(EDITOR’S NOTE: We occasionally publish guest columns. This one comes from Doug Johns, a Senior Advisor to FourBridges Capital Advisors, an investment banking firm serving businesses across the Southeast. Johns has many years of executive and entrepreneurial experience in the technology and telecommunication sectors. He also currently serves as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for NIVIS, LLC, the world’s leading developer and integrator of wireless network technologies).
With national media outlets consistently naming cities like Nashville, Huntsville and Raleigh among the top tech cities in the United States, it’s safe to say the Southeast is becoming an elite contender in the nation’s technology landscape.
The region has demonstrated impressive growth within the tech sector – yet it still hasn’t quite caught up to major markets such as Boston and Silicon Valley. This is especially the case with capital movement and tech investment within the region. Venture capitalists, private equity firms and public perception still tend to gravitate toward top-tier tech hubs. But that’s not to say that technology from the Southeast can’t ignite investor attention from across the country and, collectively, build the region’s industry influence. Here are three ways Southeastern tech companies can play a role in making that happen:
- Be visible. Success breeds success – but for that to happen, you have to make your presence known. Often, investment stays within inner-tech circles by default, but when company victories and acquisitions remain exclusively within this regional tech sphere, it’s simply telling the same message to the same people. That makes it harder to expand a company’s reach. If those outside the industry who are looking to buy tech companies hear about these successes, the momentum will really build. To get there, companies have to raise their profiles. Visibility comes in many forms such as publicity, strategic partnerships and word-of-mouth. It can be tempting for entrepreneurs to focus all their efforts into the development of their product, but investing in networking, marketing and communication are vital to the success of the company and industry.
- Know where to find resources. In markets like Boston and Silicon Valley, a simple Google search produces a long list of tech advisors, tech investors and other tech-specific resources in the area. In the Southeast, companies may have to dig a bit deeper to find this support locally because they’re just harder to come by. Despite this inequality, the region is making strides. Incubator and accelerator programs have popped up all across the Southeast in the past decade. These programs provide a vast network of individuals who have raised their own capital and gone through similar experiences, providing ample opportunities for mentorship. With industry connections, tech start-ups are better able to identify whom to target and how to secure resources, giving them a leg up on the competition and a better business to showcase to investors.
- Devour knowledge. Investors want entrepreneurs to be coachable. They like to see that business owners are willing to learn from mentors, advisors and peers and use outside expertise appropriately. Not only is this wise from an operational perspective, having the right head knowledge about the industry and using it to properly execute growth strategies can save entrepreneurs time and money in the long run. For example, commercial banks generally require a significant amount of collateral. Up-and-coming tech companies may not be able to provide it, though, as the majority of their assets tend to be intangible. Knowledge like this is common among tech advisors, but it may be unknown to entrepreneurs. Awareness of potential pitfalls upfront can save companies time and frustration as they try to navigate the process of growing a successful company that will support a vibrant, competitive tech industry.