Atlanta's exporters are not just limited to the Fortune 500, and the Metro Export Challenge hopes to engage small businesses reaching the international market. Photo: MAC

During the pandemic, many companies were just trying to survive, let alone market their goods and services to foreign buyers.  

Yet the annual Atlanta Metro Export Challenge grant winners in 2020 proved that opportunity abounds for export sales with the right level of support, even in the most uncertain times.  

John Woodward

Participants used $5,000 grants to internationalize and translate their websites, ensure compliance with Europe’s privacy regulations, gain ISO certifications and virtually present products to foreign clients — in a word, they “pivoted” when it became evident that travel and trades shows would not be an option.  

“It’s overused, but it truly was what they did,” said John Woodward, vice president of global commerce at the Metro Atlanta Chamber, which “quarterbacks” the metro-wide project.  

Applications for this year’s cohort opened May 17. As in years past, the 2021 challenge will award 12 companies with reimbursable $5,000 grants, offering them the opportunity to come back and pitch for more funding once they’ve made use of the first tranche.  

As the grant program enters its sixth year, exports are taking on a new sense of urgency, perhaps more than at any time since the recession of 2008. Proponents have long preached that exporting firms are more resilient, and diversification of markets matters during this period of uneven recovery at home and abroad.  

That rationale has led to a sustained effort to support job-creating international sales of local companies since the challenge began in 2016.  

When seed support from JPMorgan Chase subsided, economic development agencies stepped up to make the program last and spread its benefits throughout the broader metro region. Now, 108 companies employing more than 3,000 people have received a cumulative $645,000 in grants, traveling to 47 markets to attend trade shows and met with prospective clients. Seven participating firms have been acquired.  

While companies from 13 of metro Atlanta’s 29 counties have participated, Mr. Woodward said this year represents a new milestone in community funding support.  

Sponsors in 2021 include economic development partners representing the four most populous counties of the region (and the state): SelectCobb, Decide Dekalb, Select Fulton and Partnership Gwinnett. The Metro Atlanta Chamber itself is kicking in some cash, as are the City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of International Affairs, the Georgia District Export Council and the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s trade division.  

The University of Georgia’s Small Business Development Center and the U.S. Commercial Service will help with an additional draw for the program: tailored mentorship along the export journey.  

The Atlanta Metro Export Challenge has sponsors from the state, city and the metro area’s five most populous counties.

Global Atlanta spoke with a few of last year’s winners in February 2020, just before the pandemic hit the United States. While some considered travel their main source of potential new sales, others were already gearing up for internationalizing their product or service.  

Video game maker Tripwire Interactive was looking to do some web research into why their online games were receiving certain spikes from China — in hopes of replicating that virality and driving sales.  

“We have odd pieces of information, but absolutely not enough to put the puzzle together,” Vice President Alan Wilson said at the time. “If we could address what created those moments, we could talk about repeating them.” 

Online educational tool Zyrobotics, security provider Cloud Fish and fintech company First Performance — all service providers — were also among the 12 winners in 2020 as the chamber continued to recruit nontraditional exporters: those that don’t have a product to package but nonetheless have a competitive service to sell beyond U.S. borders. 

Applications are open until June 13 for small businesses that have at least two employees, been in business for a least a year, are located within the Atlanta metro area and have at least 51 percent U.S. content in their product or service. 

Learn more here and apply online here 

Contact Michael Theisen-Jones, director of Global Business Development, with questions at

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...