Atlanta’s tech start-up scene

Moderated by Rick Badie

A tech entrepreneur with nearly three decades as an innovator explains why he chooses Atlanta over Silicon Valley and other notable start-up hubs to nurture his career. The other essay explains the importance of social media marketing for growing businesses. Elsewhere, we continue the discussion of the Fair Tax, which today’s writer says fails to add up numbers-wise.

A seasoned secret for tech startups

By Chris Poelma

With no shortage of picturesque mountain views and an unparalleled urban trail network, the Mile-High City is where I spent the last two years of my 30-year technology career.

Leaving Denver for the economic capital of the South wasn’t easy. Denver’s vibrant startup community, like its wildlife, drew me in. Incubators overflowed with entrepreneurs buzzing with excitement. In Colorado — with Denver and Boulder as epicenters — a startup launches every 72 hours! The bootstrapped and bullish mentality there motivated me as I started my fifth business.

However, while Denver provides a great environment for entrepreneurs to start businesses, too few start-ups actually stick around.

In 2014, 36 Colorado digital tech companies were acquired or had initial public stock valuations. More frequently, though, many joined the nearly 90 percent of startups nationwide that ultimately dissolved.

After my Denver-based startup was acquired, I set my sights on growing the next phase of my career in a more mature market: Ultimately, somewhere warm, where snow — for the most part — couldn’t impact my morning runs.

Often overshadowed by Silicon Valley, Boston, New York and even Denver at times, Atlanta is the best-kept secret for tech startups. Although the city serves as home base to 30 longstanding Fortune 500 and 1,000 companies like The Coca-Cola Co., Delta Air Lines and NCR Corp., these brands are masters of reinvention that support the technology community and tap the city’s culture to fuel innovation.

Denver, meanwhile, claims 20 Fortune 1000 companies in its wheelhouse.

Further, many of the Atlanta-based Fortune 500 and 1,000, including NCR, are creating startups within their own organizations. NCR Small Business was created to run with a startup mentality to introduce the NCR Silver point-of-sale system to a new market. Now, I’m tasked with taking that “startup” to the next level.

Like Denver, Atlanta has its fair share of independent startups. An often-overlooked advantage in the Atlanta market is the technology reinvention going on in the Fortune 1000. And that’s happening in Atlanta. It’s a more seasoned marketplace, the perfect location for companies which aspire to expand globally.

Atlanta is home to the world’s busiest international airport, making it easier for entrepreneurs to travel to meet investors and take businesses global. For me, that’s one of the biggest selling points for starting and growing a business here.

Beyond funding and travel perks, Atlanta offers a one-of-a-kind tech culture. Chalk it up to Southern hospitality, but you can’t help but get a sense that everyone is rooting for you to win.

From the Atlanta Tech Village, where more than 800 entrepreneurs and 230-plus startups reside, to ATDC at Georgia Tech, ranked one of the world’s top technology incubators, there is an enormous amount of camaraderie and support.

Starting a company can be a lonely experience. Organizations like the Technology Association of Georgia, Technology Executive Roundtables, MIT Enterprise Forum of Atlanta and the Metro Atlanta Chamber, however, go out of their way to make entrepreneurs feel secure. They’ve certainly welcomed an Atlanta transplant like me, connecting me with other entrepreneurs in the area and offering support at every step.

Atlanta is a force to be reckoned with in the technology arena and there is room for improvement. However, it helps to be located in the nexus of 30 Fortune 1000 companies while being adjacent to Georgia Tech, Georgia State, Emory, Morehouse and six other university systems that work to drive innovation.

Local colleges and universities graduate nearly 2,500 engineers annually. Can you imagine the impact Atlanta could make if all of that talent remained here? If generating more awareness about the opportunities, resources and encouragement available can help, sign me up to spread the word.

The city is beaming with accomplishments and promise. From Midtown to the northern suburbs, you know the next big thing in technology is emerging.

Chris Poelma is president & general manager of small business at NCR Corporation and NCR Silver.

Social media’s opportunities abound

By Purvi Patel

As small business owners, we make decisions on growing, expanding and literally “doing” our business every single day. These decisions impact our business model, finances and potential for success.

When entrepreneurs express their concerns with social media marketing, the most common question I get asked is, “How do I know that this is going to make my business profitable?” Quite frankly, there is no guarantee. What I’ve experienced as a marketing professional is that it offers more benefits than risks.

The more effort you put into marketing your business, the more substantial your return. With social media, the potential to take your business to another level is exponential. Whether your business is localized, solely online or in multiple locations, social media and content marketing are important digital avenues that your business should take advantage of.

Social media can serve as a portal for a multitude of services. ranging from customer acquisition to reputation management. The importance of a social presence goes beyond sporadic posts about your trade and there are several advantages for any business using social media as a marketing resource.

One of the most significant attributes of social media marketing is its relationship with search engine optimization. However, search engine optimization has expanded beyond meta descriptions, title tags and links back to your site.

Any and all content about your brand that lives online impacts search results in some shape or form, regardless of whether it was published by you or someone else. While an exact percentile to measure the impact has not been discovered, we know that many consumers heavily consider your online presence when looking to obtain services. Like most things on the Internet, search engine optimization is always changing.

Research shows that more and more consumers are converting to online. The more you increase your brand’s visibility for first-time viewers and repeat customers, the more acquainted they’ll feel with your company. For example, an apathetic consumer that has stumbled upon your brand across multiple channels is more likely to engage with you than before. Similarly, consumers who frequently engage with you become loyal purchasers and advocates of your products and services.

With thousands of new brands popping up daily, staying at the top of Google search results has become a challenge. The entirety of your business lives predominately on your website. This creates a challenge for new businesses to discover your brand from a quick search.

However, every social channel your brand adds creates a path back to your website. The more compelling and magnetic content your brand curates or shares increases your visibility and traffic. Simply put: more traffic equals more leads and more conversions.

Every social media post is an opportunity for a conversion. Building your audience will ensure that these posts are reaching potential and previous customers.

The latest social media features now allow you to geo-target your post, which allows localized brands or companies that have multiple locations to create unique posts that are targeted solely for that area. Interactions with your brand on a consistent basis increase the likelihood of a conversion.

While there are several other benefits to social media marketing for your business, I strongly believe the insights mentioned above are most important. Whether you are kickstarting a new venture or you’ve reached a plateau, social media and content marketing can certainly help to make your brand successful and profitable.

By becoming active on social media, you’re provided with a plethora of ways to build your brand and overall online following. From growing an online community to expanding the reach of your brand, the potential business opportunities that getting started with social media marketing provides is essentially endless.

Purvi Patel is social media director for Atlanta-based Big Squid Interactive.

Do better than the FairTax

By Allen Buckley

Typically, either knowing or not knowing the numbers do not add up, Georgia Republican congressmen support the Fair Tax bill that has been around since the late 1990s. I have always assumed they supported it to attract votes of the FairTax cult in Georgia, a small but vocal group. Our senators support the FairTax bill.

Our Republicans in D.C. generally advocate tackling our nation’s pressing debt and entitlement problems. I believe they are correct that these problems must be addressed immediately and that they are legitimately concerned. Then consider their plan of implementation. This is where things fall apart.

The problem with the FairTax bill is the numbers don’t work. Contrary to the Fair Tax economists’ conclusions, a 2000 memorandum of the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation stated the five-year tax-inclusive revenue-neutral rate is approximately 63 percent higher than the rate in the bill (i.e., 37.5 percent, compared to 23 percent in the bill). This means a $1 sale (pre-tax) would need to bear 60 cents of tax instead of 30 cents in order for the Fair Tax to be revenue-neutral using the five-year neutrality rate. (The 10-year revenue neutral rates are slightly lower.) The 2005 President’s Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform reached a similar conclusion.

FairTax advocates say these government analyses improperly assume some evasion and fail to account for government sales. However, assuming no evasion is unreasonable, taxing federal government sales produces identical costs and state and local government sales probably cannot lawfully be taxed. Claiming that the IRS can be eliminated is ludicrous, unless you accept that there will be a tax collection agency with a different name.

If enacted in a revenue-neutral manner, the FairTax would shift a tremendous amount of the federal tax burden from a relatively small portion of the voting population (the wealthy and upper middle class) to a very large portion (the middle class and retirees). Thus, no politician of significant power has pressed for it.

Our representatives either know or don’t know the numbers don’t work. Which is worse? We have tremendous financial problems that necessitate solutions. The tax system is a mess, but that does not justify a fix that does not compute.

Perhaps our representatives believe starting with a very conservative position is a means of achieving a better compromise with Democrats. However, on a national level, no Democrats and few Republicans would vote for the Fair Tax.

The FairTax could work if federal spending was cut by more than 40 percent. Where are the plans from our Republican representatives in this regard, given their desire to increase military spending? Without such cuts, the debt would grow tremendously if anyone would lend to the U.S. under such circumstances.

Essentially, our Republican representatives say we need to build a strong bridge to support heavy vehicles for years and we can build it out of straw. That’s simply unreasonable. They need to do better for us.

Allen Buckley, an Atlanta attorney, specializes in tax law and employee benefits.

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