Metro Atlanta Chamber’s Alex Gonzalez on Innovation and Entrepreneurship and What’s Next
Photo: Metro Atlanta Chamber Chief Innovation Officer Alex Gonzalez with Roadie Founder and CEO Marc Gorlin
The Metro Atlanta Chamber recently named a chief innovation officer in a newly created role to lead work on accelerating the local innovation ecosystem, while also serving as a brand ambassador at the local and national level. Alex Gonzalez comes to the position with more than 20 years of corporate experience with a strong background in innovation strategy and marketing. Gonzalez recently shared his thoughts on the innovation ecosystem in metro Atlanta as well as where it can go in the coming years.
Gonzalez is the host, executive producer and creator of the Disruptor Studio, a digital series aimed at telling the stories of leaders and innovators in the region. Gonzalez brings his reputation as a connector of people to his new role, entering during a period of concentrated focus on local startups.
“It was a great week to start [as the new chief innovation officer] as we had an innovation takeover at MAC via social media, with an extraordinary amount of activity around the region,” Gonzalez said. “Centered around Venture Atlanta in the middle of the week and starting with our TechStars Demo Day on Monday and wrapping up with our Corporate Innovation Summit at the end of the week, where I got to talk to Marc Gorlin, founder and CEO of Roadie.”
Metro Atlanta has built a reputation around connecting the right talent to the right initiatives. The city is home to 15 Fortune 500 companies while also being home to developments such as Atlanta Tech Village – the fourth largest tech entrepreneurial hub in the nation. Getting these entities to build partnerships that will improve quality of life for residents and more will be a top priority for Gonzalez.
“How do we connect the creative community and the tech community – the startup community with our corporate community? Together, that’s when we’ll become the world leader for innovation. It’s all about telling our [metro Atlanta] story,” Gonzalez said.
Metro Atlanta is one of America’s leading education centers, providing a sustainable pipeline of top-tier talent to companies large and small. More than 275,000 students are currently enrolled in 60 colleges and universities in the region, and the city continues to attract the graduates of top business and engineering schools, such as Harvard, Stanford, Yale and MIT, due to the level of affordability here. That talent is building a future in metro Atlanta.
“No matter whether you are talking to a startup or a large corporation, a common theme that’s a challenge – and also an opportunity – is about talent,” Gonzalez said. “We need to make sure we attract the best talent. Talent is the fuel and the pipeline that will help our region grow.”
Another imperative Gonzalez will drive progress on is continuing the region’s commitment to and history of diversity. Atlanta hosts the diverse talent that is currently lacking in Silicon Valley and other traditional tech communities in the nation. The region is home to Spelman College, the #1 Historically Black College and University in the nation, in addition to Morehouse College, the #4 HBCU. Georgia Tech, one of the largest producers of engineering talent in the nation, is also ranked #1 for engineering degrees awarded to African American, women and foreign national students.
“One of the fundamental attributes to be successful in innovation is diversity. We’re one of the most incredible, diverse regions in the world. There’s so much that makes Atlanta rich, and we need to find out how we can embrace that diversity to help fuel innovation in our companies,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez will also drive the momentum of Chamber initiatives like Backed by ATL, entering into its second year. Backed by ATL provides support to high-growth, scaling companies to build networks of innovation leaders across the ecosystem. The initiative recently unveiled the 2019 cohort of companies entering into the program.
“Sometimes we forget to tell the stories of our mid-market companies – we need to support and continue to grow them. Mid-market companies contributed over 1,400 jobs and $1 billion in revenue last year, just in our region,” Gonzalez said. “And we have programs like Backed by ATL that help nurture those companies through mentoring and support.”