(Transcript of Rob Hassett’s podcast interview of Lance Weatherby of Georgia Tech Advance Technology Development Center for Business to Business Magazine)
ROB: This is Rob Hassett for Business to Business Magazine. This is going to be a podcast interview of Lance Weatherby with the Advance Technology Development Center. Lance, are you on?
LANCE: I am, Rob.
ROB: Good morning.
LANCE: Good morning.
ROB: Lance, where is the Advance Technology Development Center, which we know as the ATDC, located?
LANCE: We’re located in Technology Square which is the recent development at Georgia Tech. They spread it a little bit more east off of their traditional campus. So it is a great location in Midtown at 5th and Spring Street. It’s really kind of the hub these days of the technology start up community.
ROB: Lance, when was the ATDC first established?
LANCE: Oh my! The ATDC was first established back in 1980 when Governor Busbee wanted to do something to keep the engineers that were graduating from Georgia Tech in the State of Georgia as opposed to them moving off to California or Massachusetts or other places. We were established in 1980 to help increase the technology base in Georgia, which is essentially to create technology companies and jobs for technologists.
ROB: Is that the mission today?
LANCE: Yes, our mission really hasn’t changed. It is to create jobs in Georgia, not only for technologists, but for people of all walks of life as well.
ROB: Is it part of Georgia Tech?
LANCE: It is. We are part of Georgia Tech. I am a Georgia Tech employee. However, the companies and entrepreneurs that we help are not necessarily associated with Georgia Tech. About 1/3 of the companies that we have in our incubator program do have some relationship to Georgia Tech, either being a graduate or the technology came out of that university, but clearly 2/3 don’t. They have no connection whatsoever, and when we look at our broader programs that we do in terms of educational programs and things of that nature, I’m sure that it’s even less than 1/3 of Georgia Tech associated people that are benefited.
ROB: What is Venture Lab?
LANCE: Well, Venture Lab is our sister organization. The Advance Technology Development Center is now part of something called the Enterprise Innovation Institute, and that’s a mouthful. So what Venture Lab does is they only commercialize technology that is developed at Georgia Tech. So whenever a professor, graduate student, or PhD. candidate has an invention/discovery, that invention/discovery is filed with the university, and then Georgia Tech sends that invention/discovery to Venture Lab. And Venture Lab has a group of folks called “Venture Catalysts” that help determine whether or not that invention would best be suited, commercialized if you will, as either a licensing opportunity, a consulting opportunity, or an opportunity to actually to go and start a company. And they, at any one time, probably have 75 or so opportunities that they are evaluating. What Stephen Fleming, who is the Chief Commercialization Officer of Georgia Tech, likes to say is that if ATDC is an incubator, then we’re prenatal care. So they take companies that are at an even earlier stage than ours.
ROB: Do some of the Venture Lab companies eventually become ATDC companies?
LANCE: Yes, they often do. It does just depend on the nature of the company and what they’re doing, and how well that lines up with what we’re doing and if we have the ability to help them or not.
ROB: What does the ATDC offer its companies?
LANCE: We have five member benefits that we kind of conveniently call the five C’s. The first one of them is consulting to get practical advice from experienced entrepreneurs like myself who have been in start ups before, been with successful start ups before and are able to provide some guidance based on that. We provide them connections to the people and resources that are necessary or best, whether that’s investors, customers, business partners or other advisors. We have a really dynamic community of entrepreneurs down here. There is a great deal of peer-to-peer learning that takes place among the companies within the incubator, and that might be one of the most valuable aspects of what we do. We have a facility that is designed for start ups with very flexible lease terms, and the type of facilities that start ups want. And finally, being associated with ATDC gives the start ups and entrepreneurs credibility. It is instant recognition. Our companies have been very successful, and when investors and some of those other people, such as I just mentioned, come to ATDC, they know that the companies associated with us have a greater chance of success.
ROB: Lance, now I understand that you are a Venture Catalyst. I know you are very popular. I know you’re well liked among the start up tech companies down there, but as a Venture Catalyst, what do you actually do?
LANCE: Well, as a Venture Catalyst, I do several things. I spend a good deal of time consulting with the companies that are here in the incubator. The way that we break things up are into interesting categories, and based on my background, which I was with Mindspring and Earthlink and then Cyphertrust in its early stages, I deal with the internet, the new media companies, as well as the information security companies, and I am the lead counsel for them. I also spend a good deal of time talking to applicant companies, people, entrepreneurs that are interested in ATDC, and let them know a little bit more of what we are about and whether or not there is a potential fit with us, and if there is anybody listening to this that would like to get together and talk, I might suggest that they go to http://atdc.org/inquire, and they can get in front of me and some other people to try and figure out whether or not there’s a fit. And then the last thing I do is, I spend time with companies helping them with their marketing and business development efforts, as functionally, that’s where I kind of grew up.
ROB: How long have you been at ATDC?
LANCE: I’ve been here for two years now. I’m having lots of fun.
ROB: And what were your positions? At Mindspring, I know you were one of the earliest employees at Mindspring.
LANCE: Yeah, well I was actually there pretty early and that’s actually how I ended up at ATDC. As I started with that company when it was in the incubator back in 1995. So I had a bunch of different titles there. I was what they called a market development manager, and then it turned in to the vice president of business development and from there it became an EVP of sales and marketing. In that role, I was responsible for business development, marketing, product management, and product development for a period of time. When we merged with Earthlink, Gary Betty decided he wanted his marketing guy to be the marketing guy, and I was fine with that. But I was like, well what am I going to go do then? And what I ended up doing was I started their mobile wireless business unit, and grew that into a pretty substantial business in a short period of time. I left there and went to Cyphertrust, and was the chief marketing officer there. Now, I’m hanging out at the ATDC having lots of fun.
ROB: What was the business of Cyphertrust?
LANCE: They were an enterprise e-mail security company. So they made a box that kept bad people and things out of your e-mail system, specifically out of corporate e-mail systems. That was really our focus. Companies like Coca Cola and Home Depot, you know.
ROB: If a company becomes a part of the ATDC, what do you call them — a member or a participant or what?
LANCE: Yeah, we call them a member company and we kind of wrestled with … rassled, that sounded kind of like the wrestling you see on Friday night. We kind of wrestled with, you know, if that’s the right thing to call them or not, because we do have some limitations in the number of companies that can actually get into the incubator program. And what we have been doing is working on ways that we can help companies that for whatever reasons, aren’t such a good fit with our incubator program. Or perhaps they’re too early to really want to join the incubator. We try to offer them resources through educational programming and online services.
ROB: How many actual member companies do you have?
LANCE: I believe we have about 45 right now. We’ve got a pretty vibrant group of companies that are here. We typically in any year take in 13-15 companies, and graduate six maybe. And the way that a company graduates is that they get to a point where we consider them sustainable, and just kind of as a marker, once they get around $1M revenue, that’s when we typically start saying okay it’s time for you to move on and make some room for somebody else.
ROB: About how many applicants do you have per year for that average of 14 positions?
LANCE: We receive about 180 applicants here, which is a lot for those slots. It’s part of the reason why we’re expanding our educational programs because we just don’t have the resources to be able to accept more. And what we do as an incubator is really pretty tightly defined. We are looking for companies that fit in their own slice of the pie of all the start ups in the world out there.
ROB: What are the criteria that you look at to bring in, to decide whether to select a company from the 140 or so that apply?
LANCE: There’s really five things that we look at. One, we’re looking for some innovative science or technology-based concepts. You know our companies are bioscience companies, energy companies, hardware companies, internet companies, telecommunications companies. The keyword is innovative. The question that I always ask is, what are you doing that is unique from whatever’s out there and is going to give you some competitive advantage, and that’s a big question. We look for a strong and committed management team. At least one person has to be working on the business on a full-time basis. And typically when companies come in, they have two or three people that are members of the founding team. Because of our mission to create jobs in Georgia, we look for companies that have the ability to generate significant revenue and technology jobs. And we want companies that have an interest in participating in our community. As I mentioned, one of the biggest benefits the companies get from joining the ATDC, is the community and if the member companies aren’t willing to give back and participate in that way, then it probably isn’t really a good fit. And the other thing that really has to take place is the company really has to be far enough along that they can pay rent. And oftentimes a company that comes to us in very early stages of life, with just one person with an idea or concept. You know it’s either a business person or technology person, and we help nurture those companies.
ROB: Lance, could you give us the names of some companies that have gone through the program and graduated, that people would know about, would have heard of?
LANCE: Yes, Relevant Knowledge is the first one that pops in to my head, that was a company way back with Jeff Levy and Tim Cobb. It got sold to Media Matrix. Mindspring obviously is probably one of the bigger ones that came out of here. A little bit more recently, a company called Cardiomem is doing pretty well. Companies we have in here right now actually are a really strong set of companies. There’s Sineva that it seems like everyone has heard about. A company called Clear Leap is doing really well in the marketplace. It seems to be getting a lot of traction that I think you’ll be hearing about.
ROB: What do those companies do?
LANCE: Sineva makes solar panels more efficient. As a matter of fact, they are just today starting up a plant up in Gwinnett County where they are going to manufacture solar cells.
ROB: That’s today, which is October 20.
LANCE: October 20th, yeah. Clear Leap, basically enables video content owners to deliver a lot more video over the cable plant. It’s really interesting technology. There’s just such a host of companies. PureWire, which is a lot of my old friends at Cyphertrust, are making a security service. They’re basically doing security in the cloud which is pretty hot these days. But the number of companies that we have in here that have great potential right now, and I think it’s probably stronger than it’s ever been. And when I start mentioning companies, I invariably mention a company that something happens and they get waylaid, or I don’t mention companies that turn out to be very successful. So there’s a little danger there.
ROB: Yeah, that’s true. Well, Lance, I really appreciate your working with me today and being on the podcast. We’re supposed to try to keep this under 16 minutes and we are there.
LANCE: Excellent. Thank you very much, Rob, for having me on the show. And again, if any of your listeners would like to learn more about the ATDC, I suggest they go to our web site which is atdc.org and they can find out more information about it.