An award-winning Atlanta program launched last year to link the city’s startup ecosystem with that of its sister city in France is expanding this year to the United Kingdom.
The Atlanta International Startup Exchange began when two local companies visited Toulouse, which in turn sent two of its own startups to Atlanta for two weeks in October.
This fall, the northeastern English city of Newcastle, also a longtime Atlanta sister city, will come on board for what this time will be a one-week residency program.
The exchanges are designed to give companies a low-cost taste of a new market at a time when more startups are starting to seek global sales from the outset, said Atlanta International Affairs Director Claire Angelle in announcing on LinkedIn that applications had opened and are due by Aug. 11.
“The International Trade Administration reports that companies which export grow 20 percent faster, pay 20 percent higher wages, and are 9 percent less likely to go out of business than companies relying solely on the domestic market,” she said.
On both sides, the startup exchange itineraries include visits to incubators, access to tech conferences, meetings with investors and more.
Atlanta will host this year’s European participants during either Atlanta Cyber Week (Oct.1-7) or Venture Atlanta Week (Oct. 8-14). Atlanta firms headed to Toulouse will time their visit with EmTech France (Oct. 8-14) and those going to Newcastle will attend VentureFest North East in mid-November, while also having a chance to visit cybersecurity and fintech clusters in London.
Newcastle leaders said they were delighted to deepen their partnership with Atlanta on complementary sectors.
“The digital sector in the region has seen significant growth over the past five of years, and is the fastest growing outside of London, now accounting for over 44,000 employees and nearly £2 billion to the regional economy,” Nick Forbes, Leader of Newcastle City Council who has visited Atlanta, said in a news release.
All cities involved hope to position themselves as gateways into their respective regions if and when startups decide to go global.
That seems to have worked, local tech and entrepreneurship website Hypepotamus reported after interviewing Sam Adams, manager of entrepreneurship and innovation at Invest Atlanta:
“2016 was incredibly successful. Of the four companies involved — the two Atlanta companies, one was acquired by Amazon and the other one received a $1 million National Science Foundation grant and has gone on to make a significant capital raise. While the two French companies, one is looking to open up their North American headquarters here in 2018 and the other one has two potential pilots with a Fortune 100 here in town.”
Another intangible benefit: Airbus, the aerospace giant based in Toulouse, also decided last month to open the base for its drone unit in Atlanta. That was after the aircraft manufacturer hosted Atlanta-based Carbice Corp. and Partpic, last year’s chosen companies, at its Airbus BizLab aerospace accelerator.
The exchange is one way the city is aiming to leverage its 18 sister-city relationships for economic development, a new objective as the city has retooled the program in the past few years under Mayor Kasim Reed.
“Without neglecting the educational and cultural mission of sister cities, we are putting additional emphasis on business development,” said Shelby Grubbs, who heads up the Atlanta Sister Cities Commission in addition to running the Atlanta Center for International Arbitration and Mediation.
With each city sending and receiving two companies to and from Atlanta, eight will participate overall in 2017. All expenses including airfare, lodging local travel, and even co-working space, are paid, except food.
For Baratunde Cola, CEO of Carbice Corp., the trip to Toulouse last year had the effect of honing focus on a particular business segment and opening his eyes to the potential of the French market.
Carbice, a Georgia Tech spinoff that raised $1.5 million this month in a seed round, makes a black tape composed of carbon nanotubes, a super conductive material that can be used to transfer heat within electronic devices. It helps device manufacturers save space and cost while improving computing power. The case for its use in consumer electronics was clear, but the trip gave Mr. Cola confidence he was on the right path in satellites, another potential application.
“We got validation that the problem we’re solving in the space market is the right problem. It helped us secure a strategic focus on space and satellites,” Mr. Cola told Global Atlanta.
That assurance came in part through relationships struck up with the help of Uwinloc, one of the Toulouse companies that visited Atlanta.
Before those ties and the trip, the “aerospace Silicon Valley” was off Mr. Cola’s radar.
“I’d never even heard of Toulouse before I went to Toulouse,” he said. Now he’s learning French.
The Newcastle partnership is being helped along by Sage, the British business software company based in that city since its own startup phase in 1981. The U.K. Department of International Trade and Invest Newcastle are also involved, as is Invest Atlanta.
Sage has its North American headquarters in Atlanta and has rapidly expanded its outreach to the startup and business community as it has grown its headcount at a new Atlantic Station office housing about 200 employees.
Sage will manage the process on the Newcastle side, helping locate and select the Newcastle companies and organizing their program in Atlanta. The first 50 applicants from Newcastle will get a free 12-month subscription to Sage One online accounting and payroll software. When they arrive in Atlanta, Sage will sponsor some travel and accommodations.
Earlier this month, Taylor Woodruff of Atlanta’s Office of International Affairs traveled to Virginia Beach, Va., to accept Sister Cities International’s Innovation Award for Economic Development on behalf of the program.
Read a detailed description of the first year’s program here.