Oct 27, 2015

Tech firms find support in Alpharetta

by | News

With almost 900 companies in the North Fulton city, Alpharetta is rapidly becoming one of the nation’s up-and-coming technology hubs.

Spirit App founder Connor Ford works in Alpharetta’s Innovation Center.

Spirit App founder Connor Ford works in Alpharetta’s Innovation Center.

“People will often ask ‘why Alpharetta?’ or ‘Why didn’t you just go down to Buckhead?,’” said Connor Ford, the 18-year-old founder of tech startup Spirit App. “Alpharetta is a fantastic area.”

He developed the mobile app, which allows schools to create a unified portal for students to learn about registering for events outside the classroom, while a student at Mount Pisgah Christian School. To turn the app into a workable business, he decided to delay college for a year and move his efforts into the Alpharetta Technology Commission’s Innovation Center.

Located in the 8,500-square-foot former home of the city’s finance department, this co-working space is part of the city’s ongoing effort to transform Alpharetta into a nationally recognized center of support for innovation and entrepreneurship.

Ford said the Innovation Center is designed to “boost tech in the area and help you in any way they can. I work closely with the CEO of ATC, Mark Hubbard, and he’s done everything in his power to make sure I’m connected to the people I need to know and just generally doing anything to help.”

Assets such as an extensive fiber network helped attract the first big tech companies to the area, according to Karen Cashion, legal counsel of global technology at Travelport, and the founder and current president of the Greater Alpharetta Technology Network, an association that fosters networking between tech firms.

“These companies like to cluster and form tech hubs so once you have a few starting to lay down roots in a given area, it begets others,” she said.

Alpharetta also offers a rich stock of class A office and all the other amenities that executives find attractive such as upper-end housing, quality schools and more recently high-end retail.

The tech community includes health-care IT giant McKesson and smaller firms like Azalea Health, along with app makers like Spirit App, robotics companies and a host of others.

“You have a good mix and when you get the cluster forms then you get this cooperation in terms of talent and working together,” said Tino Mantella, president of Technology Association of Georgia.

As a result, Alpharetta has long been attractive to technology. Chad Osgood, CEO of Premier Logic, has been in the city for 10 years.

“When we moved here it was a good residential community with great schools and that helps you attract great people,” he said. “We saw (Alpharetta) as just a good strategic outpost for us.”

Networking is a big part of the appeal, especially for smaller firms. Ford found the solution to a coding problem that has been nagging him for more than a month over lunch with another technologist he met at the Innovation Center. “You have like-minded people around you that you can bounce ideas off. It also puts you in a different mindset from working from home,” he said.

When Sarah Tourville, CEO of Media Frenzy Global LLC, a tech marketing agency, moved to the city with her architect husband, she thought she would be traveling back to London to run her business. Instead she realized there was an ample market of tech companies where she now lived.

Helping those companies grow through interaction with other firms led her to join with Cashion to found Greater Alpharetta Technology Network, which holds monthly meetings with speakers.

“I see Alpharetta as a big incubator,” said longtime resident Bob Meads, president of local app companies iQagent and iQuest, who has teamed with several companies over the years to develop products.

“I don’t have to go very far to find a company that I can partner with or do business with in some way,” said Meads.

Originally published in Atlanta Business Chronicle.

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