Atlanta ranks in the top third in the nation for the best 100 markets for STEM professionals — individuals who work in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math — according to a recent WalletHub report. In addition, WalletHub ranks the Atlanta, Sandy Springs and Roswell areas third overall for STEM employment growth, and in the last two years, Forbes has named the Atlanta area a top city for STEM-related job openings. “Atlanta has offered EndoChoice many great resources, from other budding start-ups and mid-size companies to learn from, to the talent that we’re hiring to accelerate and grow in our industry,” says Kristen J. Schuller, EndoChoice VP of Human Resources. “We look forward to the continued relationships we will build with those in the STEM and life sciences fields.”
Based in Alpharetta, which is located just north of Atlanta, EndoChoice is a medtech company focused on the manufacturing and commercialization of platform technologies, including endoscopic imaging systems, devices and infection control products and pathology services for specialists treating a wide range of gastrointestinal conditions like colon cancer. EndoChoice leverages its direct sales organization to serve more than 2,500 customers in the United States and works with distribution partners in 25 countries. The company was founded in 2008 by Mark Gilreath and Will Parks, now has more than 400 employees and has rapidly developed a broad and innovative product portfolio, which includes the revolutionary Full Spectrum Endoscopy System (Fuse). 2014 marked the fifth consecutive year EndoChoice was recognized as one of the fastest growing companies in the U.S. by Inc. Magazine.
Dubbed, “Tech-hub for the Southeast,” Schuller says it is home to several STEM-type companies and that more than 600 tech companies alone call Alpharetta home. Additionally, the Alpharetta Tech Commission is a nonprofit working with the city to promote technology and brand the city as the hot spot for tech companies to reside. “We are proud to be in such a central area as one of these 600 tech companies,” she adds.
HIGHER ED HELPING DRIVE GROWTH
When asked what she believes draws STEM-related businesses and employees to Atlanta, Schuller says Atlanta being the largest metro area in the Southeast, in addition to the significantly lower cost of living compared to an area like Silicone Valley where start-ups and operating costs can be quite high, as well as the higher-ed availabilities drive that growth.
“Atlanta is home to Georgia Tech, which has created a funnel for growing new developers and entrepreneurs,” Schuller says. “Georgia Tech has at least a dozen programs for their students and community to participate in involving creating business from the ground-up. The Advanced Technology Development Center has been named the world’s top technology incubators by Forbes in 2013.“
Schuller says opportunities like this allow all Atlanta residents with a business idea to have a centralized place to go to seek advice from experienced entrepreneurs, building partnerships throughout the city as they seek to gain investment to launch their dream. “ATDC’s 150 graduates have collectively raised more than $2 billion in capital,” she adds. “The resources available in Atlanta have spurred the growth we’ve seen in our local market. Atlanta Tech Village, located in Buckhead, is also another organization promoting an emphasis on entrepreneurship in the tech industry. It’s a place for more than 200-plus members to get together weekly or monthly to talk about their start-up and be around other innovators. It’s that collaborative community that keeps fueling Atlanta’s growth in the tech industry.”
Another area university, Spelman College, a historically black women’s school in Atlanta, helps connect its students to employers seeking graduates with degrees in STEM-related fields through its on-campus recruiting process, which includes campus interviews, career fairs and job postings. “[This] creates opportunities for internships and full-time employment,” says Harold Bell, director of career planning and development at Spelman College. The school’s STEM Education Outreach efforts are funded by the Department of Education Title III SAFRA to increase the number of students enrolling, graduating and pursuing careers in STEM disciplines. “Spelman STEM Education Outreach’s approach is unique in that it employs a model in which Spelman undergraduates majoring in biology, chemistry, computer information systems, dual degree engineering, environmental science, mathematics and physics serve as ambassadors, in a sense, by creating hands-on, K-12 curricula based on their faculty mentor-led research,” adds Carmen Sidbury, associate provost for research at Spelman.
Through research, faculty-student mentoring, leadership development support and innovative education-industry partnerships, the Spelman STEM Ambassadors Program, which was launched in 2014, plays a critical role in identifying and creating special projects geared toward exposing K-12 students to the breadth and depth of STEM fields and careers, while simultaneously solidifying their own STEM interests and academic success. Ambassadors are comprised of scholars who receive scholarships/stipends through government-funded grants — for example, U.S. Department of Education, NASA/Georgia Space Grant or NSF Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation — as well as support from private industries such as Georgia Power or Lockheed Martin. In addition to financial support, these education-industry partnerships have yielded summer internships, research opportunities, technical mentorship and STEM employment opportunities.
“In recent months, Spelman College leadership has led discussions regarding innovation and entrepreneurship, and Spelman STEM Education Outreach has followed suit by connecting with local tech startups to expose undergraduates to technical mentorship and co-curricular activities as well as career opportunities with these companies,” Sidbury says. “For this reason, an influx of companies offering STEM employment in Atlanta is dually beneficial to undergraduates and the hiring organization.”
The Atlanta Science Festival, which was started last year, is a weeklong celebration of science and technology locally, with 100-plus unique events throughout the metro Atlanta region for adults and children. In 2015, the event was held March 21-28. Curious people of all ages were given the opportunity to explore the science and technology in the region and see how science is connected to all parts of area residents’ lives in a variety of hands-on activities, facility tours, presentations and performances throughout the area. Among the festival’s 140 events, a participant could find everything from nature walks, comedy nights and film screenings to drum lines, science, sports, stars and much more.
“Atlanta Science Festival is part of the rich STEM fabric that I believe draws businesses to Atlanta,” says Jordan Rose, co-founder and co-director of the annual event. “From science and math academies, themed schools and STEM-certified K-12 schools to enhanced business-higher education collaborations, workforce development initiatives, technical school certifications and other training initiatives, Georgia is strengthening its STEM career pipeline.
“Economic development authorities, businesses and colleges and universities are working together to develop a talented workforce and keep them here in STEM careers. An informal educational environment that is rich with STEM and other experiences helps to make Atlanta attractive to an educated workforce: science-related museums, civil rights monuments, arts and entertainment, myriad ethnic dining options and even DragonCon. Atlanta Science Festival is one more thread in this fabric that highlights our community of curious and intellectually-engaged citizens.”
Founded by Emory University, Georgia Tech and the Metro Atlanta Chamber, and in collaboration with more than 80 partners, the inaugural festival reached more than 30,000 people, including 16,000 at the Exploration Expo. “Our partners include three local Fortune 500 companies, 16 colleges and universities and 12 school districts in the metro Atlanta area, plus the Georgia Departments of Education and Economic Development, the city of Atlanta, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Rose adds. “Sponsors and partners of the festival share a commitment to STEM education, workforce development and a scientifically literate community in our region.”
When asked about STEM growth in the employment sector, Rose adds that Atlanta is “fertile ground” for STEM-related start-ups, while at the same time attracting existing companies in biosciences and health IT sectors. “With strong business-higher education connections and support from incubators like Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center, UGA’s Georgia BioBusiness Center, Global Center for Medical Innovation and Atlanta Tech Village, our region is spurring the entrepreneurial spirit when it comes to STEM.
“New additions to the landscape like Baxter and Athena Health join the existing giants like AT&T Mobility and McKesson Technology Solutions in providing additional STEM-related job opportunities and demand for highly skilled workers,” Rose continues. “It’s an exciting time to be generating public awareness and a sense of pride in the STEM prowess of our region. Metro Atlanta has a great deal to offer its youth — from opportunities for educational advancement to exciting careers that apply STEM concepts to improve our world. Atlanta is proving that it can generate a talented workforce and keep it here.”