BY TAYLOR BROOKS
Five years ago Jim Flannery moved to Athens fresh from college hoping to start his own business. Like many, Flannery couldn’t find a job, but insisted on staying in the Classic City. Roughly after a year of being in Athens, Flannery co-founded his own business, found a few partners and decided to start a resource for young entrepreneurs in Athens.
Today Flannery spends his days in meetings, reaching out to the public and trying to facilitate strong ties within the community for the organization he co-founded, Four Athens. Flannery currently serves as project director for the organization, which is tucked away in a modest office-space on East Dougherty Street.
Four Athens is a collection of mentors, volunteers, and creative individuals from the community that offer resources, funding, and guidance for young entrepreneurs in the Athens area looking to expand their technological-based businesses.
Four Athens has quite a strong relationship with the Athens Downtown Development Authority. The ADDA partnered with Four Athens to offer its startups rent subsidies to obtain a physical space downtown at a cheaper price.
ADDA executive director Pamela Thompson stated, “The ADDA thinks that Four Athens has a unique approach to helping develop local talent, connecting them to resources to succeed, and allowing us to partner with them to provide space downtown. This helps keep great talent local.”
Four Athens’ philosophy states, “Four Athens believes that Athens possesses all of ingredients necessary to create a strong technology startup hub.”
Startups are small businesses with high growth potential. Four Athens startups must have a technological component whether it is software, involving programming or coding, or hardware, the physical device.
Flannery believes Athens has an excellent market for startups due to the large amount of young, college- educated citizens in the community and the growing numbers of students leaving the university who want to stay and build their dreams in Athens.
Four Athens funds tech based startups, which are increasingly growing around the country. CNN.com listed 9 out of 10 of their top startups to watch as being technology based companies.
Tech based businesses consistently show up in our everyday lives, originating from all over the country and world. Examples range from Tunewolf, a local startup sponsored by Four Athens in the form of an app that allows users to choose songs from a virtual jukebox the venue creates, to the California based social media, photo-sharing app, Instagram.
“The Calvin Institute did a study two years ago and conducted that high-tech startups are what’s creating the most jobs.” Flannery said. “In Georgia, for tech jobs, the average salary is $81,000 a year – the monumental impact that could have on Athens just can’t be understated. So, let’s focus on tech startups.”
Flannery believes it is too early to judge any success stories from the startups in the downtown area, but the organization has been growing steadily since Four Athens began two years ago.
“In the next few years I’m not looking to see a big liquidation from one of our startups,” said Flannery. “But how we have affected the downtown area is by bringing people here. You’re downtown because of us, I’ve had three meetings today, all downtown. That’s really on the micro level, though. We’re looking to get the 100, the 1,000 people employed.”
Recently Four Athens and the ADDA have partnered together to sponsor Hatch Athens, a new local “makerspace” downtown.
The ADDA offered a rent subsidy through Four Athens for the organization to have a place to hold meetings and organize their members.
Hatch Athens is devoted to bringing people together in the community and other surrounding communities with skills, tools, and experience to design and create.
Through this startup makers and creators can come together, get hands on, and actually create physical products. According to Flannery, these are more “hardware” type products when it comes to their technological component.
Hatch Athens holds a monthly event at the Four Athens East Dougherty Street location called “First Friday Hackathon” where individuals from the community are urged to come together, create something, then choose a winner.
The Quad is another recent partnership downtown with Four Athens.
The Quad is a co-working space aimed at designers in the software field. Here the co-workers have access to internet, a conference room, desk spaces, and offices all located downtown.
The potential for tech startups to prosper is much greater with these recent partnerships that allow large spaces for the startups to meet, collaborate, and connect with one other to generate even more ideas.
Four Athens also takes advantage of the University of Georgia.
Flannery is often a guest speaker in university classes. The organization also has strong ties with the Terry Business of College New Venture Launch Competition, and is involved in the campus-wide entrepreneurial week and career fairs.
“We do a lot of one-on-one basis things with the university and I would like to see that formalize over time,” said Flannery. “In most cities our size, in the Southeast, universities are financially supporting community-based incubators, to give students graduating with ideas a platform for a year or two. Which is what we’re doing as well.”
Strong ties with the ADDA, University of Georgia, and countless mentors, volunteers, and creators from the Athens area keeps Four Athens an ever growing, but important organization for our community.
Finally, when asked what was fundamentally important to Four Athens as a whole, Flannery answered,
“Community. Companies are built by people and at the end of the day nothing else matters. It’s about finding those communities that can find those people to build those companies.”