Now in its fifth year, the Atlanta Metro Export Challenge has hit its stride, with 12 new awardees selected last Wednesday from an array of sectors to receive $5,000 reimbursable grants in support of their international sales efforts this year.
Facilitated by the Metro Atlanta Chamber, the challenge has matured into even more of widespread collaboration this year, with new applicants and supporters from throughout the 29-county region.
New partner organizations like Select Cobb, Decide Dekalb, Georgia Department of Economic Development, City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of International Affairs and Forward Forsyth have chipped in to offset the expiration of seed funding from JPMorgan Chase that got the program started in 2016. Longtime partner Partnership Gwinnett continues to support the initiative.
Since then, the challenge has awarded $400,000 to 96 companies from 13 counties who employ a total of 2,300 people in metro Atlanta. Winners have attended 52 trade shows in 22 countries, and four have been acquired.
The challenge is broken into two parts throughout the year: Companies use the initial grant to overcome hurdles to global expansion, with many using the money to attend trade shows or translate materials into target languages. Then five firms are selected for a pitch competition in November that brings the chance to win an additional $20,000 in funding.
The goal is in many cases is to reframe the concept of exporting, which is seen by some as the sale of strictly physical goods shipped abroad. Indeed, many of this year’s applicants don’t see themselves as traditional exporters but have found themselves exploring international markets.
Tripwire Interactive LLC has been in business for 15 years now, selling its PC and console games like “Killing Floor” and “Maneater” in an estimated 140 countries.
But much of that has been passive, says Vice President Alan Wilson, and some days, the online traffic out of Asia has made the company wonder whether intentionally investing in “Eastern markets” might yield more predictable sales that would largely go straight to the bottom line.
The potential is huge: For certain moments after a sale or special event — or even sometimes for no apparent reason — China has eclipsed the U.S. as the company’s top market for players and in-game sales. The problem, Mr. Wilson admitted, is that Tripwire doesn’t have the language skills to dig down into the opaque Chinese Internet and really understand why. At times, the Chinese-language store page has lit up, but it’s been tough to see corresponding sales growth.
“We have odd pieces of information, but absolutely not enough to put the puzzle together,” Mr. Wilson said. “If we could address what created those moments, we could talk about repeating them.”
The $5,000 grant isn’t enough to put a new office in China or launch a new game, but it might help hire someone to help understand cultural issues or digital behavior in the world’s largest video game market, which is also “notoriously difficult” to enter for Western firms without a local partner due to culture, regulation and censorship, Mr. Wilson said.
“For us (the grant) is more about the expertise — trying to find people who can advise us, help us guide us on those markets,” he added.
Another digitally based company in Atlanta, Zyrobotics, is looking southward instead of east.
The company’s tools, toys and apps aimed at helping children start learning STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) at a young age are seeing purchases and downloads around South America, without much of a concerted effort there, says CEO Johnetta MacCalla.
“We’d get this huge spike — and then we’d look at where they came from and they wouldn’t be (in the U.S.). But how do you capitalize on that, and how do you make it happen over and over?”
Only one Zyrobotics app is in Spanish, and the company has little understanding of how to sell beyond parents to educators and possibly even schools in countries like Argentina or Spain, said Dr. MacCalla, an engineer who joined the company when it got started making a Bluetooth device to help disabled kids control tablets.
Learning about the export challenge and receiving consistent updates from the team at the chamber motivated the company to explore how to fill gaps in knowledge.
“That was the first time we really thought about it, to say is it possible, is it feasible?”
Zyrobotics applied in 2019 but was turned down, only to come back and win the grant this year. Dr. MacCalla says the funds will likely be used to translate one of its flagship interactive apps or games, like “STEM Storiez” or “The Code Road”, into Spanish — or at least make them more discoverable for Spanish speakers in the Apple App Store or on Google Play. Attending trade shows is another option.
“You can’t even be serious about exporting if you’re not even using the same language and terminology that people are interested in,” she said.
Outgoing Chamber President Hala Moddelmog said in a statement that the winners of the challenge underscore how it helps Atlanta’s diverse business community find markets.
“Their success abroad leads to job creation here in our region, and they serve as ambassadors for Atlanta around the world,” said Ms. Moddelmog, who announced in January that she would be stepping down after six years at the chamber’s helm.
As in years past, the challenge’s winners are heavy on technology, from cybersecurity firm CloudFish to fintech innovator First Performance to Futurus, which works with companies to develop virtual and augmented reality environment and experiences.
But those with physical products or more traditional services weren’t shut out: Poly Tech Industries Inc. make agricultural equipment in Jasper County (the city of Monticello), while Stallings Industries sells gaskets made in Jasper, Ga. (Pickens County).
Based out of Gwinnett, Quantum Aviation Solutions helps airports with technology implementation, particularly in automating baggage systems.
Meet This Year’s Atlanta Metro Export Challenge Grant Winners:
- 360 Network Solutions, LLC
- Axion BioSystems
- First Performance
- Poly Tech Industries, Inc.
- Quantum Aviation Solutions
- Revenue Analytics
- Sigma Thermal
- Stallings Industries
- Tripwire Interactive
Learn more here.