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New venture fund model at Georgia Tech boasts major corporate investors


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: June 13th, 2018

What do AT&T, Chick-fil-A, Cox Enterprises, Delta Air Lines, Goldman-Sachs, Georgia-Pacific, The Georgia Power Foundation, Intercontinental Exchange, Invesco, Home Depot and UPS have in common? Besides all having headquarters or regional offices in Atlanta, they are all also board members of Engage Ventures, a venture capital fund and accelerator based at Georgia Tech.

The Engage fund, launched in 2017 with $15 million, has increased to $18 million with the recent addition of board members Goldman-Sachs and Invest Georgia.

While university venture funds have become more prevalent across the country, this model is clearly unique. In addition to having as its foundation a board comprised solely of leading corporations, it also involves mentorship from board members, business intelligence, and a powerful corporate network of contacts and potential customers for the start-ups involved in the program.

Another key factor in the model is that it is much more than just a “university fund.” Engage and its accelerator are located in Georgia Tech’s Technology Square within the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), a start-up incubator. “Most accelerator programs have a funding source, and in this case the [Engage] fund was created for the operation of the accelerator as well as for investment in start-ups,” explains Chris Downing, PE, the vice president of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2).

The idea for Engage came from the highest level. “The President of Georgia Tech and local CEOs and myself started talking about the need to connect our large companies with the early-stage ecosystem,” recalls Blake Patton, founder and managing partner of Tech Square Ventures, an Atlanta-based seed and early-stage VC firm, and managing director for Engage. “As we talked, Marty Flannigan, CEO of Invesco and essentially the ringleader from the corporate side, shared a story about how he was looking at emerging technology, and that since he had previously been Co-CEO at Franklin Templeton and knew how to connect that network, what an advantage those relationships would be here.”

Patton adds that Bud Peterson, the Georgia Tech President, pointed out to the group that Tech had more than 20 innovation centers. “So we realized we had an opportunity to do something that not only provided funding, but even more important, connections and relationships; hundreds of executives of companies that dominate industry will know hundreds of innovators,” Patton says. “It could change the trajectory of success for entrepreneurs and what they would work on in the future.”

As the team “hit the road” with their concept, its appeal became apparent. “We talked with a handful of [corporate] peers and there was a tremendous amount of excitement,” Patton reports. “They were looking for activity to increase their pipelines and were also looking for the ability to have an impact on culture by getting their team involved.”

What was intriguing to them, he adds, was not just the opportunity to look at innovations, but to do it together, with the unique vantage point of multiple industries. “We knew we were on to something right off the bat; every single CEO resonated with it,” Patton recalls.

Each interested company was asked to invest in the program, to serve with one of the CEOs on the board, and each company was asked to appoint a “quarterback,” or “Sherpa,” to help the organization navigate in and out of corporate partners.

Georgia Tech, Patton continues, is an integral part of the program. “They provide the platform,” he explains. “They already had one of the country’s largest and oldest incubators, and we used that to build our platform out of. Georgia Tech’s abilities help us stand up to the community. We interface with the venture community through them and Invesco. [The combination] would be hard to organically create.”

A detailed article on the Engage venture fund model appears in the May issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and access the full article, along with the publication’s 11-year subscriber-only archive of best practices and success strategies for TTOs, CLICK HERE

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