to see the innovation that occurs as entrepreneurs and developers build the next big thing in 5G backed by these world-class resources.”

 

Hedshot of ATDC Director John Avery

John Avery is director of ATDC.

The new incubator, managed in collaboration with Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), is an expansion of the T-Mobile Accelerator and part of the Un-carrier’s efforts to fuel 5G innovation. T-Mobile supports numerous initiatives to help startups and entrepreneurs develop, test and bring to market groundbreaking new 5G products and services. T-Mobile Accelerator is an award-winning program founded in 2014 that originated in the smart city corridor of Kansas City.

Companies participating in the 5G Connected Future program will work directly with technology and business leaders at T-Mobile Accelerator, Georgia Tech, and Curiosity Lab as they build, test and bring to market new products and services that unleash the potential of T-Mobile 5G. ATDC is a globally recognized technology incubator. The 5G Connected Future vertical is the fourth of its kind at ATDC and follows other targeted programs in health, retail and financial technologies.

 

“In addition to the normal startup concerns, entrepreneurs in the 5G space face a unique set of challenges such as regulatory issues at the state and local levels, network security, and integration testing,” said ATDC Director John Avery.

 

Betsy Plattenburg

Betsy Plattenberg is executive director of Curiosity Lab.

ATDC brings a unique framework that combines its startup curriculum, coaching, connections, and community, as well as direct access to Georgia Tech resources, research expertise, and student talent, to help entrepreneurs learn, launch, scale, and succeed. In this effort, ATDC will offer programing, recruit and evaluate startups, and hire staff to manage the vertical in Peachtree Corners.

 

“This collaboration is a great opportunity for ATDC and Georgia Tech, the city of Peachtree Corners and Curiosity Lab, and T-Mobile, a Fortune 50 company, to create a unique collection to work with these companies, refine their ideas into scalable companies, and bring these solutions to market more quickly,” Avery said.

 

Such a partnership underscores “Georgia Tech’s commitment to enabling tomorrow’s technology leaders, which remains as strong as when ATDC was founded 41 years ago,” said Chaouki T. Abdallah, Georgia Tech’s executive vice president for research. “Innovation cannot take place in a vacuum, which is why entrepreneurs and startups require the knowledge and resources provided through partnerships such as ours.”

 

“The City of Peachtree Corners and Curiosity Lab continue to affirm our commitment to technology innovation through programs, partnerships and engagements with industry leaders such as T-Mobile and Georgia Tech,” said Betsy Plattenburg, executive director of Curiosity Lab. “These two organizations were instrumental in the launch of Curiosity Lab and our continued collaboration will create opportunities for the next-generation of intelligent mobility and smart city entrepreneurs.”

 

T-Mobile 5G, A Platform for Innovation
T-Mobile is America’s 5G leader, with the fastest and largest nationwide 5G network. T-Mobile’s Extended Range 5G covers more than 280 million people across nearly 1.6 million square miles – more geographic coverage than AT&T and Verizon combined. With Sprint now part of T-Mobile, the Un-carrier is widening its lead, using dedicated spectrum to bring customers with capable devices download speeds of around 300 Mbps and peak speeds up to 1 Gbps.

 

With its supercharged 5G network as the foundation, T-Mobile is working to fuel 5G innovation and build the 5G ecosystem. The Un-carrier collaborates with universities and standards bodies to support 5G research and development.  In addition to running the award-winning T-Mobile Accelerator, it also operates the T-Mobile Ventures investment fund and is a co-founder of the 5G Open Innovation Lab.

 

Startups interested in joining the 5G Connected Future program can apply here.

NSF Awards Georgia Tech Researchers with $100K in Civic Innovation Challenge Grants

National Science Foundation-funded competition supports ready-to-implement, research-based pilot projects
with high potential for scalable, sustainable, and transferable impact on community-identified priorities.

 

Two professors at the Georgia Institute of Technology have each been awarded Civic Innovation Challenge Stage 1 grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to further their research in bringing solutions to community problems.

 

The $50,000 grants, which in addition to the NSF, are funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. They were awarded in conjunction with the MetroLab Network, a global consortium that includes 28 cities, 6 counties, and 35 universities — including Georgia Tech, a founding member — focused on civic research and innovation.

 

The two Tech recipients are Pascal Van Hentenryck, the A. Russell Chandler III Chair and Professor in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE) and Allen Hyde, assistant professor of sociology at the School of History and Sociology in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts.

 

Both researchers’ projects are part of Georgia Tech’s Smart Cities and Inclusive Innovation program, which aims to develop innovative approaches to help build resilient and sustainable communities.

 

“This is an important recognition for our researchers and how Georgia Tech is a leader in incorporating innovation in solving community-level challenges,” said Debra Lam, Smart Cities and Inclusive Innovation executive director. “To have two of our projects awarded grants in the two competition categories — communities and mobility, and resilience to natural disasters, underscores the work we are doing has real-world potential to bring quality solutions to some of our most pressing community issues.”

 

Pascal Van Hentenryck is the A. Russell Chandler III Chair and professor in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Georgia Tech.

Van Hentenryck, who also is associate chair for innovation and entrepreneurship at Georgia Tech, leads the Social Aware Mobility project. Its goal is to increase usage of mass transit systems in metro areas such as Atlanta, by focusing on solutions at the biggest pain points for transit users: the portion of the trips to and from transit stations.

 

“Transit is very important and giving people greater mobility options is critical for access to job centers and health care,” Van Hentenryck said, explaining the grant will be used to fund the implementation of pilot studies in Gwinnett County and the city of Smyrna.

 

“Gwinnett County has a very good transit system but it’s also a very large area to cover. The Social Aware Mobility effort is looking at bringing two solutions to the transit challenge,” he said, adding his team’s findings could have broader implications for mass transit systems and planning globally. “The first is getting people to the buses and trains, which have fixed routes, through service options like on-demand shuttles that address the first-leg and last-leg portions of trips.”

 

Those on-demand shuttles would be flexible both in time and availability and in routes to complement mass transit systems that have fixed routes and schedules. That flexibility would also allow for synchronization of legacy transit systems with those on-demand service options.

 

The second focus of the Social Aware Mobility project is the development of dynamic pricing algorithms and the implementation of a network of dedicated bus lanes for mass transit commuters. The idea is that those lanes would not be congested at peak travel times — morning and evening rush hour, for example — to keep mass transit as a viable and desirable option to idling in cars on traffic-choked roadways.

 

Allen Hyde is an assistant professor of sociology at the School of History and Sociology in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts at Georgia Tech.

Hyde, the sociology professor and other grant principal investigator, is part of a team of professors and grad students from Georgia Tech and Savannah State University. The researchers are working with Harambee House, a non-profit environmental justice organization, and city of Savannah’s Office of Sustainability.

 

Their work will study the social and physical vulnerabilities of coastal communities — in this case, Savannah, Georgia — and how environmental disasters, such as flooding and hurricanes, affect those communities’ ability to rebound and be resilient.

 

But a community’s ability to rebound also depends on local policies and practices and implementation, Hyde said. And in historically marginalized communities, such as Savannah’s Hudson Hill area, a working class, predominantly Black neighborhood, there may not be adequate resources to help them recover fully. Hudson Hill is adjacent to the Savannah ports and historically has had environmental concerns related to port activity, challenges with public infrastructure and healthcare, and a lack of job opportunities, which exacerbate the effects of disasters.

 

“When we think about resilience, whether it’s after a disaster or another event, a lot of the discussion is framed around telling people to just be more resilient,” Hyde said. “But when we think about historically marginalized communities, we’re not often considering what it is that they feel that they need to be resilient to, what does resilience look like for them in their terms, and do they want to return to the way things were?” The researchers intend to use a community-based participatory research model to engage residents as local knowledge experts and co-producers of data and solutions to answer some of these questions.

 

The discussion around resiliency is often framed as people and communities affected by a disaster returning to a pre-disaster state. “But these communities may not want to return to where things were before,” Hyde said. “They may want to bounce forward into a more thriving, instead of surviving, status.”

 

“We’re working to understand what resilience and vulnerability to disasters means for residents in historically marginalized communities. We also hope to understand how we can further develop social networks because we believe these communities are already resilient, but networks can enhance the resilience that already exists there,” Hyde said. The teams’ research model and developing tailored solutions to the Hudson Hill community may have applications in other areas across the country that have their own unique sets of challenges to disasters, including towns on the U.S.-Mexico border and Native American communities.

 

“Here on the Georgia coast, people do care about hurricanes and about flooding,” Hyde said. “But you can’t just think about disasters in isolation without the context. From a community standpoint, you have to think about the historical challenges that these communities face. You really have to think about the bigger picture. Further, residents should be treated as local knowledge experts, and their voices should be heard and valued in planning before and after disasters.”

Georgia Tech’s Economic Development Research Program Selects City of Woodbury for Revitalization Initiative

Three-month project to help city develop, plan short and long-term economic development goals for job growth, downtown revitalization.

 

Main Street, Woodbury, Georgia’s primary commercial strip. (Photo Credit: City of Woodbury)

The Economic Development Research Program (EDRP) at the Georgia Institute of Technology is working with Woodbury, a community in West Georgia’s Meriwether County, under an agreement to help a coalition of civic and business leaders develop a strategic assessment plan to guide the city’s economic development efforts.

 

The strategic assessment process includes an analysis of the community, starting with interviews with local and regional stakeholders. The completed assessment will also provide guidance on historic preservation as the city and local downtown development authority pursue redevelopment projects in some of Woodbury’s historic buildings in the central business district.

 

The project began in May 2020 and take three months to complete.

 

“The idea is by pursuing strategic redevelopment projects that make sense for Woodbury and leverage its assets, that will spur small business and job growth in downtown,” said Candace McKie, an EDRP project manager. “One of Woodbury’s strengths is that it is attractive to people seeking a slower pace of life in a community that offers the benefits akin to being in a big city.”

 

The assessment’s findings will help define Woodbury’s strengths and weaknesses and provide a preliminary vision to guide the city on attainable, effective actions to reach its short and long-term economic development goals. The strategic assessment will also aid Woodbury as it prepares its application for a Rural Zone designation by Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs.

 

Located in Meriwether County’s southeastern quadrant, Woodbury sits within the Three Rivers Regional Commission area, a 10-county body that provides a number of services, including aging programs, workforce development, transportation, and local/regional planning.

 

Woodbury — which is a little more than two square miles in area and home to about 900 residents —  is an hour’s drive south from Atlanta. Incorporated as a city in 1913, Woodbury’s downtown has a rich history. The community has statewide appeal, drawing tourists seeking rare antique finds, as well as outdoors enthusiasts who participate in waterfront recreational activities on the Flint River, located just a short trip to the east. Designated a “Broadband Ready” community by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA), the city recently installed 1G internet service throughout the downtown area.

 

Steve Ledbetter is mayor of Woodbury, Georgia. (Photo Credit: City of Woodbury)

Even with Woodbury’s cultural and natural amenities, local officials say the city is ripe for revitalization. That is why the city sought to capitalize on its historic assets and redevelop the downtown and submitted an application to the EDRP.

 

“Partnering with Georgia Tech to complete our Strategic Priorities Assessment for our community has highlighted our community’s sense of pride and ownership,” said Woodbury Mayor Steve Ledbetter.  Collectively, we can make a difference.  We can revive our downtown, bring new businesses into our community, and show our Georgia pride in Woodbury. We’re excited about this opportunity and look forward to implementing the plan developed through the EDRP program.”

 

Funded through a U.S. Economic Development Administration University Center grant, EDRP serves rural and economically distressed communities in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, and Tennessee.

 

Powered by Georgia Tech’s Center for Economic Development Research (CEDR), EDRP leverages Tech’s assets to help communities engineer economic development success through affordable, in-depth research.

 

Communities that apply for a research grant have to commit local funds, based on ability to pay.  That local funding maximizes resources and ensures community involvement through all research project phases. Some recent EDRP studies include projects in Walker, Grady, and Liberty counties.

 

About the Economic Development Research Program (EDRP)
EDRP is Georgia Tech’s signature program for providing affordable economic development research and analysis capacity for communities that need it the most.  EDRP is funded through the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s University Center grant program (Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute is a designated EDA University Center).  EDRP is available to eligible communities across eight southeastern U.S. states. To learn more, visit cedr.gatech.edu/edrp.

Georgia Tech EDA University Center Study Leads to Federal Grant for Valdosta Business Incubator

Downtown Valdosta

Valdosta, Georgia.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced the department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) awarded a $2.5 million grant to the Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce to fund the construction of a new business incubator in that South Georgia community. The EDA grant, to be located in a Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Opportunity Zone, will be matched with $1.7 million in local funds.

 

It is expected to help create up to 81 jobs and generate $9.7 million in private investment.

 

“The Trump Administration is committed to the resilience of local economies by encouraging companies to grow in designated opportunity zones,” Ross said in a statement. “I look forward to seeing how the new Valdosta Area Business Incubator will help a wide variety of businesses prosper in the region.”

 

The announcement follows a four-month analysis conducted by the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) University Center in 2015 and 2016.

 

Funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, these university centers marshal the resources found in colleges and universities to support regional economic development strategies in areas facing chronic and acute economic distress.

 

The Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce contracted with Tech’s EDA University Center to conduct a community readiness assessment as the first step in pursuing its goal of a sustainable business incubation program. The chamber paid for a portion of the analysis and the Georgia Tech EDA University Center covered the remainder.

 

Business incubation provides entrepreneurs with an array of targeted business support resources and services in an effort to accelerate the successful development of startup companies.

 

But the development of a business incubation program requires a detailed plan of action that identifies the critical resources needed for success, provides a blueprint for its management, staffing, and how it will be funded and operated.

 

During the October 2015 – January 2016 timeframe, the Georgia Tech team conducted primary and secondary research to address three core areas of incubation strategy development: entrepreneurship and innovation, community and stakeholder support and resources and capabilities.

 

“We concluded that there was a demand and justification for a business incubation program and that the community should move forward with plans to develop it,” said Juli Golemi, senior project manager with Tech’s EDA University Center. “We provided the chamber with an analysis of the state of the ecosystem and identified several strategic initiatives for the organization to pursue to develop it.”

 

Golemi and her team identified 19 components, including strong and increasing entrepreneurial activity, existing infrastructure, academic institutions, and Moody Air Force Base, that made the idea a viable one.

 

The U.S. Commerce Department’s funding announcement covers a designated Opportunity Zone, as designated by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 to spur economic development by giving tax incentives to investors in economically-distressed communities nationwide.

 

The project was made possible by the regional planning efforts led by the Southern Georgia Regional Commission (SGRC). EDA funds the SGRC to bring together the public and private sectors to create an economic development roadmap to strengthen the regional economy, support private capital investment, and create jobs.

 

Georgia Tech has been an EDA award recipient since the program’s inception in the 1980s — the only institute of higher learning with that distinction.

 

Tech’s EDA University Center’s mission is to support and lead activities designed to promote job creation, the development of high-skilled regional talent pools, business expansion in innovation clusters, and to create and nurture regional economic ecosystems in Georgia. In addition, the center conducts technology-related economic and policy research that will enhance Georgia’s competitive position.

 

In fiscal year 2019, Tech’s EDA University Center’s work helped save or create 38 jobs and led to private sector investment of $5.8 million in Georgia.

 

The Georgia Tech EDA University Center is a program of the Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2), which is Tech’s economic development and outreach arm.

Gov. Kemp taps Center for Economic Development Research director for coronavirus task force

Alfie Meek is an economist and director of the Center for Economic Development Research at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute. (Photo: Jennifer Stalcup)

Looking to anticipate and blunt the effects of the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic on Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp has convened a coronavirus task force that looks at the economic, health, emergency response and preparedness, and housing implications of the deadly disease.

 

The 66-member task force is comprised of four subcommittees, including one focused on economic impact. That subcommittee includes Alfie Meek, economist and director of the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Center for Economic Development Research (CEDR) at Georgia Tech.

 

“The role of the Economic Impact Subcommittee is to help predict the economic effects on the state of Georgia from COVID19 and make recommendations,” Meek said. “We‘re also being asked to brainstorm policies that might be implemented to help ease the economic pain from this event.”

 

Meek has more than 25 years of experience in economic/fiscal impact analysis and community-based research. He leads the five-member CEDR staff, which works with its clients — economic developers, community leaders, and industry — to help them understand the opportunities and challenges in fostering local and regional economic development.

 

Meek is one of three economists selected to serve on the governor’s task force subcommittee. The others are Jeffrey Dorfman, the state fiscal economist who is the subcommittee chairman, and Thomas Cunningham the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s chief economist.

 

The full subcommittee met for the first time on March 19 in a virtual conference call.

 

“One clear goal is to represent the many different facets of Georgia’s economy that we think will be economically vulnerable at this time,” Meek said.

 

In addition to Dorfman, Cunningham, and Meek, the Economic Impact Subcommittee members include:

  • Allan Adams, State Director UGA Small Business Development Center
  • Nick Ayers, Managing Partner AFH Capital
  • Will Bentley, Georgia Agribusiness Council
  • Donna Bowman, Office of the State Treasurer
  • Labor Commissioner Mark Butler
  • Peter Carter, Delta Air Lines Chief Legal Officer (and Chair, Metro Chamber)
  • Bill Douglas, Athens First Bank & Trust
  • Georgia State Sen. Frank Ginn
  • Walter Kemmsies, economic consultant to Georgia Ports Authority
  • Steve McCoy, Chief Investment Officer, Office of the State Treasurer
  • Richard McPhail, Chief Financial Officer, Home Depot
  • Georgia House Rep. Clay Pirkle
  • Joe W. Rogers, III, Waffle House
  • Jessica Simmons, Department of Revenue Deputy Commissioner
  • Jim Sprouse, Executive Director Georgia Hotel and Lodging Association
  • Will Wade, Georgia Student Finance Commission

I-Corps South trains Irish researchers in entrepreneurship workshop

I-Corps South Program Manager Melissa Heffner leads a customer discovery workshop with a group of Irish researchers and entrepreneurs. (Photo by: Sara Henderson)

I-Corps South program team members recently traveled to the Republic of Ireland as part of a two-day training curriculum to prepare 24 Irish teams for a year-long program focused on supporting ideas and technologies that address societal challenges.

 

Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) invited the I-Corps South team to Dublin to explain how to develop a mission model and how to engage in meaningful and objective customer discovery. It’s the second consecutive year that SFI has invited the I-Corps South staff to lead this workshop.

 

A program of the Enterprise Innovation Institute, Georgia Tech’s economic development arm, I-Corps South is a node of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Innovation Corps initiative.

 

The NSF’s I-Corps program — a boot camp that shows what it’s like to form a startup — helps NSF-funded researchers learn how to commercialize their findings and determine if a market actually exists for what they developed.

 

I-Corps South provides evidence-based entrepreneurship education and support to commercialize startups, as well as training, resources, and an active network to regional research universities across the Southeast and the U.S. island territory of Puerto Rico.

 

“SFI is currently working to build out its evidenced-based entrepreneurship programming,” said Sara Henderson, I-Corps South program designer. “They are basing their programs on the lean startup methodology and sought out our team to help them train their teams, given our experience in teaching the methodology to students and faculty across the Southeast and at NSF I-Corps Teams Cohorts.”

 

I-Corps South Executive Director Keith McGreggor explains the loss aversion bias theory and how it applies to entrepreneurs. (Photo by: Sara Henderson)

The I-Corps South team — Executive Director Keith McGreggor, Program Manager Melissa Heffner, and Henderson — worked with the Irish teams, which were all focused on various aspects of artificial intelligence (AI) or zero emissions for societal good.

 

Among some of the project ideas:

  • AI for fetal wellbeing
  • Non-surgical treatment for lung cancer using AI
  • Creating a carbon-neutral resilient dairy farm
  • Hybrid bio-solar reactors for wastewater treatment and carbon dioxide recycling

 

“It was a great experience and the teams were all focused on projects that have potential to effect positive societal change,” Henderson said.

 

In addition to the Mission Model Canvas and stakeholder discovery training they received from I-Corps South, the Irish teams also received coaching on the Theory of Change from Social Innovation Fund Ireland.

 

Sara Henderson, I-Corps South program designer, discusses the service blueprint methodology, a model for using operational efficiency to diagnose problems. (Photo by: Melissa Heffner)

“Several of the teams will be filtered out at the end of March after the first phase of the program, which is focused on them conducting rapid stakeholder and beneficiary research,” Henderson said. “The remaining teams will advance to the next phase and will support their projects with additional research and work on their solutions through the end of 2020.”

 

SFI and NSF have an agreement in place allowing SFI to send teams to the I-Corps Teams program.

 

In the last couple of years, SFI has leveraged Georgia Tech for I-Corps training for their teams and Tech has led similar sessions for the Centers for Disease Control. The government of Mexico in 2018, through its National Council on Science and Technology (CONACYT), sent more than a dozen university-based instructors to Tech to learn the fundamentals of entrepreneurship and how to build and maintain such programs at their schools.

For the state’s food manufacturers, a Georgia Tech partnership is the secret ingredient to growth

Just add engineers to the mix.

 

Damon Nix inside the facilities of Project Open Hand, which prepares and delivers 4,500 freshly meals a day to seniors and people with chronic diseases. GaMEP helped the nonprofit reduce the time it takes to find and prep a meal in their cooler from 45 minutes to 1 minute.

By Michael Baxter

You would expect a building where vinegar is made to have a sour smell, highly pungent, perhaps with a whiff of apple. World Technology Ingredients (WTI) smells nothing like this. Their manufacturing facility, off a county two-lane in Jefferson, Georgia, has a vaguely mineral aroma. More dry than dank, and not altogether unpleasant.

 

Maybe that’s because the vinegar made here isn’t destined for grocery store shelves, but for food preservation. It’s called buffered vinegar, an all-natural additive that protects meats and other products from microbes. WTI makes a lot of this vinegar, more than they used to in fact, and that’s partly because of Damon Nix.

 

On this Friday afternoon, Nix is taking a visitor through WTI’s plant, pointing out its sectors and stations. Here’s the wet vinegar, seven titanic tanks and even more smaller ones, emitting a hiss-and-motor chorus of mechanized blending. Over here’s the powdered version, mixed in towering contraptions on chalky floors (that will later be cleaned), then heated, blended and bagged.

 

Nix stops at a white board with dry-erase markings that tell another story of what’s going on inside the plant — one of continuous improvement. Sketched out are five days of the work week, four areas of focus (safety, performance, schedule, issues) and an assortment of metrics. One of WTI’s workers happens by, and after glancing at the white board, Nix congratulates him.

 

“I think y’all are doing great,” he says. “These are good numbers.”

 

Nix doesn’t work for WTI. He’s an industry manager for the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership, or GaMEP, a Georgia Tech-based, engineering-centric program that helps small and mid-sized manufacturing companies in the state perform better. As the partnership’s food and beverage point person, Nix applies his industrial engineering education from Tech to help manufacturers up their game and lower their costs.

 

“What I really do is facilitate problem solving,” says Nix (B.S., ISyE, ’01). He is careful to emphasize the facilitation part. He doesn’t arrive as the dreaded efficiency expert, handing down mandates and new processes to those on the floor. Rather, he operates as the quintessential engineer — conducting research, listening to people, and fostering ownership of change. When he introduces new knowledge, such as time-tested principles of lean manufacturing and quality control, it’s more as a coach guiding a player who’s motivated to improve.

 

“In organizations that really succeed, teams are empowered by top management,” he says. “The team has to own the process. I could go to a meeting and offer a bunch of ideas, but half of them wouldn’t be nearly as good as what people inside the company put forward and act on.”

 

Rise of an engineering partnership

 

Georgia Tech has been in the game of helping small and mid-sized manufacturers for a long time. A century ago, the idea of creating an engineering counterpart to America’s agricultural experiment stations was being debated in Congress. But the Georgia General Assembly didn’t wait for the debate to conclude — it voted in 1919 to launch an “engineering experiment station” (EES) at Georgia Tech.

 

Curiously, lawmakers didn’t fund the new enterprise. It wasn’t until 1934, midway through the Great Depression, that EES got its first state allocation of $5,000 and was assigned an acting director, Harry Vaughn, who described the experiment station as “Georgia’s first agency designed to aid in a comprehensive development of industry.”

 

In 1960, the General Assembly ratcheted up Georgia Tech’s assistance to industry, passing a bill to form an Industrial Extension Service as part of the earlier EES. That authorized Georgia Tech to create field offices around the state to provide “technical advice and assistance to local development groups and to establish(ed) business and industry.” The new service was the forerunner of today’s GaMEP. The partnership sharpened its focus on manufacturing in 1988 after Congress passed a national program, the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership. The Industrial Extension Service was later designated GaMEP as one of 70 MEP affiliates. (EES, by the way, later became GTRI, the Georgia Tech Research Institute.)

 

GaMEP, which turns 60 next year, is today housed inside Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute — a good fit, given its economic development focus. With 10 offices throughout Georgia, it now has a solid track record of helping small and mid-sized manufacturers grow. One of these is Dalton-based Precision Products, which manufactures a wide range of parts to order and has achieve two crucial ISO certifications that opened the door to new customers and industries. Sales grew by more than $3.5 million. And Goldens’ Foundry and Machine Co., a 130-year-old enterprise, wanted to strengthen employee communication and problem solving. GaMEP helped them introduce a management system designed to bring company conversations to the plant floor and improve information flow.

 

Packaging insight into food processing

 

One area historically underserved by GaMEP is the food and beverage industry. “It’s the state’s top manufacturing sector,” Nix says, “yet it had not been our number one customer.” So, in 2016, he was assigned to develop an initiative to broaden and deepen partnerships with businesses in the industry.

 

Driving much of the food and beverage industry’s growth in Georgia are companies of 50 or fewer employees. These are the makers of local craft beers, hometown jellies and artisan mustards. Nix says about eight of 10 food processing companies fit that size profile, though they are dwarfed in sales by the other 20 percent, the larger manufacturers.

 

So he developed a market analysis and concluded that super-sizing a commitment to food and beverage would be a good fit. The demand was there, too. Food processing employs nearly 70,000 Georgians and accounts for $12 billion of the state’s GDP every year, according to a 2016 report from Georgia Power. Since GaMEP stepped up efforts to serve the industry in 2017, the average number of projects with food and beverage companies more than doubled, from 20 to 45.

 

When asked to describe the greatest problems facing these manufacturers, Nix quickly cites compliance with safety regulations, which, to a small food business, run from complex to bewildering. “If you’re in a business of 10 to 20 people, you may not have a food scientist on staff,” he says. “So, you’ve got to figure out compliance on your own, or else bring in consultants.”

 

Safety, he notes, is more than just following protocols in production. It involves attending to details in reporting and paperwork, all the way down to the product label. Nix shares the cautionary tale of an Oregon maker of seasonings that neglected to include hazelnuts in its list of ingredients on the label. “Of course, nut allergies are a huge issue,” he says. “That one mistake could have ruined their entire product distribution. The damage to the brand, and the cost of bringing back the brand, is so significant.”

 

While GaMEP knew it could help food companies in an array of ways — from process management to energy usage to business growth — leaders found they had a gap in food science expertise. Food science determines the safety profile of every jar, tin, box and bag of product. So they brought in a food manufacturing safety whiz, Wendy White, who had experience overseeing a portfolio of food products. White is now leading a new GaMEP program on safety, funded by a three-year grant totaling nearly $1 million.

 

For the ingredients company WTI, the primary challenge has not been safety but improving processes and efficiency. When asked what impact he’s seen from GaMEP’s help, Stephan Georg, the company’s director of strategic sourcing, recounts a conversation between a shift foreman and consultant in front of one of the Gemba white boards.

 

“The foreman said the plan was to make two batches of a product,” Georg says, “but the consultant answered, ‘Well, I think you can do five batches. The foreman thought that was unrealistic. So we brought in Georgia Tech, and the first thing Damon does is conduct time studies. It gave us that baseline information we needed. After that groundwork, we determined that three batches would be a good goal.”

 

Since then, Nix has visited with workers from WTI’s round-the-clock shifts and consulted with management. Together, they work through improvements born out of lean manufacturing, which are processes engineered to reduce waste and improve customer satisfaction. The goal is to reach 40 percent overall equipment effectiveness for producing buffered vinegar, a metric built on several components of the manufacturing process.

 

More recently, Nix introduced a new tool to these efforts: A software platform called Impruver, developed out of Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC). It’s designed to help small and mid-sized manufacturers of consumer products spot trends in metrics, track performance and monitor ongoing issues. “It’s great to have another entity inside ATDC working with us and our clients,” Nix says.

 

While all of GaMEP’s contributions are welcomed, Stephan Georg has special praise for the non-engineering side of Damon Nix. “While he looks at the facts and explains things in a scientific way, he also treats people here with respect,” Georg says. “They see that he’s not here to get them fired. He’s the guy who’s here to help.”