EI2 Global recently hosted a delegation of about 10 faculty and administrators from the University of South Africa (UNISA). The purpose of the visit was to observe Georgia Tech’s and Atlanta’s innovation ecosystem and learn about entrepreneurship and innovation programs.
The visit is part of an ongoing collaboration with the Georgia Institute of Technology to foster an innovation-focused, university-based economic development ecosystem is South Africa.
That collaboration — launched in April of 2019 — calls for Tech’s assistance and guidance in the creation of an innovation ecosystem to support student entrepreneurship, curricular and extra-curricular programs, and faculty and student venture creation, as well as programs that small business development opportunities and industry engagement in South Africa.
While South Africa has the continent’s third-largest economy as ranked by gross domestic product, the country’s unemployment rate is 30 percent — the highest in Africa and one of the highest in the world.
A program of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, EI2 Global is charged with fostering economic opportunity around the world through inclusive, sustainable, impactful collaborations with universities, innovators, governments, and nonprofit organizations.
The EI2 Global team offers a comprehensive set of tools to support entrepreneurship and innovation initiatives as important ways to promote local economic growth in communities.
Federal labs, including facilities such as the Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee, MIT Lincoln Lab in Massachusetts, and the Agricultural Resource Service, have technology transfer as part of their missions. This means that, like the work of the Enterprise Innovation Institute, leaders in federal labs don’t want to do research for the sake of research. They are working to improve people’s lives, and they need businesses and organizations to help transfer their research technology into the real world to further that mission.
Enter Donna Ennis, the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s director of diversity engagement and program development, co-director of the Georgia Artificial Intelligence Manufacturing Corridor (Georgia AIM), and operator representative for the Georgia Minority Business Development Agency Business Center. It’s a lot of hats for one person to wear, and she wore them all as she spoke at the national Federal Laboratories Consortium (FLC) conference — a sort of national trade association meeting — in Cleveland, Ohio, in March.
She was asked to present on one of her areas of expertise — connecting people and businesses with the right resources.
“I discussed Georgia AIM and tech transfer,” she said. Georgia AIM, a new initiative — funded by a $65 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) — supports a statewide effort to combine artificial intelligence and manufacturing innovations with transformational workforce and outreach programs.
“Federal labs are looking for ways to collaborate with minority-owned businesses. I talked about helping us identify the labs that focus on AI technology and advanced manufacturing, so that we could work more closely with those labs for Georgia AIM, and perhaps identify businesses that could do tech transfer. Labs are really interested in technology transfer. They’re doing all this research, and they want to be able to transfer that technology out of the federal labs. We’re in conversations about it, including with some of the people I met at the session.”
Ennis sees attendance at conferences like FLC as vital to her work.
“Because I’m in a new role, I’m focused on getting national exposure for Georgia AIM and making the strategic relationships that are necessary,” she said. “Federal labs could be a huge component with regard to identifying technology that could then be transferred into Georgia companies.”
Chatham Area Transit (CAT) is collaborating with Georgia Tech and other partners to deliver on-demand last-mile/first-mile transit in Savannah
In the commercial logistics and distribution industry, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed companies to upgrade last-mile capabilities – the ability to get products from the grocery store or distribution center to people’s homes. What has often been left out of last-mile planning is getting people themselves connected. Fixed bus or train routes often leave people blocks or even miles away from transit, miles that have to be traveled on foot to get to doctor’s appointments, the grocery store, work, schools, and more.
“The future of transit looks different,” said CAT CEO Faye DiMassimo. “Savannah is a great market for this project. It’s not so big that we can’t right the ship, but it’s not so small as to be not applicable or scaleable in other markets. And it’s a market with lots of different employment areas, tourism, a historic district, and warehousing/distribution.”
The Partnership for Inclusive Innovation (Partnership), which is supported by Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, is putting together an advisory board comprised of local leaders and national transit experts, who will help ensure the work follows best practices from around the country while also addressing the specific needs of Savannah’s transit riders.
“Having corporate, civic, and nonprofit leaders involved to see how this project will impact their employees, students, and clients, will help ensure its success,” said Debra Lam, executive director of the Partnership. “National subject matter experts will be brought on for their expertise and also to share the project outside Savannah.”
The app, which will connect riders on demand from A to B and even to C or D, will operate similarly to Uber or Lyft. Riders will input their location and destination. The app will seamlessly connect users from curbside pickup by micro-transit to fixed bus or boat routes and will include paratransit if needed. It will synchronize bus and on-demand feeds to have buses and riders at the right place at the right time. Riders will be able to see when their curbside pickup will arrive and will pay a single fare for the entire trip.
Pascal Van Hentenryck, Georgia Tech’s associate chair for innovation and entrepreneurship and the A. Russell Chandler III chair and professor in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering, and his team developed the software, which was also used on MARTA Reach, a pilot project to add on-demand micro-transit to connect to bus and train routes in Atlanta.
“We have been working on this new type of transit system for more than 10 years,” said Van Hentenryck. “These are transit systems that are combining fixed routes and on-demand shuttles to provide door-to-door affordable services. We have developed all the technology for planning and operating such on-demand multimodal systems: What should be the fixed bus route? What should be the frequency between them? How many shuttles do you need? How do you dispatch them such that you serve people as quickly as possible?”
During Phase I, funds will be used to design the system, develop partnerships, and create ways to bring the community together so that riders will have a voice in how on-demand transit is built out. The pilot will connect three areas across the county. One pilot community includes the Tiny House Project, a neighborhood of permanent, affordable tiny houses that is home to 22 formerly unhoused veterans. The neighborhood, which will soon grow by 50 more houses, will continue to focus on veterans, and will also be open to other homeless people.
The Phase I project will run for 15 months. Following that, award winners can apply for a Phase II grant to implement improvements to Phase I and expand projects. For Savannah, the Phase II goal is to have on-demand micro-transit available across the region, seamlessly delivering visitors, students, and residents to jobs, historic sites, school, and wherever they need to go.
“We’re excited to implement this research,” Lam said. “It’s been done in other cities and every time it’s gotten better. Phase I will develop a blueprint that is electric, multimodal, and addresses last mile/first mile. It’s data driven to increase efficiency. It will empower communities through public transit. It will enable people to get to the doctor, to work, to school, wherever they need to go.”
More about the project can be found in this video, “Chatham Area Transit Announces SMART Grant to Improve Transportation Efficiency,” put together by the city of Savannah.
The Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Brandy Nagel is part of a team that received $100K to study racial bias in infrared medical devices
Brandy Nagel, program manager for the Georgia Minority Business Development Agency Business Center, attended what she thought was an information session on artificial intelligence for social justice. Three hours later she was part of a team that brought home $100,000 to study and correct racial bias in infrared medical devices.
Temporal (forehead) thermometers and pulse oximeters became everyday pieces of medical equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic. But studies show these devices and others that use infrared technology are not as accurate when used on people with darker skin as they are on people with lighter skin. Pulse oximeters miss low oxygen levels in 11% of Black patients and temporal thermometers miss 23% of fevers in Black patients. These inaccuracies have immense public health implications, not just in the U.S., but around the world.
“I showed up because it was described as artificial intelligence for social justice,” Nagel said about the AI.Humanity with a Social Justice Lens Pitch Competition. “I know almost nothing about AI, but I understand social justice as a problem to be solved. I thought the event would help me understand how AI can be applied.”
“When I got there, there was a conversation already going, so I joined a group,” she said. “We were talking about a problem and how AI could be applied to solve that problem. And then the organizers said, go to your breakout rooms. You’ve got 45 minutes to write your pitch.”
Despite knowing little about the medical technology under discussion, Nagel knew she could contribute to the team. “I know about pitches, and I know how to prepare for a pitch,” she said. She was able to help hone the idea for the pitch committee.
Isbell was drawn to the event because of the opportunity to explore using AI for the good of humanity.
“In much of the news, people are concerned about how AI is taking jobs or about bias in AI,” Isbell said. “But I was interested in working with other people to see how we can use AI to help. I was also interested because it’s a collaboration between Georgia Tech and Emory, and we’ll be doing something in the health and wellness sphere, which I really love to do.”
With Nagel at the white board, the team mapped out its approach. “We talked about where would we get the data? Because this is something where the data is a significant part of figuring out how to solve the problem,” Nagel said. “Is the solution in how the device is designed? Or is the solution in a different policy? We don’t know.”
Isbell’s forte is dealing with data, making her an integral part of a team that has so many different perspectives, a strength that made them successful in their pitch, she said.
“We had sociologists. We had an anesthesiologist. We had someone who does AI. I do data,” she said. “It was important that we had the diversity of thought and experience in our team for this project. If we could help doctors know about what their devices are doing, then they can make better decisions. We don’t want people to mis-interpret the signals about their patients, therefore causing more health disparities.”
Following the 45-minute discussion period, the team was ready. The pitch covered three objectives with the goal of creating more equitable medical devices:
Perform a systematic review of infrared technologies and devices that are currently used in healthcare systems to understand the scope of the problem.
Conduct a pilot observational study to measure the discrepancy between the information provided by infrared medical devices and that of gold standard devices.
Develop an AI algorithm to calibrate medical device measurements with skin pigmentation using results from the pilot study.
With the pitch competition won, what happens next?
Nagel, who isn’t a medical device expert, does understand design thinking. “The first step of design thinking is empathy,” she said, “deeply understand the customer or the beneficiary’s experience, not just their point of view, but what they experience. In this case, the beneficiary might be a patient, but it could also be a medical professional who’s trying to quickly triage in an emergency room and figure out who needs attention first.
“One thing that I think is exciting about this is that our team can be informed by going into an emergency room and seeing how this works,” she said. “What’s the real-world experience that may help inform how we solve the problem? I think it’s AI. But I think there’s also going to be a personal touch.”
A second team also won $100,000 for its pitch AI-Assisted Social Justice in Tissue and Organ Biomanufacturing. The team, comprised of both Georgia Tech and Emory researchers, will use domain-specific AI-based approaches to develop tissue bioprinting processes that are optimized for patients of various racial and ethnic backgrounds.
“I think what really intrigued me about this is that I saw it as a solvable problem and something that could have a significant impact,” Nagel said. “The pulse oximeter and the forehead thermometer, these two devices were used to help diagnose millions of people with COVID, particularly in the early days of the pandemic. If we look back on the deaths, and we see that a disproportionate number of darker skinned people died, then we might say it was because of a bad diagnostic tool. That sounds like an important problem to solve.”
The launch, on March 24, followed several years of the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s collaborative work in Latin America, including in Colombia. Efforts there have brought together private industry, higher education, and economic development organizations to help grow economies.
The new center is the fourth for Georgia Tech, which also has innovation centers in Panama, Singapore, and China.
“Medellín holds much promise and great potential as an incubator for business expertise,” Juli Golemi, director of EI2 Global, said of the city’s selection. “I’m excited to see how this center helps boost economic development in the area.”
Startups — especially ones that are scaling rapidly — will have the potential to generate faster job growth and economic development for Medellín and its entire region. Georgia Tech and its partners are working at the center to identify and mitigate the most immediate constraining factors that limit the innovation ecosystem.
“Among the first activities of the Medellín Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center are to work collaboratively and hands-on on the most immediate key factors identified by Georgia Tech and its partners to help the ecosystem grow and prosper,” said Viviana Montenegro, program manager with EI2 Global. “It is very rewarding to see the local commitment and support for this initiative.”
The center will coordinate regular events, deliver courses, provide training programs to address gaps and boost the city’s talent opportunities, and bring together resources to support the Medellín entrepreneurship community. As a part of Georgia Tech, the center will connect the Medellín community to the Institute’s vast resources including world-class research, state-of-the-art facilities, internationally recognized experts, and top student talent.
This initiative is supported by corporate and university partners Bancolombia, Celsia, Globant, Crystal, Sura, Comfama, Conconcreto, ProAntioquia, Microsoft, TCC, Cámara de Comercio de Medellín para Antioquia, Alianza Team, Iluma, Universidad CES, Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, Universidad EIA, and Universidad EAFIT.
“The center’s vision is to build strong and lasting multilateral collaborations across sectors, including nonprofit organizations, universities, startups, and corporations,” said David Bridges, Enterprise Innovation Institute vice president. “Together, these groups will bring greater awareness of entrepreneurs and innovators as an integral part of Medellín’s economy.”
GRIFFIN, Ga. — When the world shut down in March 2020, due to COVID-19, the owners of Emerald Transportation Solutions, a privately held, end-to-end manufacturer of refrigerated vans and trucks, thought their work would slow also.
How wrong they were.
Instead, as people all over the world stayed home and ordered groceries and other necessities to be delivered, the need for refrigerated last-mile delivery vehicles skyrocketed. Emerald’s vans and trucks became essential to getting groceries to people who didn’t want to leave their homes.
The company, founded in 2013, swelled to four facilities and two surface lots in Fayetteville, Georgia, but that created challenges and inefficiencies Emerald executives knew they would need to address to keep the momentum and growing market share. They contacted Georgia Oak Partners, an investment firm, about investing in the growing company.
“We’re unique in a couple of ways,” said Wes Funsch, Emerald’s chief operating officer. “First, our trucks are lighter, so we allow more product in the truck. We run about 65% of the weight of most domestically built insulated products. Two, you call up and order a 17-foot truck that can hold zero degrees, and that’s what we deliver — custom built to your needs and specifications.”
The alternative model to Emerald’s process is more cumbersome. For that same 17-foot truck that holds zero degrees, a buyer must go to an automaker to find a chassis that can handle a 17-foot body. The buyer purchases it and sends it to a body manufacturer to build and install the 17-foot body. After that the buyer must contract with a refrigeration specialist to install a refrigeration system. And if there are any additional or special features required, those have to be project managed as well.
“With Emerald, you make one phone call, we do all of that for you, and we deliver the final truck,” Funsch said.
The company started almost literally in the founder’s basement, then expanded to four buildings in Fayetteville, where assembly took place. It was an inefficient way of operating — moving vehicles to and from different buildings as they were put together. Output stalled at fewer than two trucks — and often only one truck — completed each day. As business took off in 2020, leaders knew something had to change.
The search began for a single facility that would be large enough for a streamlined assembly process under one roof. An old, unused building in Griffin, Georgia, about 20 miles to the southeast, fit the bill.
To ensure production could keep pace with rising demand, Emerald contacted the GaMEP for help in designing the workflow for the new facility. The company’s immediate goal: Complete three trucks per day. The longer-term goal was to build four to five trucks per day.
Sam Darwin, operational excellence project manager for GaMEP, came in to examine the layout and workflow in the four buildings, business operations, and sales growth projections. His job was to design a system in the new facility for optimum efficiency.
He spoke to employees, watched the way they moved back and forth in the old buildings, checked out the new larger building, and got to work. His layout eventually involved not just the facility and equipment; it also came to encompass the whole production system.
“We designed an assembly line, which is not what they were doing before,” Darwin said. “It was all single bay, bring this truck chassis in and start adding stuff to it. Then it would go to another building, and somebody did something else. It was extremely inefficient. The new assembly line — actually, a couple of different assembly lines — is a continuous flow.”
That means trucks are moved from station to station — not building to building — every four hours or so. “And, every day, you have a couple or three trucks coming out,” Darwin said. “It made them much more efficient and faster at building trucks.”
The design was nearly perfect right off the drawing board.
“Sam worked with the Emerald team and was able to develop a layout that we 90% follow today,” Funsch said.
Following the move, David Apple, GaMEP operational excellence project manager, visited Emerald to teach employees a problem-solving course – A3, a method for solving any challenges that might come up in the business. Using problems that Emerald had, he taught employees the step-by-step method for tackling and solving them.
Emerald leaders also realized that a streamlined system to track information that goes along with building vehicles – VIN numbers, orders, payments, and more – was essential as well. A series of spreadsheets had been used for tracking, which meant that in many cases, the same information had to be updated on multiple sheets by multiple people for every vehicle.
Kelley Hundt, GaMEP East Metro Atlanta region manager, worked with Emerald to resolve these data issues by helping to implement an enterprise resource planning system (ERP).
“Going with an ERP system allowed them to have one data repository, with all of the data relating appropriately,” she said. “That reduced efforts to keep track of the information that they need, while at the same time improving the reliability and timeliness of that data.”
Health and Safety
Efficiency wasn’t the only goal of the move. The health and safety of employees in the new facility was paramount. Emerald brought in the SHES team to survey the facility and the company’s health and safety practices and make recommendations.
The SHES team looked at elements of Emerald’s overall safety and health management system, and started off with two essential questions:
How does the company anticipate and detect hazards?
How does the company prevent hazards and plan for and control hazards?
Challenges the SHES team identified during the inspections included electrical safety, fall protection, compressed gas cylinder safety, and clearing exit routes — issues that are common in manufacturing facilities.
The health team performed contaminant and noise-level monitoring. These were found to be within guidelines. They also examined Emerald’s hazard communication program, and other health and safety documentation.
“There is an obligation on the part of the company to correct any serious hazards that we find,” said Paul Schlumper, director of the SHES group. “When we go in and work with a company, we’re going to write a report and have a list of things. If anything is classified as serious, they’re required to correct those items. We make sure they know that up front.”
The people at Emerald were prepared to do anything SHES recommended, Funsch said. “There are a lot of things that the SHES group pointed out as deficiencies that we’ve turned around and put into place to make the plant safer for our employees.”
The results of Emerald and SHES working together have been to create a safer workplace for all by:
Correcting electrical hazards, including open junction boxes
Adding restraints to keep employees from falling off ladders, trucks, and more
Adding an emergency action plan
Making Safety Data Sheets accessible
Holding monthly safety meetings
Tracking and documenting training
Adding an environmental health and safety manager
Thanks to its work with Georgia Tech, Emerald is an efficient, growing, and safe company. Emerald’s 65 employees now build three trucks or vans per day, up from one to one and a half. In 2023, the company projects throughput will average 75% more over 2022. And that’s just the beginning. The work Emerald has completed lays a foundation for greater expansion and a growing future.
“Hands down I would recommend the GaMEP and SHES groups,” Funsch said. “They were more forthright and helpful than anyone else we worked with. They got back with me in a timely fashion. They got back to me with a detailed response. They followed up. They gave the impression that they cared.”
Note: Emerald Transportation Solutions signed a waiver of the confidentiality clause (1908.6(h)(2)) for the OSHA 21(d) Consultation program, allowing this story about the company’s work with the Safety, Health, and Environmental Services (SHES) program at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute to be published.
The Center for Global Health Innovation’s (CGHI) Office of Life Sciences and Digital Health awarded Nakia Melecio with the Golden Helix Community Award for his dedication to Georgia’s life sciences community.
Melecio, the founding director of the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Center for MedTech Excellence, was one of six individuals honored with Community Awards at the March 29 event which recognized 21 individuals, companies, and organizations with awards at 25th annual gala.
Sherry Farrugia, CEO, of the Global Center for Medical Innovation, a Georgia Tech affiliate, was presented with the Industry Growth Award, for her tireless efforts and significant contributions to growing the life sciences industry in Georgia.
“Our community strives to improve patients’ lives, support workforce development, grow Georgia’s economy, and be a driving force for good in the world,” said CGHI CEO Maria Thacker Goethe in a statement. “The Golden Helix Awards highlights those lasting contributions made by many in the life sciences sector in Georgia.”
In his role as director of the Center for MedTech Excellence, Melecio works to catalyze the development and commercialization of breakthrough biotechnology, medical devices, life science, and therapeutic innovations.
He also works with other Georgia Tech programs including VentureLab and the Advanced Technology Development Center, as well as other organizations such as the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Defense.
“It’s an honor to be counted among the champions here in Georgia who are trying to put the life sciences ecosystem on the map and working behind the scenes from a policy perspective, an academic perspective, and venture capital perspective to really help build the infrastructure and support entrepreneurs,” Melecio said. “To be able to be recognized and to have a voice, that’s what I’m proud of — being able to work with great entrepreneurs and great schools that have a passion for this ecosystem.”
A study looks at ways to deliver innovation and entrepreneurial equity to the state
Living in metro Atlanta and working in the heart of Midtown’s Tech Square, it’s easy to assume that all of Georgia has the same innovation- and entrepreneur-based economic development ecosystem that exists in the state’s capital. And until now, there wasn’t any research to show exactly what the technology entrepreneurial landscape across the state looks like.
“I am interested in understanding how we can use innovation as a source of economic development both within and outside of major cities,” Clayton said. “Smaller, less dense areas often try to use the same types of economic development strategies as larger cities, but they don’t always seem to work as well. I’ve been motivated to try to understand places that have applied innovation-based economic development tools effectively outside major metropolitan areas to see what we can learn and apply to different areas in Georgia.”
It was a research idea right up the Partnership’s and the COI’s alley. The Partnership is a public-private organization launched in 2020 to lead coordinated, statewide efforts to position Georgia as the leader for innovation, opportunity, and shared economic success.
“What’s really interesting about Dr. Clayton’s research is not only understanding Atlanta versus the rest of the state, but then digging deeper in terms of these regional innovation hubs across the state,” said Debra Lam, the executive director of the Partnership. “She’s also shown that what we hear about entrepreneurs leaving Georgia because there’s not enough venture capital for them to grow, isn’t entirely true. We are becoming a hub for inclusive innovation. Founders of color are coming in because they’re seeing this to be a welcoming, dynamic environment for them to grow their business.”
The COI, a strategic arm of the Georgia Department of Economic Development providing services and programs to help businesses around the state, also found the research important to its mission.
“In a lot of ways, the research validated what we already suspected,” said David Nuckolls, the COI’s executive director. “The entrepreneurship and innovation landscape has changed over the last few years and there is an even greater need for entrepreneurial and business support. Studies like this one illustrate current trend lines across the state and highlight opportunities to enhance existing efforts.”
Clayton and her team talked with people in economic development and entrepreneurship around the state about what they consider the strengths and weaknesses of their local ecosystems.
In Atlanta, strengths included:
Opportunities for Black founders
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
Involvement of corporate players
Growth in local venture capital funds
In Atlanta, challenges included:
Lack of connectivity and coordination of resources and support organizations
Lack of financial capital
Lower valuations and earlier exits than peer ecosystems
Founders program hopping rather than building firms
Difficulty finding life sciences mentors
Poor local transportation
Outside Atlanta, researchers explored ecosystems in Athens, Augusta, Columbus, Macon, and Savannah, and found several challenges to growing an innovation and entrepreneurial culture.
The slower pace of life in these areas may appeal to individuals who are not as interested in starting and operating their own businesses, especially those related to technology
How can communities achieve critical mass and develop the physical, intellectual, and social infrastructure needed to strengthen innovation?
More examples of success are needed, with lessons that can be applied broadly
Findings like these will be useful not to entrepreneurs themselves, but to economic developers around the state, Clayton said. “I think where it’s helpful is for people who are trying to foster an innovation or entrepreneurial ecosystem in their region. They can think about some of the assets they already have, because the paper shows some of that. And then, it could help them think about strategies beyond ‘if you build it, they will come’ type models for innovating.”
Jud Savelle, the ATDC @ Albany catalyst with the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Advanced Technology Development Center, is glad to see research like this and believes it can bolster innovation in areas like Albany.
“One of the conclusions that didn’t seem to surprise anyone was that a major challenge outside Atlanta — and particularly in a place like Albany, where there is no entrepreneurial or innovation ecosystem — is the lack of support and resources that could help to build a culture of innovation,” said Savelle, who works with technology entrepreneurs in the Albany area who are looking to create startups. “A major challenge for entrepreneurs who want to stay in their hometowns and grow a technology business or innovate in agriculture, is getting funding. There is also a lack of other support. If entrepreneurs who have a shot at success leave for the essential support that Atlanta can offer, then newcomers back in the towns across the state, don’t have mentors or peers to learn from and share information with.”
The report offers four recommendations to foster statewide innovation and entrepreneurship:
First, improve statewide coordination and connection. One way to do this is to create an annual Georgia Innovation Ecosystem Summit to bring together local ecosystem champions, investors, economic developers, and others who support entrepreneurs.
Savelle thinks this is the most important takeaway from the report. “We need to have better access to see into other communities, to see what they’re doing, and then to intentionally come together and better support each other in building out these ecosystems for the benefit of the whole state.”
Lam agrees. “This would provide Georgia a new gathering of entrepreneurs, economic developers, and researchers, where they are finding opportunities to collaborate.”
Second, the report recommends improving information availability and sharing stories more broadly so that regions can learn best practices and avoid unsuccessful strategies.
Third, build networks and think regionally. Efforts to support ecosystems outside Atlanta should be regional and more targeted to specific industry sectors. Enhancing regional social networks — the relationships and interactions between individuals involved in entrepreneurship and innovation — is vital.
Finally, enhance digital, financial, and business literacy. Technology-related innovation and entrepreneurship cannot occur without the basic education and technological needs of citizens being met.
“I don’t think every city and region of Georgia needs to be a technology entrepreneurship place,” Clayton said of her research. “I don’t think that’s reasonable or possible. But I do think the broader ideas of what being innovative is, of coming up with new solutions to problems, of having this sort of worldview that if there are problems, we can solve them and that process could lead to some economic benefit to where I live, I think that those kinds of ideas are important to have.”
And that’s really the bottom line of putting research like this into practice — how can it be used to better the lives of people around the state?
“Some of the entrepreneurs that are coming from regional innovation hubs, because of the connection with the community, because of the support they got from the community, they became more invested in the success of the community,” said Lam. “That’s exactly what we want. When we talk about building regional innovation hubs, it’s so that we can address some of the inequalities across the state.”
A group from the Enterprise Innovation Institute recently volunteered at Open Hand Atlanta
On a recent Friday, a contingent of Enterprise Innovation Institute employees explored the idea of well-being at Open Hand Atlanta, a nonprofit organization that provides food for people with disabilities and chronic disease. Its mission: We cook. We deliver. We teach. We care.
The event was organized by the well-being committee, which has taken on the challenge of trying to bring people in the various programs in the Enterprise Innovation Institute together with events that strengthen the organization while improving the well-being of employees.
“Well-being is at the heart of what we as an economic development organization do every day,” said Caley Landau, a marketing strategist with the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP), who is on the well-being committee. “Our goal in our jobs is to make lives better and improve the human condition. Well-being improves employee engagement and experience, sparks creativity and collaboration, and helps us make the greatest impact possible through our programs. It’s also a philosophy that’s personally important to us as members of the community.”
Paul Todd, group manager for operational excellence with GaMEP, worked with Caley to find a team-strengthening activity.
“As part of our focus on well-being, Caley asked me to find a volunteer activity that would bring together employees from across EI² in the service of others,” Todd said. “I was familiar with Open Hand from a series of process improvement projects the GaMEP worked on there in years past, so I knew they had a great mission and a group volunteer program that would fit us well.”
Open Hand has been serving Atlantans for more than three decades. With a full commercial kitchen, staff and volunteers cook, pack, and deliver nutritious meals every day to medically fragile, underserved people, often seniors who live below the poverty line, and rely on the meals and the companionship of the people who deliver them.
In 2022, Open Hand cooked, packed, and delivered 5,000 meals per day, a total of nearly 1.5 million meals across the state, with more than 13,000 volunteer hours. Inflation and a growing need saw a 28% increase in food costs over the past two years. Open Hand’s monthly grocery bill last year was $327,525.
The approximately 30 volunteers from the Enterprise Innovation Institute put together almost 2,000 meals in an assembly line as organized and efficient as any in the for-profit world. It was a wonderful opportunity to work with new people for an important cause.
The Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Leigh Hopkins earns her Certified Economic Developer credential
Economic developers around the state, many with years of experience and expertise themselves, often hire the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Center for Economic Development Research (CEDR) for assistance with workforce development, strategic planning, fiscal and economic impact analyses, and more. Now, when CEDR gets a call, the program will have one more resource to offer. Leigh Hopkins, senior project manager at CEDR, is a newly minted Certified Economic Developer (CEcD). It’s a national designation that’s been years in the making, and marks Hopkins as an authority in the field of economic development.
The credential wasn’t always her goal. “I’m a city planner by trade and education,” Hopkins said.
She completed a master’s degree in city and regional planning from Georgia Tech in 2005, then worked for the city of Atlanta as well as the private sector before coming back to her alma mater in 2008. After joining CEDR, she got her certification from the American Institute of Certified Planners.
“I’ve held that certification ever since 2010, because it’s the industry credential for the planning profession, and I was hired here to work on projects with a planning component,” she said. “Over time, my job has morphed from planning, which can sometimes be idealistic, into economic development where the rubber meets the road in terms of helping communities implement their plans, but economic development wasn’t my area of expertise at first.”
As her role changed to include economic development-type work — strategic plans for communities and workforce development, primarily — she was encouraged to pursue the CEcD designation. It’s a journey that can take years and involves core classes central to the economic development field, at least four years of work experience, and a three-part comprehensive exam.
“When I started working at Georgia Tech, we had two senior managers who had their CEcD certifications,” Hopkins said. “They were mentors and encouraged us to participate in professional development courses. Georgia Tech is one of the host sites for courses offered by the International Economic Development Council, the accrediting body for the CEcD. I was encouraged to take their classes.”
To receive the certification, candidates must complete four required courses: Basic Economic Development, Business Retention and Expansion, Economic Development Credit Analysis, and Real Estate Development and Reuse. In addition, candidates choose two courses from a list of electives that include finance, marketing, small business development, and neighborhood development strategies. Hopkins selected economic development strategic planning and workforce development as her electives, since they are the areas she works in most often.
Her current boss, CEDR Director Alfie Meek, Ph.D., also supported her in getting the designation. “Our primary clients are the local economic developers around the state, many of whom have the CEcD certification themselves,” Meek said. “As the ‘experts’ who are hired to provide advice and thought leadership to these communities, it gives us instant credibility and rapport with our clients if we have put in the hard work to achieve that same level of professional credential.”
Hopkins agrees that it’s hard work. In fact, only about one-third of those who take the exam pass it. She has some tips for people who are considering it.
Study the books. Much of the test is straight from those.
Take a prep course or two.
Practice writing the essays.
Learn the terminology.
Get a mentor or study buddy.
“Passing the exam shows that you have arrived in this field,” Hopkins said. “There are also good networking opportunities and good opportunities for professional development within the field.” And while the credential is significant to her, it’s more meaningful in the context of her job.
“It was important to have someone on our staff to get the certification, to add credibility to what we do and how we interact with our clients,” Hopkins said. “I think it gives our clients peace of mind. They feel that they’re in good hands with somebody who is accredited and well-versed in the economic development field.”