If you follow startups in Atlanta at all on social, you might have seen a few, oh, eleventy-hundred or so tweets and posts about the 2017 Startup Awards recently. (Probably a lot of them from, um, me.)
If it started to feel a bit like pledge drive week on NPR, I'm not surprised: Let me tell you, it is hard to get visibility in our very saturated startup space. It requires dedication, perseverance, and a sublime level of obliviousness to being a nuisance.
Since I'm obviously big on that sort of thing, I was probably one of those people whose posts were blocking your regularly scheduled program of cat videos and single-pan food porn gifs. Well ... #SorryNotSorry.
"The interesting thing about the Atlanta startup ecosystem is that it's big, but it's also really small - in the sense that you see many of the same players time and time again dedicated to supporting the newer members of the ecosystem. The Awards planning committee and judges did an amazing job of making sure that not only were the new and exciting startups highlighted, but that those who build up the community were also celebrated. Hype was honored to be a part of that mission."
In fact, I'm going to pull a bit of an Ira Glass here. Not only am I not sorry, but if you're reading this and you're in the startup scene in ATL (and I presume you are and that's why you're reading my blog), and you didn't nominate anyone, vote for a finalist, spread the word or attend the gala event, then what are you even doing with your life?
Okay, okay, guilt trip over (for this year); let's talk about the actual awards and the accompanying dinner, because it was super fun, and I think it's the beginning of what will become an awesome Atlanta tradition.
Organized by Startup Atlanta and led by their executive director, Charlton Cunningham, the Startup Awards "celebrate startups that stand out." With a strong roster of sponsors, including Hypepotamus, Atlanta Technology Angels, ATDC and more, the awards recognize local successes in the following categories: Best B2B Startup, Best B2C Startup, Best Social Impact Startup, Scrappiest Startup, Art of the Pivot,Top Impact Player, Top Community Builder, and Lifetime Achievement. (Full nominees and winners list below.)
"There’s so much emphasis on startups that have gone through funding rounds. So it was refreshing that the awards acknowledged founders who have achieved a level of success, without ever raising equity. UrbanGeekz is a bootstrapped startup fueled by a deep-seated passion for educating and inspiring women and untapped minorities to explore STEM fields, business, and entrepreneurship. With that being said, we were thrilled to be nominated for the Scrappiest Startup Awards. It's difficult but definitely not impossible to build a successful startup without outside funding."
“The Atlanta Startup Awards were conceived as a way to get the entire community involved in recognizing some of our city’s most exciting and high-growth startups and founders. We also included individual awards to acknowledge the community leaders that help grow and support the ecosystem,” Charlton told Hype in an interview last week. “It was gratifying to see how many members of the ecosystem volunteered their time and contributed to make sure the best companies were included and the Awards were a success.”
This was the inaugural year for the Startup Awards, so there were the standard growing pains that accompany every first-time event.
A couple of things I noted: The categories could be broken down even further to allow up-and-comers on the scene to not directly compete with titans like Jen Bonnett or Grace Fricks (because how do you even do that?); there were a few attendee gaps where I felt absences were noticeable (if you're an industry leader and/or you're nominated for an award, I think it's important to show your support in person for new events like this ... c'mon, y'all); and I felt the price point for an event celebrating scrappy little startups was a bit on the high side, especially for nominees.
However, you definitely got what you paid for: Open bar, an excellent three-course dinner, and some serious after-party networking in a glitzy location at The Gathering Spot. Not to mention an entertaining emcee turn by Rickey Bevington, senior anchor and correspondent of Georgia Public Broadcasting. (New goal: Have stage presence like Rickey.)
A few highlights from the night:
- Ugo Ezeamuzie, founder at Bloveit, filled in for Scoutmob and Switchyards Downtown Club co-founders Dave Payne and Michael Tavani, and got to accept an award on their behalf not once, but twice, as Dave took home Top Impact Player, and the pair won Top Community Builder. Ugo gave a heartfelt speech both times, which is an impressive feat on the spot!
- Grace Fricks, president and CEO of Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs, won the Lifetime Achievement Award, and gave a kick-ass speech that included my new favorite line: "I'm not a crier, I'm a cusser." (And she's not done yet, y'all!)
- I had a chance to enthusiastically debate "what makes a startup a startup" with a table of rockstars like Manoela Muraro of Your Social Team, Bridgett Rich of Acuity, Mia Jones-Walker of TAG, Erika Childers of UserIQ, Holly Beilin of Hypepotamus and David Melhado of Intecoo (my expansive gestures forever immortalized in the below tweet):
Overall, it was a great evening, and I know next year's nominations and attendance will be even better.
So if you're in the startup scene (and would like to avoid being Ira Glass-ed by me), gear up for the 2018 Startup Awards, and help celebrate startups that stand out!
2017 Startup Awards Finalists & Winners:
"It’s an honor to be recognized as Atlanta’s Best B2B Startup. As recent graduates of the ATDC incubator program, the startup community is near and dear to us and has been critical to our growth over the last three years. As UserIQ enters the next phase of our growth, we couldn’t be more proud to work and thrive alongside so many of the other great startups in Atlanta."
Best B2B Startup
The Best B2B Startup Award recognizes a startup that solves a problem for businesses and has achieved significant milestones over the last 12 months.
Finalists: StudentBridge, Gather Technologies, stable | kernel, & GreenPrint
Winner: Customer growth platform UserIQ
Best B2C Startup
The Best B2C Startup Award recognizes a startup that provides a product to consumers that has achieved significant milestones over the last 12 months.
Finalists: Hirewire & Urban Tree Cidery
Winner: Neighbor-to-neighbor shipping platform Roadie
Best Social Impact Startup
The Best Social Impact Startup Award recognizes a mission-driven for-profit startup with a social mission who has made the biggest impact on the Atlanta community and/or beyond in the past 12 months.
Finalists: S.T.E.M. STARS, Goodr, Vayando, Mini City, & Acivilate
Winner: Emergency call routing platform LaaSer Critical Communications
"I'm impressed with the fact that the Atlanta Startup Awards included a category for social impact. It definitely demonstrates that social enterprises are gaining recognition here in Atlanta. When I first started working on Vayando a few years ago, social enterprises were a bit of a foreign concept. Glad to see more startups with a double bottom line gaining ground."
the art of the pivot
The Art of the Pivot Award celebrates a startup’s ability to change its business model, product direction, target audience, etc. and successfully revamp their business in the face of adversity over the last 12 months.
Finalists: Goodwipes & Shouty
Winner: Marketing intelligence provider Converge
The Scrappiest Startup Award recognizes a startup that has achieved significant milestones over the last 12 months without ever raising equity or debt capital.
Finalists: NeuroLex Laboratories, UNpopular Style, LeadUp, LaBlaq Creativ, & UrbanGeekz
Winner: Coding bootcamp DigitalCrafts
"There are so many break-out companies here in Atlanta, and I love the fact that an event like Startup Awards takes the time to highlight and honor them. It was awesome to see some Switchyards companies in the mix -- huge shoutout to Goodwipes and Vayando. And of course, congrats to Dave Payne and Michael Tavani for their wins. They’ve handcrafted an incredible community here at Switchyards, and it was my pleasure to accept those awards on their behalf."
top community builder
The Top Community Builder Award recognizes a startup founder or startup CEO who has made an impact in the last 12 months in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Finalists: Carlos Gonzalez & Porsha Thomas
Winner: Scoutmob and Switchyards Downtown Club co-founders Dave Payne & Michael Tavani
top impact player
The Top Impact Player Award recognizes an individual who is not a founder or CEO of a startup and who has made a significant impact on startup entrepreneurs. Nominees are investors, mentors, or a supporter of small business owners and startups.
Finalists: Jen Bonnett, Allen Nance, Bridgett Rich, & Katharine Mobley
Winner: Scoutmob and Switchyards Downtown Club co-founder Dave Payne
The Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes an individual who has made a significant impact on startup entrepreneurs and contributed significantly to the growth of the Atlanta startup community over a sustained period of time (15 years or more).
Winner: Grace Fricks, president and CEO of Access to Capital for Entrepreneur