By Mike Klein
When Advanced Catheter Therapies announced a new technology patent in January, the dateline was Chattanooga, Tenn. The press release noted, “The Company recently announced a name change from Atlanta Catheter Therapies.”
No longer located in Georgia, Advanced Catheter raised almost $3 million from Tennessee-based investors after it became frustrated with Georgia’s inadequate venture capital opportunities. One of the investment requirements was relocation to Tennessee.
“Everybody I talked to in Tennessee, it was like, how can I help you?” said ACT founder Paul Fitzpatrick, who commutes to Chattanooga from his home in Atlanta’s northern suburbs. He recalled conversations that went something like, “What doors can I open to help you succeed?”
Advanced Catheter is one among many examples that illustrate Georgia succeeds at creating attractive companies but it has real problems holding onto them at certain venture capital stages. Governor Nathan Deal admitted as much to an Atlanta Press Club audience, saying, “We know that one of the things that we are lacking is venture capital for start-up companies.”
The General Assembly passed no venture capital legislation this year, although it did consider two bills.
“One of the reasons that we are losing start-up companies is they are able to be siphoned off by Boston and they’re able to be siphoned off by Silicon Valley,” Deal said. “Having that capital available is important. We are going to continue to work on it.”
The closest that Georgia came to venture capital legislation is a pension reform bill the governor signed on April 16. It allows the state Employee Retirement System to invest up to 5 percent (about $750 million) of its total assets (about $14.9 billion) in venture capital and other investments specifically named in the bill. No more than 1 percent (about $150 million) could be invested in each of five consecutive years.
The legislation is so specific that it cannot be interpreted to make investments funds available to entrepreneurs trying to create the next big idea in Georgia. One example is Internet Security Systems – better known as ISS – that was incubated here by Chris Klaus and Tom Noonan.
ISS is among Georgia’s best technology success stories, not quite ranking with Ted Turner’s invention of CNN and other enormous technology platforms at Turner Broadcasting, but similar to the creation of Internet service provider MindSpring by Charles Brewer in 1994.
As a Georgia Tech undergrad in 1993, Klaus became intrigued by the development of software to help businesses defend themselves against computer hackers. A few years later Klaus and partner Noonan stumped for Georgia venture capital investors to grow their business. There were none with the resources that ISS needed.
Eventually, they secured millions of dollars in venture capital from two Boston firms that allowed ISS to remain in Atlanta. ISS eventually employed more than 1,650. Six years ago ISS was sold to IBM for about $1.3 billion. Klaus and Noonan are Georgia entrepreneurial icons and home-grown innovators who’ve moved onto other ventures.
ISS was able to stay and build its brand in Atlanta. Regrettably, that is often not the case.
SolidFire left Atlanta for Boulder, Colo., when the innovator of solid-state storage systems for cloud service providers secured $11 million in Colorado-based venture capital funds. NightRaft moved to Austin, Texas, where the company is staking out a position in live entertainment event smart phone apps marketing, which NightRaft says is already a $1 billion-per-year industry.
It’s not just new businesses. Georgia has lost established, highly successful businesses.
A University of Georgia scientist founded AviGenics in 1996 after he developed a protein production technology. Twelve years later AviGenics was rebadged Synageva Corp. when it closed $17 million in Massachusetts venture capital financing. Today it focuses on rare diseases. Some parts of Synageva remained here, but major components of the company moved to Boston.
This year – and this month – brought announcements that thousands of new Georgia jobs will be created by major corporate expansions and relocations. The governor has announced that Illinois-based pharmaceutical researcher Baxter International will bring 1,500 jobs to a new $1 billion facility near Social Circle about 40 miles outside Atlanta. Baxter joins Caterpillar, Carter’s and Toyota in planned Georgia expansion.
Georgia has demonstrated it can attract corporations. But will it create the same sense of urgency around assistance to state-based entrepreneurs? Venture capital is a first-tier priority. Georgia must foster a supportive innovation ecosystem so that our entrepreneurs keep 21st-century keep jobs here. Or they will continue to leave Georgia – and take the jobs with them.