Engage, the Enterprise Innovation Institute program that connects high-growth startups with Fortune 500 decision-makers, recently celebrated its ninth cohort at the 2022 Spring Executive Reception.
The Engage idea started in 2015 “with a conversation with some of the city’s leading CEOs,” said Blake Patton, managing partner of Engage and Tech Square Ventures. “They were talking about the need to drive innovation in their companies and the desire to bring additional capital to the region.”
Since that discussion, 67 startups — 33% of them from Atlanta — have been through the Engage program. They have created over 2,000 jobs and raised $1.7 billion.
More than 180 people attended the reception hosted at Honeywell’s Innovation Center that featured the founders of the cohort companies, as well as discussions by program alumni, and a keynote address from Georgia Power Chairman and CEO and Engage board member Chris Womack.
Keith Townsend, a partner at King & Spalding, spoke about how the city of Atlanta is the perfect place for a program like Engage. “We’re in a great city that has a diverse, talented, and skilled population. It has one of the densest populations of Fortune 500 companies in the country, with a vibrant art, music, and now movie production scene. You roll that together, and it gives companies, large and small, a very talented workforce to draw from, which I think is just terrific.”
The evening featured a fireside chat with Allison Robinson, co-founder and CEO of Engage portfolio company The Mom Project, and Kellie Schönberg, Invesco’s global head of corporate social responsibility. They discussed Robinson’s experience in the first Engage cohort in 2017. The Mom Project — Allison herself is the mother of three — is a platform for connecting moms, dads, and allies with companies that value the work-life flexibility parents need and want to tap into this often overlooked and deep talent pool.
Robinson’s background at Proctor & Gamble — working on the Pampers brand, where she was immersed in all things mom — and then becoming a mom herself made her realize “there’s a huge need in the marketplace to help create these opportunities for moms,” she said. “There’s so much dormant strength in the economy that could be captured if we could help meet her on her terms.” This was the birth, so to speak, of The Mom Project.
Since its founding, The Mom Project’s platform has unlocked over $300 million in earning potential by connecting our more than 1 million moms, dads, and allies with opportunities at more than 3,000 companies, including Invesco, Georgia-Pacific, Nike, and Apple.
Following the pandemic with its especially huge impact on women of color, The Mom Project launched RISE, a scholarship program committed to accelerating equity for moms of color. RISE provides access to upskill certifications while harnessing the power of community, support, and job placement — all in as little as three months and at no cost to participants.
Go Far Together
The program continued with a chat about sustainability, a topic growing in importance for large corporations and startups. Lisa Carlson, Engage’s corporate director, moderated the discussion with Kim Cobb, Georgia Tech’s Georgia Power chair, professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, and director of the Global Change Program and Doug Wright, president and CEO of Honeywell Building Technologies.
The purpose of the discussion, Carlson said, was “to get two dynamic leaders, one from the world of higher education and one from the business side, to talk through the actions that are going to be required in this new frontier [of sustainability], and what some of the challenges are, and how we can work together in a new collaborative manner to drive some scalable changes around the globe.”
Cobb discussed ways Georgia Tech is working to solve some of the problems of climate change and sustainability as part of Drawdown Georgia, a “research-based roadmap for achieving carbon neutrality in Georgia,” she said. “We just launched the Drawdown Georgia business compact community, which already has 30 members, including some of the Engage partners, who are working together to enhance collaboration, share best practices, accelerate the development of voluntary targets, and make sure that the business community is involved in what may be some nascent policy development in the state.”
Wright talked about the importance of large corporations and smaller businesses working together to help solve problems. “Smaller businesses move faster,” he said. “They can work to solve problems at a higher clock speed. And then as a larger organization, what we can do with that is we can take it to scale. So, maybe there’s some innovation that we identify in a startup around air quality monitoring, but I can take that to tens of thousands of customers overnight, as a large organization. There’s a virtuous circle that I think works together.”
Keynote speaker Chris Womack started by touting the benefits of being part of the Atlanta technology ecosystem. Then talked about the importance of that ecosystem working together to ensure it continues to thrive.
It’s not enough to leave it to legislative leaders to solve the challenges, but individual changemakers and communities and networks that drive innovation should take the lead and do so collaboratively, Womack said.
“There’s an African proverb that says if you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together. If we want to go far, we go together,” he said. “I think that’s the opportunity that we have, as we invest in this focus on entrepreneurship.”
Connecting to Grow
Womack’s words on entrepreneurship and the importance of working together, reinforced the mission of Engage, which is to promote innovation through a network of connections between startups, corporations, university researchers, and the venture community. It’s these connections to a diverse range of corporate and business leaders that helps accelerate startups in the program.
The value of connection is also echoed by the cohort leaders themselves.
“My favorite part of the Engage experience was meeting with the other founders,” said Kristen Sonday, co-founder and CEO of Paladin. “Oftentimes, you’re going through a lot of different situations that they’ve already been through and being able to share best practices and experiences is really helpful.”
The founders all agreed that meeting with the other companies in the cohort was an important part of the Engage experience. They also valued time spent with corporate partners and learning from them how to navigate relationships with Fortune 500 companies.
“The number one thing that I learned through the Engage program was that there are so many different ways to connect with partners and stakeholders in the corporates that we’re trying to work with,” said Emil Davityan, founder and CEO at Bluedot. “Everybody has their core day to day role and the mission that they’re on as a business. And every business is driven by its own unique culture. So instead of just trying to sell technology, we have to ask how do we situate ourselves and our own company culture in the context of the teams that we’re working with? Are they driven through data, through personalities and relationships? What is the overarching strategy? And for us, learning how to connect with that from the very first conversation and build those relationships was incredibly valuable.”
Engage’s cohort nine companies are:
- Bluedot: Its location software helps improve curbside pickup, loyalty, frictionless drive-thrus, and augmented reality gamification.
- Evolv AI: Uses machine learning to continuously find better ways to digitally connect enterprises with customers.
- Itential: Automation platform that supports both network and cloud infrastructure, helps organizations maintain network compliance, reduce manual operations, and simplify network management.
- Paladin: Streamlines legal pro bono programs, helping attorneys reach their professional responsibility goals more easily while decreasing administrative work and costs for Fortune 500s.
- Sounding Board: Works with enterprises to develop strong leaders using a solution to manage, scale, and measure coaching.
- Terzo: IT/workflow and data hub for vendor processes and contracts that enables enterprises to better manage vendors and transform them into strategic partners.
- Vocalytics AI: Software for health, safety, and customer experience listens to ambient noise and sends real-time alerts when needed most.
- WorkStep: Helps manufacturing, logistics, and retail companies hire and retain their hourly workforce by matching candidates and driving engagement and retention initiatives.