Igniting Innovation at Venture Atlanta 2023: Conference Highlights

Staff Report

Tuesday, October 10th, 2023

From September 27 – 28, the bustling energy of Atlanta became even more electrifying as we kicked off the 16th annual Venture Atlanta conference at The Woodruff Arts Center and Atlanta Symphony Hall.

Each year, Venture Atlanta has been an anchor for the Southeast’s startup community, and this year was no exception. In fact, it was our biggest and best conference yet, shattering previous records with a whopping 550 company applications. Out of this impressive pool, 52 standout companies got the unique opportunity to present on stage, captivating an audience of 1,500 enthusiastic attendees.

This year was truly unlike any other, with a larger emphasis and more stage time dedicated to our presenting companies. This culminated in Venture Atlanta’s first-ever pitch competition in which the top audience-voted companies returned to the stage for a live Q&A session in front of a panel of well-known investor judges. Think of it as VA’s own version of Shark Tank — which was fitting, considering Day 2’s keynote speaker was none other than Robert Herjavec from ABC’s Shark Tank.

We were also honored to induct three Venture Atlanta Alumni companies into our inaugural Alumni Hall of Fame class!

  • Cloud Sherpas – VA 2009 pitch company that sold to Accenture for $410M

  • Kabbage – VA 2010 pitch company that sold to American Express for $850M

  • Salesloft – VA 2012 pitch company that was acquired by Vista Equity Partners at a $2.3B valuation

It was a thrilling two days full of inspiring stories and amazing tech. Common themes that came up again and again this year were cybersecurity, health and wellness tech, hospitality, and of course, the overarching application of AI. If you weren’t able to attend this year’s conference (or you just can’t get enough Venture Atlanta), keep on reading for the full event recap.

Venture Atlanta 2023 by the Numbers

  • Our Second Sold-Out Venture Atlanta Conference

    • 1,500+ Attendees (most ever)

    • 94 Sponsors

    • 450+ Investors (most ever)

  • 550 Applications to Pitch

    • 83 Selected Companies (14 Sectors Represented)

    • 52 Presenting Companies

  • 61% From Outside of Georgia (10 Different States Represented)

    • 39% Led by Diverse Founders

    • 28% Led by Female Founders

Key Takeaways from Venture Atlanta 2023 Speakers

In the opening panel on Day 1 of Venture Atlanta, Yuri Frayman (CAST AI), Emily Morris (Emrgy Inc.), Tyler Scriven (Saltbox), and Tony Summerville (Fleetio) joined the stage to discuss the best strategies when raising capital in a down market. Moderated by Maria Derchi of Florida Funders, here were some of the biggest takeaways from “A Guide to Harvest in Winter”:

Evaluate investors as if you are hiring them.

When building a successful company backed by investors, you want to ensure that they’re as committed to your vision as you are. “Evaluate investors the same way you would evaluate hiring a CMO. You want to feel that they are on the sideline with you, ready to roll up their sleeves and do the work,” said Frayman. When everyone is aligned on a single vision, building that partnership becomes much easier.

Nurture your relationships with investors.

The panel stressed the importance of treating your relationships with investors as more than just a transactional connection. “I am extremely transparent in my relationships with investors and try to engage them as friends and confidants. It’s good to think about the relationship as more than the investor-founder framework and instead, as two people who are focused on succeeding together,” said Scriven.

Surround yourself with experience.

As a first-time founder, Morris opted not to go with a co-founder. Instead, she surrounded herself with mentors and people who had been through similar situations. This has made all the difference as her company, Emrgy, continues to make leaps in the renewable energy sector.

It’s not about the environment, it’s about you.

There will always be investors out there and funds to be raised, despite what the headlines say about a down market or a looming recession. As Scriven put it, “The real challenge in raising capital is to convince the person in front of you that you’ll be successful with or without them.” To put it simply, confidence is key. If you can effectively communicate your vision and the value it creates, the only decision to be made by investors is whether or not they want to come be successful with you.

Venture Atlanta 2023 Keynote: Robert Herjavec

Day 2 kicked off with the highly anticipated keynote from Robert Herjavec, CEO of global cybersecurity firm Cyderes, bestselling author, and Shark on ABC’s Shark Tank. With years of experience not only as a CEO but also as an early investor in some of today’s most successful companies, Robert shared his advice on how entrepreneurs can break through the noise.

Right now, there is no shortage of ideas and entrepreneurs. The cost of starting a company has come way down over the years, and this has made the entrepreneurial space crowded. So how do you stand out?

According to Robert, the answer is BRAND.

Robert mentioned some of his most successful Shark Tank investments, including Tipsy Elves and Sand Cloud, and how the common thread is always the unique branding and genuine connections these brands forge with their customers. There’s not much that’s novel about sweaters and towels, but these brands are very aware of who their consumer profile is and how to connect with them. Authenticity goes a long way when building a brand that lasts.

“The business of America is consumerism,” says Robert. “This is the only country in the world where a product appears on screen and people will rush to buy it right away.” He joked that securing an investment from the sharks is actually second in importance to the screen time that businesses get on Shark Tank, and they better be ready to supply the demand that will come when their episode airs. Many times, the only way they could be ready was by securing a deal with one of the sharks.

Robert closed with some advice for companies seeking investors: seek out people who will add value to your company. An investor who has a proven track record to help you scale, for example. “Love and loyalty are good, but value is better.”

Standout Venture Atlanta 2023 Companies

As mentioned before, VA 2023 was a shift from many of our conferences in years past. This year, we shined an even bigger spotlight on our pitching companies, holding an audience vote on Day 1 for the top companies from each category — Seed Stage, Growth Stage, and Early Stage. The top companies then returned to the stage on Day 2 for a live Q&A with a panel of investor judges. For the grand finale, the top Seed Stage company was awarded a $500,000 investment as a prize for winning our first-ever Startup Showcase Live.

Without further ado, here were the top companies for each category.

Seed Stage: Enrichly

Enrichly is a gamified personal development platform committed to helping youth reach their full potential. Founded by military veteran and mother Margo Jordan, the program helps improve academic outcomes, mental health, and youth violence prevention. On the back end, cutting-edge technology captures student progress and provides data-driven insights for caregivers and educators.

After an impressive pitch, the judges named Enrichly the winner of the Startup Showcase, resulting in a $500,000 check that will support company growth and its mission to build healthy self-esteem in students through captivating digital games and technology that adapts to student progress.

“I am so grateful to Venture Atlanta, BIP Ventures, Catalyst by Wellstar, Florida Funders, and Knoll Ventures for this incredible opportunity for growth,” said Enrichly founder Margo Jordan. “Since its first iteration, I knew that the personal development education that Enrichly offers would change lives. It’s encouraging to have our esteemed new investor partners echo that belief.”

Congrats to Enrichly on being selected by the judges as this year’s top Seed Stage company!

Other Finalists in This Category:

Betty’s Co: Women’s healthcare that meets patients where they are.

Bleach Cyber: Managed cloud security for small businesses.

Care Sherpa: Patient engagement and support services.

Early Stage: Rainforest

Rainforest is a payment processing platform built specifically for software companies. Founded by Joshua Silver, the “payments as a service” company specializes in helping software companies integrate payments inside their products. 

Already, Rainforest has helped clients process hundreds of millions in payments per year. In the coming months, Rainforest is especially focused on industries going through digitization, such as the healthcare space and the trucking industry.

Congrats to Rainforest on being selected by the judges as this year’s top Early Stage company!

Other Finalists in This Category:

Everykey: Bluetooth device that replaces your keys and passwords using military-grade security.

AdPipe: Marketing platform helping marketers create, distribute, and track custom motion graphics from existing videos.

Growth Stage: Cloud Range

Cloud Range is a comprehensive, customizable cyber readiness solution. Founder and CEO Debbie Gordan describes it as “the flight simulator for cyber attacks.” The B2B solution was built to ensure that companies’ cybersecurity teams are ready for any attack at any time, and the platform includes fully integrated toolsets, thousands of scenarios, and customized learning plans.

The platform boasts an impressive usage rate of 100%, with 97% of customers renewing their contracts year-over-year. Cloud Range is continuing to grow, with the state of Florida already signed on to the service and plans to work with more government and military organizations in the near future.

Congrats to Cloud Range on being selected by the judges as this year’s top Growth Stage company!

Other Finalists in This Category:

6AM City: Hyperlocal media company focused on activating communities through daily email newsletters.

Betr: User-friendly fantasy and sports betting app.

What Our Attendees Had to Say

Don’t just take it from us. Here’s what our attendees had to say.

Best conference experience I have ever had!”

“One of my favorite events of the year! No better way to keep a pulse on the markets than to get out there and meet people face to face.” 

“Thank you Venture Atlanta Conference for the connection of a lifetime.”

“The Female Founders in Innovation Dinner was beyond epic! It was pure magic! Over 150 powerhouse women (founders, funders, mentors, and advisors) joined. I couldn’t imagine a better way to cap off the Venture Atlanta Conference.”

“Last week’s Venture Atlanta Conference was one for the books.  The conference itself was a hubbub of activity, meetings, speakers, pitches, networking and connections. Plus there was the Venture Crawl, happy hours, Alumni Dinner, a female founders meetup, and the Female Founder dinner. Thanks to everyone who made last week everything that it was. I am so grateful to be in this eco-system, surrounded by so many hard-working, ethical, innovative, collaborative people.”

“Venture Atlanta this year was the best professional event I’ve ever been to. It stands out from other startup conferences because of its dedicated focus on connecting founders and investors. They limit the amount of mainstage “keynote” speakers, don’t try to draw a large crowd with celebrities, and have perfected the infrastructure to enable 1:1 chats. This is what venture conferences should be. Congrats to the organizers and sponsors for such a great event!”

“Had an incredible time at the Venture Atlanta conference! The energy and innovation at the event were contagious, and I’m leaving with a ton of new insights and connections.”

“My favorite event of the year! Humbled and honored to be with so many amazing, powerful, and brilliant people. The energy in the room was so positive, uplifting and inspiring.”

“Venture Atlanta was truly AMAZING. The energy, insights, and connections were nothing short of inspiring. Venture Atlanta easily makes it to my top 3 events of the year for a good reason. It’s not just about the speakers and sessions; it’s about the valuable conversations and connections with extraordinary individuals.”

“Another stellar Venture Atlanta Conference! The event gets better every year and mirrors the growth of the southeast as a region where both founders and investors can work together to scale world-class companies. Already looking forward to VA2024!”

Venturing Ahead

If you were lucky enough to attend this year’s conference, we hope you enjoyed the event as much as we did! As Atlanta continues to cement itself as a tech capital of the United States and the world abroad, we are proud to be a part of this ever-evolving ecosystem.

So many people came together to make Venture Atlanta 2023 our biggest and best conference yet, and we would be remiss not to extend a massive thank you to everyone involved. Thanks to the work of our 2023 Board of Directors and the support of our 90+ sponsors, we were able to host an unforgettable two-day event in the heart of the great city of Atlanta. A special thanks to our title sponsor Invesco, our Hall of Fame sponsor JP Morgan, and headline sponsors Cherry Bekaert, ExtensisHR, MMM Law, Bank of America, and Marketwake.
And don’t forget to save the date for Venture Atlanta 2024 returning to The Woodruff Arts Center on October 8th and 9th, 2024. Keep up with all Venture Atlanta news and announcements by subscribing to our newsletter or following along on X, LinkedIn, and Instagram.