National Institute on Aging Awards MapHabit $3.8 Million Grant

Matt Golden, MapHabit CEO and co-founder. (PHOTO: File)

Launching New Leaders

The PIN Leaders Program is working with teams from across the Southeast to foster inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystems and tech-based economic development

The Partnership for Inclusive Innovation (Partnership), a program of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, continues not only to foster entrepreneurship, innovation and technology around the state, it also continues to reinvent itself — offering new initiatives that help level the playing field for innovation access and growth in communities. The latest iteration of its evolution is the PIN Leaders Program, which kicked off its first cohort in April with four teams.

PIN Leaders team members

The Leaders Program is designed to foster inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem building and tech-based economic development in small, midsized, and rural communities through a public-private and civic collaboration model. It builds on the Partnership’s mission of using public-private collaboration to create inclusive innovation. The program came out of the realization that many communities lack the human capital, support resources, and community-centered approach to build and grow thriving ecosystems in their regions.

“The PIN Leaders Program recognizes that developing thriving and sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystems requires increased collaboration across the public, private, and civic sectors,” said Jamal Lewis, economic opportunity manager for the Partnership. “By bringing together multisector teams to learn inclusive innovation and tech-based economic development best practices, we can catalyze the growth of innovation and economic opportunities in communities that have been overlooked in the past. The Southeast has a key voice and perspective to contribute when it comes to making innovation and economic success more inclusive for all.”

As Lewis and his team looked into the possibilities, they realized that no one was working to build teams of people. Innovation programs were focused on individuals. It is a space where they can make an impact, they realized.

The seven-month pilot program is unique in that a requirement is that teams be comprised of leaders from the public, private, and civic sectors. This type of cross-community collaboration will help drive inclusive innovation, a hallmark of all Partnership programs. The four teams developed their own projects and applied to be part of the program. Each team will receive in-person and virtual workshops on best practices in community-centered impact and tech-based economic development, peer learning, project coaching, access to project funding, and site visits. The goals are to develop a team of collaborative ecosystem leaders, learn best practices for building inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystems, secure funding, connect with local and regional teams to improve resilience and create economic success for all.

The teams and their projects are:

  • Albany, Georgia, will establish an inclusive entrepreneurial center in downtown Albany to address small business and startup ecosystem entry, develop skills and provide support for early-stage entrepreneurs and innovators.
  • Montgomery, Alabama, seeks to boost entrepreneurship in the city by enhancing its small business support center, the Small Business One-Stop Shop, which provides tools, resources, and social capital to enhance sustainability and growth.
  • Thomasville, Georgia’s project, Invest Thomasville (TVL), will increase access to capital for economically disadvantaged communities and help grow a locally owned community development financial institution.
  • Tennessee and Kentucky seek to unlock the innovative potential of underserved universities and innovators through the creation of a centralized technology transfer office, which will offer commercialization resources across the region and help develop an inclusive innovation ecosystem.

DeShay Williams, the executive director of Spark Thomasville, one of the team members, said, “It’s a very exciting opportunity for us to be part of this cohort to figure out how to work through this project, each step that it’s going to take for us to provide not just access to capital but on the other side of our community development, access to building entrepreneurs, developing entrepreneurs.”

Kenneth Pen, with the Montgomery project, is also excited about the opportunity to work with the Partnership. “Our reason for coming here is to open our horizon in terms of what we know, and to figure out what we don’t know. And to interact with other people who have gone through [similar] things, to help us brainstorm what has worked in their community, and also what could potentially work in our community.”

In addition to spotlighting the four teams, the kickoff event included welcoming remarks from Jonathan Corso, the Georgia economic development representative from the Atlanta regional office of the U.S. Economic Development Administration, and Stephanie Tillman, chief legal counsel, Flowers Foods and a Partnership founding advisory board member.

Following that, Partnership Executive Director Debra Lam interviewed Myla Calhoun, the former vice president of the Birmingham division of Alabama Power, and current president and CEO of Propel Education in Birmingham. The two discussed the state of innovation and entrepreneurship in underserved communities.

Partners in the Leaders Program include two Georgia Tech units: the Energy, Policy and Innovation (EPI) Center and the Enterprise Innovation Institute. Other partners are Georgia Power Community and Economic Development, the Center for Civic Innovation, the Urban Institute, the State Science and Technology Institute (SSTI), The University Financing Foundation,  New Growth Innovation Network, and Orange Sparkle Ball.

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.”

Southeast MBDA Business Growth Hub, EcoMap Technologies Forge Alliance to Elevate Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Businesses

Three logosATLANTA — In a transformative collaboration, the Southeast Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Business Growth Hub, has selected EcoMap Technologies (EcoMap) as its partner in launching an initiative to assist socially and/or economically disadvantaged individuals (SEDI) and small businesses.

The effort marks a historic milestone in the evolution of how SEDI-designated and small business operators can use technology to scale. The Business Growth Hub’s support of this project underscores technology’s ability to help SEDI-owned businesses across the southeastern U.S. scale.

Donna M. Ennis, the co-director of the Georgia Artificial Intelligence in Manufacturing (Georgia AIM) project and operator representative of the Georgia MBDA Business Center and the Business Growth Hub — all programs of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute — provided the vision and leadership for the grant proposal that gave rise to the Southeast MBDA Business Growth Hub in 2021.

“I’m excited to see this project launch and to have teamed with EcoMap and other MBDA Business Centers,” Ennis said. “Technology is an essential ingredient for building and scaling businesses. Through technology, the Hub will provide a powerful ecosystem for the growth and development of businesses who struggle to gain access to much needed opportunities, capital, and resources.”

This ambitious partnership between the Business Growth Hub and EcoMap will amplify SEDI businesses’ economic impact by accelerating access to capital, procurement opportunities, and essential resources. Making successful and strategic connections to those resources will enable them to compete and succeed on a global scale.

A key feature of the Business Growth Hub’s mission is the use of technology platforms that will create a multi-state ecosystem to facilitate hybrid communities and engagement for MBDA Business Center clients in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. By fostering collaboration and synergy among these centers, the Business Growth Hub aims to create a unified ecosystem that empowers companies to thrive.

Sherrod Davis, CEO of EcoMap, emphasized the importance of this collaboration: “We are honored to join forces with the Southeast MBDA Business Growth Hub, a visionary project empowered by MBDA’s unwavering commitment to SEDI businesses. EcoMap’s technology solutions will serve as the catalyst for greater access, connectivity, and opportunities, advancing diversity and inclusion in business ecosystems.”

The SEDI-focused effort also includes Tiffany Bussey, Ph.D., founding director of the Morehouse Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center at Morehouse College. She brings an essential dimension to the Business Growth Hub’s vision as leader of its initiative for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and minority-serving institutions, including those with predominantly Latino or minority populations.

These institutions offer programs and resources aimed at fostering entrepreneurship and wealth-building in underserved and underrepresented communities.

Kirk Barnes, the Business Growth Hub’s project manager, expressed his appreciation for the collective support of the MBDA, Ennis, and Bussey, saying, “this partnership reflects a historic moment for SEDI and small businesses. MBDA’s support reinforces the vital role SEDI companies play in our economy, while Donna’s vision and Dr. Bussey’s leadership have set the stage for innovation and growth.

“Together with EcoMap, we are poised to make a transformative impact on the business landscape.”

Accenture, a prominent Business Growth Hub corporate partner, has played a critical role in shaping its vision and technology roadmap. The insights gained during the pilot program, along with Accenture’s guidance, have crystallized the Business Growth Hub’s technology needs, laying the foundation for a robust and effective platform.

About the Southeast MBDA Business Growth Hub
The Southeast MBDA Business Growth Hub, a program of the Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute, began in 2021 as a pilot project funded under a Broad Agency Announcement award from MBDA. The Hub’s mission is to accelerate the success of socially and/or economically disadvantaged individuals (SEDI), small businesses, and other business communities across the southeastern U.S. by facilitating access to capital, procurement opportunities, and essential resources. It connects MBDA Business Centers across Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee, and fosters collaboration to empower all businesses. Visit for more information.

About EcoMap Technologies
EcoMap Technologies is a renowned technology solution provider dedicated to fostering inclusive ecosystems. Its platform connects organizations, entrepreneurs, and resources, fostering collaboration and growth within diverse communities. EcoMap empowers businesses to thrive by democratizing access to the tools and support they need to succeed. Visit for more information.

About the Morehouse Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center
MIEC is a global model for higher education and industry collaborations to foster innovation and entrepreneurial leadership. Established in 2004 as a unit of Morehouse College, the Center has continually operated with an internal and external focus to promote innovation and entrepreneurship with people of color. Visit for more information.

Harnessing the Power of Collaboration: A Q&A with Andrea Fernández and Debra Lam

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?

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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.

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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. (

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.”

ATDC companies raise $280.2 million in investments in 2023

Team Shot Slip Robotics
Employees of Slip Robotics. The Norcross, Georgia-based ATDC portfolio company raised $11 million in 2023. (PHOTO: Erin McDuff/McDuff Photography)

ATLANTA — Startups in the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) current portfolio raised more than $280.2 million in investment capital and created or saved more 2,021 jobs in 2023.

While the investment capital raised was down from the $305.7 million ATDC’s active portfolio companies raised in 2022, it mirrors the prevailing trend across the investment landscape, said Caroline Ford, investor relations manager at ATDC, a program of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute.

“As expected, deal raise and deal volume for Georgia are down in all stages of venture capital,” Ford said, “but we are stable and holding our own relative to the past 5 years in terms of percent of deals done and percent of all capital raised among Georgia’s early-stage tech companies.”

Still, companies at ATDC, a program of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, represented a large slice of the completed deals in Georgia under $12 million in 2023.

“While deal volume and deal amounts were weaker across tech companies raising venture capital in 2023, we are pleased that ATDC companies continued to account for about 18 percent of all reported deals done under $12 million for tech or tech-enabled businesses,” ATDC Director John Avery said. “This figure is consistent with the aggregate activity in Georgia from our companies.”

Among select deal highlights in 2023:

  • ATDC portfolio company Slip Robotics raised $11 millionFounded in 2020, Slip Robotics, whose clients include Nissan, John Deere, and Valeo, is a developer of robotic trailer technology designed to simplify the loading and unloading process of trucks.
  • Layr, a 2022 ATDC graduate, an insurance technology business that builds software to automate and digitize insurance brokerages’ small business departments, closed on an oversubscribed $10 million round.
  • Kayhan Space, a leading provider of high-performance software and solutions for space mission operations, raised $7 million in an oversubscribed seed extension round.  The company is scaling quickly as it accelerates the commercial delivery of the industry’s first autonomous space traffic coordination (STC) framework, Pathfinder™ 3.0.

There were other bright spots in ATDC’s overall 2023 results, too.

ATDC portfolio companies received more the $10.2 million in non-dilutive federal funding grants through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs in 2023.

When ATDC’s graduate companies are included with the incubator’s current startup portfolio, more than $6.2 billion in investment capital was raised in 2023, up nearly 8% from the $5.7 billion reported in 2022.

What’s more, ATDC’s current portfolio and graduate companies recorded revenue of $2.43 billion in 2023 — up nearly 54% from the $1.58 billion they reported in 2022.

“Traditionally, our companies stay in business after graduating from the portfolio and will typically go on to raise later rounds of capital, bringing jobs and economic activity to the Georgia economy as they scale,” Avery said.

Greenlight, a 2018 ATDC graduate is one example, he said. The ATDC-born financial technology startup behind smart debit cards for parents monitoring their children’s spending, reached unicorn status in 2020, is now valued at $2.3 billion, and employs 515.

ATDC companies are also more likely to be acquired than their Georgia peers as evidenced with the acquisition of Medxoom, a 2023 ATDC graduate and healthcare financing platform, which was acquired by Allied Health that same year.

Jobs were also a highlight in 2023 in the incubator’s ecosystem. ATDC’s current and graduate companies reported saving or creating 14,770 jobs in 2023, up from 11,793 in 2022.

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.”

Eric Morrissette Visits Georgia MBDA Business Center at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute

The Georgia MBDA Business Center (Georgia MBC) recently hosted Eric Morrissette, acting under secretary of commerce for minority business development, U.S. Department of Commerce, Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), for a site visit to the Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2) on April 22, 2024. Morrissette was there to demonstrate MBDA’s commitment to EI2 and Georgia MBC, which, as a federal funding agency, delivers value and support to Georgia MBC clients.

Morrissette was welcomed by David Bridges, vice president of EI2, the country’s oldest, largest and most comprehensive university-based program of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization, and economic development. After Morrissette briefly introduced himself and his work, Bridges detailed the organization’s intent.

“Everyone who works at EI2 came here for a reason: to help people lift themselves up,” he said. “We are capacity builders; we want to be here to transfer knowledge to you. We are about economic opportunity for all,” he added, before launching a presentation that detailed the various components of the Enterprise Innovation Institute, as well as the Georgia MBC’s place within it. Funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Georgia MBC helps businesses access capital, increase profitability, and scale their businesses.

Donna Ennis, EI2’s director of community engagement and program development and the Center’s operator representative, spoke further on the Georgia MBC, while acknowledging the Southeast MBDA Business Growth Hub, stakeholders and strategic alliances, including program sponsors Ebco, Georgia Power Foundation, and Trane Technologies.

Ennis is also co-director of the Georgia Artificial Intelligence in Manufacturing (Georgia AIM), which works to drive adoption of AI in U.S. manufacturing, and she noted the ways in which that program dovetails with MBDA’s mission. Due to funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), Georgia AIM is reaching Georgia residents who are historically underrepresented in manufacturing. In addition, Ennis said, “We are always looking for gaps in the technological ecosystem and how we can fill [them].”

Jennifer Pasley, Georgia MBDA Business Center project director opened the floor for testimonials from clients, before Ennis initiated a general discussion where participants shared questions, concerns, and insights with Morrissette. Representatives from Southern Company, Atlanta Business League, Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and Georgia Supplier Development Council discussed the challenges facing businesses owned by socially and/or economically disadvantaged individuals (SEDIs). Georgia MBDA Center clients DoverStaffing/DoverSolutions, eSpin Technologies, Freeing Returns, IBEX, RYSE Creative Village, and The Royster Group shared their companies’ journeys to success with the Center’s assistance and the challenges they faced along the way including access to capital and opportunities.

Said Morrissette of his office’s mission, “I have the best job, because it is to create wealth in communities around this country. It’s allowing people to penetrate markets that haven’t been penetrated before, allowing them to realize their dreams and hopes in business. No part of my mandate [is] to just give out things. It’s allowing people who want something to better seize it … and my job is to show them how, through our networks.”