Change is afoot at The Creative Coast.
We’re starting a national search for a new executive director and we’re upgrading all of our initiatives, including the 16,000-square-foot Creator’s Foundry. We’re actively seeking input on these plans, and I’d like to frame the discussion by looking at some larger changes taking place in our community.
Savannah continues to benefit from the global remote-worker paradigm shift. As you visit local coffee shops or co-working spaces, look around at the people bent over laptops. Many work for New York City and Bay Area startups. Others work for companies like Google, Apple and Github. This global trend is breaking our way: in a world where you can work from anywhere, more and more folks choose to live and work in Savannah.
These remote workers engage with us at events like 1 Million Cups, Tech Tuesday and TEDxSavannah. If you want metrics, take a look at the public coworking and incubator numbers. By my count, in the last year we’ve gone from 8,000 square feet of dedicated coworking space in a single location to around 22,000 square feet spread across three locations. Next year we’re likely to see at least two additional locations open. And this doesn’t count all the new coffee shops, or the growing trend of businesses sponsoring pop-up coworking spaces.
So we’re seeing a dramatic increase in talent and space. What about the third startup ingredient: money? In 2014 we saw $500,000 in local startup investment. In 2015 more than $2,500,000 flowed into Savannah area startups, a fivefold increase in just one year. And it’s not a fluke; in 2016 we’ve already seen $2,150,000 committed in the first four months.
These numbers are conservative. They come from a back-of-the-napkin analysis done at Georgia Tech’s ATDC technology incubator, so they only include product-based technology companies securing specific types of investments. They don’t include commercial incubation efforts, new product spin-offs, debt-based financing deals or any of the other ways new business gets funded.
For long-time Savannah residents like myself, this last trend is huge. When The Creative Coast was founded almost 20 years ago, I remember how the conversations went. Can startups find affordable real estate here? Can they attract talent? Toughest of all, can they convince investors to back them?
These investment numbers clearly show we’ve progressed to a tipping point. And the money isn’t just coming from outside the state. Local investors are taking part in almost all of these deals. The legal structures being employed make it easy to jump on board with small amounts of “follow on” money. The valuations are simpler, the paperwork is shorter and there’s lots of opportunity.
So, what about The Creative Coast? First I’d like to extend a big thank you to everyone who got us here: Chris, Fitz, Brynn, Jake, Charisse, Bea and countless board members, volunteers and donors. All of them, armed with insightful investments from SEDA and the city of Savannah, have brought our community to a point where the deal flow is already rampant and poised to explode.
The next generation of The Creative Coast is dedicated to strengthening and expanding the ecosystem to support this higher level of activity. We have a number of specific plans, but before we finalize them, we want to hear from you. We’re actively soliciting community feedback throughout the month of May.
What would you like to see at The Creator’s Foundry and at Geekend? How can we work more effectively with ATDC and other community partners? How can we better support investors and maturing businesses? If you have answers to these questions, or have questions or ideas of your own, please reach out to any of our board members: Sean Brandon, Larry Patterson, Laura Lee Bocade, Lori Judge, Ben Karpf, Jennifer Abshire, Chad Warner or myself.
The Creative Coast has never been about one person or a handful of events. It’s always been a huge network of people working together to make our community a better place, one fruitful collision at a time. If you’ve got something to say, we’re ready to listen.
Blake Ellis is a board member at The Creative Coast and has been involved in dozens of Savannah-based start-ups including Color Maria, CommerceV3, Rails Machine and RappidApp. He recently served as Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Georgia Tech’s ATDC technology incubator. Blake can be found online via Twitter at @blakeellisjr or via LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/blakeellis.