Allyson Eman has more than 30 years of marketing, communications, sales leadership, and business development experience. In 2007, Allyson took on the role of Executive Director for the newly created Venture Atlanta annual conference.
Allyson has worked with key business leaders across the country and founding organizations Metro Atlanta Chamber, Atlanta CEO Council, and Technology Association of Georgia to build Venture Atlanta. In 2020, Eman was promoted to CEO. The conference is now in its seventeenth year and has become the largest venture capital conference on the East Coast with over 1,500 attendees including venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and senior business executives.
Venture Atlanta’s primary mission is to connect companies with capital and it has helped emerging technology companies raise over $7.5B to facilitate growth. Prior to joining Venture Atlanta, Allyson was the Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications for SouthStar Funding, a wholesale mortgage lender headquartered in Atlanta.
During her nine-year tenure with the firm, she helped the company grow from eight employees to 800 with 30 nationwide offices. SouthStar Funding grew to be one of the most reputable, respected, and trusted wholesale mortgage lenders in the country under Allyson’s leadership.
Prior to joining SouthStar, Allyson worked for SouthTrust Bank as a branch marketing manager overseeing the marketing platform for 100 branches across Georgia. Allyson received a BS from the University of Florida and resides in Marietta with her husband and two children.
What You’ll Learn in This Episode
- Venture Atlanta’s role in the Atlanta tech ecosystem
- How it supports founders and funders
- What the 2023 conference was like and the plans for 2024
- How Venture Atlanta keeps changing and growing each year
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for Atlanta Business Radio. Brought to you by OnPay. Atlanta’s new standard in payroll. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:25] Lee Kantor here, another episode of Atlanta Business Radio, and this is going to be a good one. But before we get started, it’s important to recognize our sponsor, OnPay. Without them, we couldn’t be sharing these important stories. Today on Atlanta Business Radio, we have Allyson Eamon with Venture Atlanta Coalition. Welcome, Allyson.
Allyson Eamon: [00:00:43] Thanks, Lee. Thanks for having me.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:45] I’m so excited to get caught up with you. For the folks who don’t know, can you tell us a little bit about Venture Atlanta?
Allyson Eamon: [00:00:52] Sure. Venture Atlanta is now one of the largest tech conferences on the East Coast, becoming one of the biggest in the country and just had our 16th conference a few weeks ago.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:04] So over the years, how have you seen the event change?
Allyson Eamon: [00:01:08] So it really started 16 years ago as a very local Georgia conference. And I probably should have said this, that the goal of the conference is to connect tech companies to capital. So the goal was to bring in outside capital because we really didn’t have a lot here. And over the years, obviously there’s been a lot of co-working spaces and incubators and exits, you know, people like David Cummings and things like that with the Tech Village. So more and more has been happening in in Atlanta and more, more local funding is here. But in that time we also have expanded across the southeast. So we’re really supporting companies as far west as Texas, north as Maryland, D.C., and south down to Miami. So we’re really covering the entire southeast and supporting those companies.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:56] Now, you’ve been involved in this for a while now. How have you seen the kind of investor mentality change? I know your background is in real estate. And at one point Atlanta was very kind of developer, real estate focused. And that’s where a lot of the investors invested. Are you seeing a change in making Atlanta and the southeast more kind of open to investing as angel investors or even VCs or private equity in technology? Is that has the investing? Yeah.
Allyson Eamon: [00:02:26] For sure. And just to be clear, I’m my background was not in real estate. I was I was I worked in marketing for a mortgage company. So but you know definitely did work in the mortgage and, and real estate and financial services industry. But yeah, I totally agree with you that it definitely used to be all about real estate. I think, unfortunately, that there’s still a lot of hesitancy in angel investors, you know, putting money into tech. They are doing it. But, you know, on the VC side, you know, there’s there’s been a ton I mean, our companies have raised close to $8 billion over the 16 years that I’ve run Venture Atlanta. And I was actually hired to start it 16 years ago. So I’ve been with the organization the entire time.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:09] So are you seeing the people that are kind of dipping their toe in investing in startups and in technology? Are they just folks who have kind of graduated and had an exit and they’re just staying here and they want to, you know, kind of pay it forward or just kind of invest in that. They’re more comfortable investing in that as opposed to maybe the previous type of investor that, you know, they liked land and they liked to see this thing with their eyes and watch it be built.
Allyson Eamon: [00:03:35] Know that that that’s exactly you’re exactly right what you said. So you look at folks like, you know, Tom Noonan, who and Chris Clauss, who sold, you know, es to IBM. And you know, Tom Tom Noonan has put money into multiple companies and started the Tech Operators Fund, along with several of his colleagues, Saeed Mohammadian and Glenn McGonigal and Dave Gould. So those were all entrepreneurs that had a big exit and immediately were paying it forward. David Cummings, same thing. I mean, he right away, you know, wanted to start the tech village. And he’s done incredible things with Tech Village and Atlanta Ventures. And then, you know, now you’ve got your newer entrepreneurs like Kyle Porter who had his exit, and Mark Gorlin with Rody and Cabbage, you know, Catherine Petrella and Rob Frauen. So there’s been some great exits, and those companies are absolutely putting their money back into tech. And that’s really what we’ve needed the whole time. You know, in Silicon Valley it was always, oh, here’s a big exit in that company, you know, spins out. A new venture fund, and we really didn’t have that. And we’re still a little know, obviously far behind where Silicon Valley is. But we do have a lot more serial entrepreneurs that are having, you know, having some nice exits and putting their money back into Atlanta or the southeast.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:55] Now, as Venture Atlanta has expanded, like you mentioned, from Texas to Miami, are you seeing Atlanta kind of still as the hub of this, or were just another player amongst many players just spread out throughout the South?
Allyson Eamon: [00:05:12] No, we’re definitely still the hub. You know, just we have no intention of changing the name of the conference or making it venture southeast or anything like that. You know, all eyes will continue to be on bringing everyone to Atlanta, hopefully seeing growth in Atlanta, more economic development in Atlanta. You know, looking at these companies, perhaps opening second offices or seeing how how we can support. But, you know, it’s worked really well having the conference focus on companies across the southeast, because it really makes the investors very likely to want to come to the conference. I mean, last two weeks ago, we had over 450 investors here, and you just don’t see any other event on the East Coast that has that many investors there. And, you know, which made it very fruitful for the entrepreneurs to to meet with them.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:00] Now what do you see? Since you are now kind of spreading around the region, what makes Atlanta different and special compared to the other markets?
Allyson Eamon: [00:06:11] So my biggest thing I will continue to say about Atlanta is the collaboration, the market, our community is fantastic. So I helped lead this innovate movement or. But, you know, issues that we had this year. So it was basically three weeks of incredible events and happenings and community gatherings kind of creating our own South by Southwest here in Atlanta and the community. I mean, you know, a few of us call Jennifer Sang and the Metro Atlanta Chamber. We called a meeting of community partners in February, and 70 people showed up and were like, okay, raising their hand of how can I help? And, you know, this group created something incredible over the last couple of weeks, and there’s been so many people coming to town and so many eyes on Atlanta. And I just think that a lot of other markets couldn’t pull that off. You know, you think about Texas and Florida and they’re so spread out like, you know, that we even though Atlanta is, you know, in the center, we could still pull in someone from Macon or Augusta or Columbia, Columbus or, you know, places like that. And everyone could still work together. I mean, we had all the universities, we had UGA and Georgia State and kind of saw and Georgia Tech, you know, on this initiative as well. So I just think collaboration and community is our secret sauce.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:37] So talk a little more about, you know, is it innovate and innovative. Innovate in a battle. That event is the vision to be kind of like a South by Southwest, because we are kind of blessed with having music and film as well as technology here in this market.
Allyson Eamon: [00:07:57] Yeah. So you know what happened over the last couple of years as Venture Atlanta kind of served as the hub of or the center of what we were calling Atlanta Innovation Week. And ironically, if you look around the country, New York, San Francisco, Charlotte, Denver, I mean, all, you know, everyone’s kind of it’s kind of the new thing. Everyone has their innovation week. And we wanted to we wanted to do something a little bit differently. And we did want to think about what could we do to showcase what we have great in the, in art, in music, in, in our universities, in technology, like so the three C hip hop hip hop festival was going on. We had the Atlanta Startup Awards, Georgia Tech did a conference. You know, for the first time there was the Atlanta Design Festival. There was, you know, all sorts of things going on. And, you know, really, we wanted people we want this to be a time on the calendar and it’s, you know, probably always going to be around Venture Atlanta in October. And that’s that that’s kind of the goal that people will continue to, you know, think about being in Atlanta in the fall.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:03] And then just kind of piggyback on each other’s momentum and just have a lot of different things happening simultaneously.
Allyson Eamon: [00:09:10] Yeah, yeah. There was I mean, you know, around just around Venture Atlanta, I mean, the Tuesday that we kicked off, it was insane. I mean, there was probably 20, 30, you know, happy hours going on all over the place and after parties and people were like, oh my God, I’ve gotten invites to so many different things. And, you know, people were also piggybacking off of us. I mean, there was there was groups from different parts of the country. Allison. I was like, wow, what’s that group? And, you know, they were doing different events really to to pull on, you know, the people that we had brought into town. So, you know, we want to create something exciting. And again, I think we’ll learn from the things that we did well this year and things that we didn’t. I mean, we also worked with the city of Atlanta. You know, obviously, Mayor Dinkins is incredibly supportive. The metro Atlanta Chamber and, you know, tag the Technology Association of Georgia. We worked with Atdc. We worked with Tech Village, you know, so all these different groups, you know, work together to to drive this forward.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:12] Now, speaking specifically about Venture Atlanta, can you kind of recap the conference some of the highs?
Allyson Eamon: [00:10:19] Sure. Yeah. Well we had 1500 over 1500 people there, which was the largest audience we’ve ever had at the Woodruff Arts Center. The demand was so high that we had a 200 plus person waiting list of people that we could not let in, so that was a little bit crazy. We had over 450 investors from funds across the country. We had 83 companies that were participating in the conference that had applied to pitch. We had close to 600 companies that applied to pitch, and this year we did things a little bit differently. We actually had a group of funds that came together VIP ventures, Florida funders, Noel Ventures and Catalyst by Wellstar that came together and put together a syndicate investment for one true seed stage company. So, you know, a super early company and it was a $500,000 investment. And I’m so excited to see Margo Jordan with enriched Lee won that investment. And then we also had. Companies. That kind of became best of our early stage category or best of our growth stage category. And our growth stage was cloud range out of Nashville. And our early stage was rainforest, you know, here in Atlanta. And those companies actually got on stage on they were voted by the audience and, you know, taken into consideration by by investors and judges.
Allyson Eamon: [00:11:49] And they were actually kind of grilled on by some of the top funds in the country on, you know, from NEA and Excel and Insight Partners and Open Opportunity Fund and Invesco and Cox Enterprises and things like that. So they were able to get in front of, you know, partner level funds and get questions, questions asked to them. And the judges ultimately picked the winner. Now, these winners didn’t get cash prizes, but they just get bragging rights. And they also got an incredible opportunity to be in front of those funds. You know, we also sprinkle in there. Robert Jurkovic from Shark Tank was one of our keynote speakers and he was fantastic. And we do a great cocktail party and great investor dinners and happy hours and things like that. So it’s truly become a pretty substantial event that that is now three full days. We actually closed it this year with Invesco, who’s our title sponsor, hosting a female founders dinner, and we had 180 women RSVP for for a female Founders dinner. And it was just a great opportunity for women to get together and network and support each other and help each other. And that’s something we’ve been doing a couple times a year now, too. So there’s just so much great stuff going on now.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:11] What are some of the things that somebody who’d like to maybe get to pitch in 2024? What should they be doing right now?
Allyson Eamon: [00:13:18] They should be really thinking about how to how to package themselves up, you know, how to really talk about why their technology is different, why is it needed, what you know, what’s the competition looking like out there? Why is their team the right team to to build it? You know Lee, unfortunately sometimes people just don’t present themselves. You know great that you know, we’ll have to like dig into their, their their application. And you know, luckily our committee has is very significant and very large. And a lot of times the companies are actually recruited by the committee. So someone will be able to step up and say, hey, I know this committee, this company, they actually do this or, you know, they should have really put this. So, you know, you’ve got to put your best foot forward and, and make sure that we’re going to look at your application and go, that is a company we have to have. It has become extremely difficult obviously, to get on, you know, on our stage where, you know, where we’re accepting, you know, 15% of the companies that apply. So it’s kind of like getting into, you know, Harvard or college or whatever. So, okay, maybe not Harvard. That might be stretching it a little bit too much. But anyway, you know, it’s definitely getting harder and harder to get in. And we want the cream of the crop. I mean, and I will tell you that investors this year, they were very impressed with the companies that we had on stage. I mean, our companies are legit, you know, growing companies that I mean, some of our growth stage companies were raising 25 or $50 million, you know, so those those funds that used to come to Venture Atlanta aching to be able to write a 5 or $10 million check, you know, now we have 20 or 30 of those companies. But, you know, we’ve we’ve grown over the years, you know, like our companies have.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:05] Now, you mentioned a little bit ago about the the women founders dinner. Can you talk a little bit about how Atlanta is doing when it comes to women and minority founders? Are we are you seeing an improvement in that space?
Allyson Eamon: [00:15:20] You know, we’re making improvements. We got a long way to go, though. So Goodie Nation, run by Joey Womack, who’s an amazing leader in town, who’s actually going to be our chairman for Venture Atlanta next year. He served on our board for the last three years. And you know, Joey has just he’s such a trailblazer in in supporting, you know, minority founders and you know, has we actually started a couple of years ago a movement called Creating Momentum within Venture Atlanta to truly support, you know, minority founders and female founders we actually work with. Christy Brown has been, you know, integral leading, something that we’ve call our female first pitch Friday, where basically we’re giving women an opportunity to to get in front of a small group. I mean, you know, to to feel comfortable. I mean, it’s probably 20 people and do their pitch. And we selected actually, we did this for five months starting in, I think it started in April. And then we picked three of those companies, actually got an automatic slot to be on our showcase at venture. Atlanta. So it was kind of an automatic step in for, you know, some women, you know, we we definitely set high goals to, you know, to ensure that our stage is diverse. We look at our speakers, we look at our board, we look at everything to make sure that that we’re reflecting things in the proper way. You know, and we realized years ago that we weren’t, you know, there was a time where, you know, our speakers were too many white men in our board was too many white men.
Allyson Eamon: [00:16:54] And, you know, we had to do we had to be better. We had to do a better job. I mean, you know, women and minorities are still getting less than 2% of venture capital money. And it’s not it’s not good and it’s not enough. And, you know, we all need to do more to help that. So I mean I’m super passionate about that. And again, I’ve I’ve worked I’m on the board of Startup Atlanta. And you know I know Joey will will really give us some interesting things. So this year we actually held the intentionally good summit that Goodie Nation ran within Venture Atlanta. So it was actually at a at a different room within the Woodruff Arts Center. But all the attendees for the Intentionally good summit, and there was 200 people invited to that. They all got full access to Venture Atlanta as well. And it really gave a lot of people an opportunity to be at Venture Atlanta that maybe wouldn’t normally be there, or they may not think it was for them. And that’s what I loved is that people were like, God, you know, this is great. Like, you know, there are people of all shapes and colors and sizes and, you know, everything at this conference. And people felt comfortable.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:02] Yeah, it still boggles the mind that today that people are kind of tone deaf in that when you go to some of these folks websites and you look at their board of directors and everybody looks the same, and and nobody there, you know, has the self-awareness to say, hey, maybe this isn’t a good thing.
Allyson Eamon: [00:18:21] Right. Exactly. I mean, it’s just it’s crazy, but and like I said, I mean, I would love to know that. I mean, Venture Atlanta made a difference. I mean, again, you know, the winner of the investment was, you know, an African American woman. And she rocked the stage and she earned it. I mean, she was fantastic. And you know, of everything that, you know, again, like the audience was, was looking at these companies. I mean, we did a top 4 in 3 of the four that that pitched in the final. The finalists were women and they were incredible, you know, and and, you know, again, of our three winners and our three categories, two of the three were women. And, you know, obviously I loved that being, you know, being a female CEO. So but you know, it’s still tough. There’s there’s also not still not a lot of women in VC. You know. So I think this year we actually had a Women in Capital breakfast. You know, just something I mean we’ve we’ve actually had an event and had a, had a breakfast for for several years that several women led. But this year we had, we had like 100 women at that breakfast. So we’re trying to show that there’s different, you know, opportunities for women to to be at Venture Atlanta, to be engaged to, to see things, you know, for them. I mean, again, this this female founders dinner, I mean, we didn’t even openly market it. I mean, we kind of had a had a select list of of people that we were looking at because we knew we only had 135 slots that we could fill. But, I mean, we probably could have had 300 women there. So, you know, I think we just need to continue to, to, to do better.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:01] Well, if somebody wants to learn more about Startup Atlanta, Venture Atlanta or any of the other places that you’re involved, where should they go? Is there a central place or is it they got to go to each one of those places individually.
Allyson Eamon: [00:20:14] They got to go to each one. So venture atlanta.org and you know Startup Atlanta I don’t know if it’s dot org or.com. Um.
Speaker4: [00:20:24] It’s, uh.
Allyson Eamon: [00:20:27] But you can find sort of Atlanta easily, easily online. There’s actually some great resources. We do an ecosystem guide that that as someone new to Atlanta, can really give you a great landscape of everything going on. You know, what funds are around, what incubators, what you know, co-working spaces, you know, anything like that. So there’s there’s definitely some some incredible resources there as well. But Venture Atlanta, you know, we’re kind of in our quiet time. But big thing to note is that we do have our date for 2024, which we usually don’t have this far in advance, but it’s October 8th and ninth back at the Woodruff Arts Center. And I mean, we’re we’re going to take sponsors in November and we’ll open our applications in April. So good.
Lee Kantor: [00:21:12] Stuff. Well, Allison, thank you so much for sharing your story today. You’re doing important work and we appreciate you.
Allyson Eamon: [00:21:17] Thank you. Lee, thanks for having me.
Speaker4: [00:21:18] All right.
Lee Kantor: [00:21:19] This Lee Kantor we’ll see you all next time on Atlanta Business Radio.