Atlanta Metropolitan Innovation Ecosystem: A Study of Stakeholder Perspectives

Research Paper
Author:Foley, Rider, EN-Engineering and SocietyUniversity of Virginia ORCID icon

Cities around the world, including Atlanta, are working to promote high-tech innovation as a means to grow the economy and prosper. The collective actions of the organizations within the city can be understood as the “innovation ecosystem,” and many firms, government organizations, academics and consultants are interested in the ways that innovation ecosystems function. The investments of time, money and resources to support innovation are not insignificant, and there are important questions about how innovation ecosystems work and what outcomes are achieved. Further, there are questions about who is responsible for wealth generation, fostering inclusion and addressing public health and making the city livable for all its residents. Those topics motivated this investigation into the organizations that are creating “high-tech” solutions in Atlanta depend upon research and development of nanotechnology, a broad set of enabling technologies that have seen significant investment for over 20 years.
Research Question and Methods
This report addresses the question: Who is doing what to pursue innovation in Atlanta, and why? Over 500 organizations were identified that work directly (and indirectly) to create technological innovations. Interviews with 51 persons in the metropolitan region serve as the evidence for this report. The interviews were conducted in-person between January 15th and March 14th, 2019 with leaders in nine sectors: industry, academia, public funding agencies, government regulators, private funders, consultants and attorneys, media, non-profit organizations, and insurers. The participants offered narratives about the innovation journey and then assigned responsibilities for all the organizations mentioned in the narrative and rated how well those organizations are doing at upholding those responsibilities, as well as noting the perceived barriers facing those organizations.
Key Findings
Innovation activities are concentrated primarily in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), Financial Technologies, Advanced Manufacturing, Medical Devices, Energy Generation and Agriculture. These industrial sectors demonstrate where nanotechnology research and development are being advanced to serve markets and address societal challenges. A sector not well represented in this data is aerospace and defense, a noted limitation. Geographically, organizations are concentrated in downtown and midtown Atlanta, as well as across northern cities and counties in affluent communities. There is a robust network of organizations with responsibilities for researching, creating and deploying novel technologies to generate wealth and address public health. The large corporate headquarters offers advantages to start-up firms that create solutions for business-to-business transactions and logistics. Atlanta’s civic leaders have invested in organizations that span universities and healthcare and attract and support entrepreneurs. Yet, few organizations are were responsible for the inclusion of historically underrepresented groups in science and engineering and addressing environmental challenges.
Maintain investments that support collaborations between local organizations, while enhancing and expanding efforts that support entrepreneurs. Identify legal mechanisms to better transfer intellectual property from academic and government research facilities to entrepreneurs and provide physical infrastructure that can support product development and pilot-scale manufacturing of high-tech devices despite the constraints imposed by academic and large corporate research facilities. Explore public-private partnerships to support entrepreneurs with modular and shared resources equipped to characterize, manipulate and manufacture materials at the nano-scale. Policies are needed to explicitly address the lack of inclusion, both in terms of gender and race, and promote technologies that can address local and regional challenges associated with public health and the environment.

Innovation Ecosystem, Responsible Innovation, Innovation Mapping
University of Virginia
Published Date:
April 3, 2020