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Southern Startup News | June 16 – June 30:
Atlanta, GA – TechHire ATL launches off the back of $4M federal grant –
The Southern tech talent gap is one of our most consistent topics at the SSR. For good reason; Southern ecosystems often struggle to attract experienced developers or effectively develop them close to home. Even Atlanta, one of our more developed hubs, is looking for ways to widen and diversify talent pipelines. Their newest initiative, TechHire ATL, is looking to fill a class of 360 students – drawn largely from lower-income communities – for a three-year, free introduction to tech topics.
It’s an ambitious plan, but TechHire and similar programs provide an important chance to increase opportunity share in Southern cities (around 20 Southeastern cities are involved in TechHire, including New Orleans) while simultaneously improving regional talent pools. One of the other initiatives we’ve tracked, TechHire Kentucky (TEKY), has been in operation for over a year, and has already placed graduates at local tech companies.
Leading the charge for TechHire ATL is TechSquare Labs, a familiar name for SSR readers due to their involvement with The Engage Fund, a public/private/academic partnership that we’ve covered in the past. They’ll share their duties with public organization Worksource Atlanta, and Thinkful, a coding school. Again, it’s worth noting Atlanta’s consistent collaborations between local companies and local government. Also notable? The $4M federal grant powering the initiative.
Knoxville, TN – LaunchTN receives $500K from Appalachian Regional Commission –
It’s no secret that Southern and heartland states have been hit the hardest by the decline of the coal mining industry. After all, we’ve just endured an election cycle that saw coal and coal miners become a marquis political cause. A lot of recent debate has centered around bringing coal back to a place of prominence, but other (quieter) governmental agencies have been taking a different tack: funding programs that encourage the creation of a more diversified workforce. The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) has so far plowed over $92M in funding into various regional initiatives, with a solid chunk of that money heading to Southern states Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.
One of the beneficiaries of the new round is LaunchTN. If that name’s a little unfamiliar, you may know them better for their banner conference, 36|86, which has steadily grown to be one of the Southeast’s highest-profile annual events. The $500K they’ve received will go toward expanding education and training programs for rural youth, building tech infrastructure, and providing general support to entrepreneurs in East Tennessee.
I do have to close this on a negative note. ARC is in danger. Recently released budget proposals put the initiative on the chopping block, despite signs that the individual who made the decision doesn’t appear to know what ARC does. While our nation’s budget remains in flux, I’m extremely worried about the cavalier way in which ARC is being treated. Watch ARC – it’s been an enormously beneficial program for innovation in numerous states, but it’s a canary in a political coal mine and it may not be around much longer.
New Orleans, LA – Two New Orleans ventures secure grants at Creator Awards South –
I was pretty excited to see two New Orleans ventures heading to the Creator Awards South stage in Austin. After all, as you may have heard, the Awards were a big deal. Produced and powered by coworking unicorn WeWork, the awards see over $20M in grants passed out to startups ranging from idea stage to rapidly scaling. Even better: both companies won grants in their respective categories. Catering venture My House Social picked up $18K in the Incubate category, while Brothers Empowered to Teach, which recruits men of color for careers in education, scored an impressive $130K in the Launch category. Huge congrats to both; it’s extremely encouraging to see local startups performing so well on such a high-profile stage.
Lake Charles, LA – Waitr expands services to Birmingham –
We’ve got a Louisiana startup on the move! Lake Charles-based food delivery service Waitr has officially announced the start of services to Birmingham, making it their fourth Alabama expansion after Hoover, Mobile, and Tuscaloosa. While a single-city expansion might seem like a minor step for a company that already operates in 22, it’s a good opportunity to call attention to Waitr’s rapidly scaling scope. Their aggressive rate of expansion is remarkable for any company, especially given that they’re one of only a handful of Louisiana companies that have both raised a considerable round of funding and applied it almost entirely to growth. Things do make more sense when you look at their particular industry. Food delivery is an intensely competitive space, where Waitr has to jostle for room against companies including Amazon, Postmates, and Uber. They’re currently in a spot where rapid scale across the Southeast is probably their best bet on survival in this packed field. Keep an eye on Waitr. I expect them to remain one of the fastest-moving startups in Louisiana.
Charleston, SC – Blackbaud announces $121M acquisition of JustGiving –
Yep, BlackBaud has gobbled yet another company. While the Charleston company primarily focuses on the nonprofit sector, recent years have seen them rapidly expand to cover other verticals. With 4 major acquisitions since 2015, they’re among the Southeast’s most startup-hungry large organizations, and a name that any operators in nonprofit or edtech should be intimately familiar with.
Let’s go ahead and add a new sector to the list: crowdfunding. Blackbaud’s mammoth buy-out of British company JustGiving, their largest since their $190M acquisition of Smart Tuition in 2015, makes for an interesting wrinkle in their existing offerings. JustGiving does focus on philanthropic crowdfunding, and can be thought of as a UK cousin to GoFundMe. Blackbaud’s decision to pick them up is primarily motivated by a desire to stay ahead of the curve as Americans fundamentally change the ways in which they donate. Given Blackbaud’s incredible reach and influence with the American nonprofit sector, there’s potential for this move to have an immediate impact both on causes looking for cash, and on the platforms that currently serve them.
Atlanta, GA – Car360 – $3.55M Series A
Atlanta, GA – MessageGears – $2.75M
Atlanta, GA – Movius – $15M Series C
Atlanta, GA – Synthio – $10.5M
Miami, FL – Kairos – $347K
Miami, FL – RecordGram – $1M
Miami Lakes, FL – Hero K12 – $150M
New Orleans, LA – Pine Biotech – $1M
Tampa, FL – Homee – $15M Seed
July 6 – New Orleans, LA – NOLA Health Innovators Community Kickoff
July 11 – Conway, AR – Conductor Mentor Network Meeting
July 14 – Birmingham, AL – Sloss Tech 2017
July 16 – New Orleans, LA – CoderCruise
July 20 – Atlanta, GA – On the Grind with Chirag T. Patel
Upcoming Event: July 12, a Day of Action in Defense of Net Neutrality – So, we care about net neutrality. A lot. We care about it a lot, we even blogged about it, major commitment, right? All kidding aside, this matters to us; net neutrality is one of the key tools keeping the David vs. Goliath showdown between small startup ecosystems and the coasts at least sort of even. We’re working with Fight for the Future to put on a day of action in New Orleans. We’d like you join us – duties include helping contact lawmakers, creating a solid statement on the importance of net neutrality, and consuming the free pizza and beer we’ll be providing.