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Lately, I’ve felt a bit like a kid in a toy store.

Let me explain… We’ve reached one of the most exciting phases to date in building out Techstars Atlanta: searching for the first group of companies to come through the program.

In general, Techstars places a high emphasis on team, market, progress and idea when it comes to selecting startups, but beyond that it’s up to each program to decide which companies fit the bill.

In a horizontal program such as ours, we’re casting a wide net. We’re looking for companies in some of the most exciting emerging fields of technology, as well as playing to our strengths in Atlanta and remaining mindful of business development opportunities with our corporate sponsor, Cox Enterprises.

1) Emerging Tech

We’re at the point today where capabilities previously thought of as science fiction are being developed and brought to market. When it comes to emerging technologies, we’d like to see companies in the following areas:

  • Narrow AI: Look no further than Facebook’s F8 for proof that intelligent bots are all the rage right now. Sure, bots have been around for awhile (IBM Sametime, anyone?), but we’ve reached a new phase in their usefulness where they can interface with humans and understand the nuances of language. As Fred Wilson pointed out, Google is now thinking about AI-first world. Instead of sending commands to bots, we can now converse with them like we would with one another, and that advancement opens up so many possibilities. In particular, we’re interested in narrow applications of artificial intelligence, be it commerce bot platforms, like ReplyYes, smart agents, like Amy@x.ai, smart customer service agents (we’ve already received an application from one company that allows you to re-book missed flights via text message), content bots, like StatMuse (Techstars Disney ‘15), or anything other narrow AI implementation.
  • Blockchain 2.0: Tyler and I first met after we individually invested in an Atlanta startup, and that happened to be a blockchain-based distributed storage company called Storj.io. It’s fascinating to see how applications for the underlying bitcoin technology have expanded beyond cryptocurrency. Whether it’s file storage, identity management or perpetual data like public contracts and records, the use cases for blockchain are expanding and it’s poised to have a significant impact on how we live and work. These businesses are interesting to us.
  • Sharing economy: In startup pitch circles, business models predicated on the sharing economy often present themselves as the next “Uber for X.” Despite this threadbare phrase, I still believe there are opportunities in the sharing economy that have not yet been exploited. Like ridesharing, room and equipment rentals, crowdfunding and other examples, new opportunities will continue to be created by taking advantage of excess capacity in networks. We’re looking for companies tapping into the sharing economy in new and clever ways.
  • Automation and drones: We’re on the precipice of living in a fully autonomous world. I believe this because I see it in action every morning. After the Cloud Sherpas exit, I got a Tesla Model S (a bit cliché for a startup founder exit, I know). For those that haven’t experienced Tesla’s autopilot, in a nutshell, the car drives itself. For real. From the moment I enter the highway and engage autopilot until I’m ready to exit back onto a surface street, the car magically stays in its lane, speeds up, slows down, and even avoids accidents. It’s just incredible and it’s here today. While I don’t necessarily expect to see the next Cruise in our first Atlanta batch, I do believe that Tyler and I, along with the Techstars ecosystem and Cox, have the capability to nurture and accelerate businesses related to automation and drones, whether it be farming, industrial applications, delivery companies, you name it.
  • VR/AR software applications: As Techstars Executive Director Cody Simms shared, we’re finally looking up from our phones. But where are we looking? Perhaps to a virtual or augmented reality, and this future looks bright. Companies like AppliedVR (Techstars Healthcare ‘16), that have developed a VR application as a drug-free, user-friendly alternative for acute pain and anxiety management, are an excellent example. Startups that are developing unique, purpose-built software applications using VR/AR technologies are especially interesting to Tyler and me.

2) Atlanta’s Bread and Butter

The Atlanta tech community is known for its past and present success stories in enterprise security (Internet Security Systems, AirWatch, Ionic, Pindrop) and marketing technology (Mailchimp, Pardot, SalesLoft, Terminus). Certainly startups in these fields will have a deep pool of mentors and local experienced entrepreneurs to draw upon.

We’re also home to some of the largest players in the payments space (FirstData, NCR, Global Payments) and e-commerce startups (Cardlytics, supply.com, ScoutMob). Given our ties to the Atlanta tech community and our own experience, we know we can help accelerate companies that fall into these categories even faster.

3) Cox Industries and Causes

Finally, any businesses directly related to industries in which Cox plays (automotive, communications and media) and causes to which it contributes (environmental and healthcare) are definitely of interest to us, too. Much like those that fall into the previous category, we can help accelerate startups in these industries even faster by potentially making business development connections within the Cox family of companies.

The Ideal Corporate Partner

There you have it, folks. The first Techstars Atlanta class will be diverse by design. And this wouldn’t be possible without the support of Cox Enterprises, an ideal corporate partner with a 118 year history of looking outside the boundaries of its own businesses to disrupt itself.

For example, in recent history Cox anticipated the decline in newspaper classifieds and created Autotrader, the world’s largest online and mobile selection of new, certified and user cars. Cox wasn’t afraid to disrupt its newspaper business, their original business where the classified section was once dominated by automotive ads. Autotrader is now part of Cox Automotive, the company’s fastest growing unit with $5.9 billion in revenue and a physical presence in 24 countries around the world.

Beyond its investment activity, Cox also has a legacy of giving back to the community. Most recently, Cox has acted on that mission by helping the Atlanta startup community secure its place on the map, which is exactly why it chose to partner with Techstars. Notably, Cox has taken this on in an effort to help Atlanta get the recognition it deserves.

Based on this background, it’s not surprising that Cox has supported a wide scope to the Techstars Atlanta program. It’s now our job to cast a wide net and attract the most promising startups from around the world, and we fully intend to do just that.

Here’s to the Future, Atlanta

Does your company fit the bill? If you fit into one of these groups, we want to hear about it!

Applications are due May 8 — start your application today.

If you’re a NYC-based startup, come join us for a beer on Monday evening, April 25, at 6:30pm at the Techstars New York location on Broadway and 39th. We’ll be co-hosting a jam session with Jenny Fielding from Techstars IoT to share information about our programs and answer any questions.

And don’t fret, Atlanta. We’re coming home later this week!

We’ll be at the Atlanta Tech Village on Thursday evening, April 28, at 5pm.

Reserve your spot to come hang out with me and Tyler in the ATV Speakeasy Board Room where we’ll be on-site to answer your questions about the program.

Michael Cohn Michael Cohn
Michael is an entrepreneur, early-stage technology investor and Managing Director of Techstars Atlanta, in partnership with Cox Enterprises. When not working with start-ups, you might find Michael spending time outdoors, in the mountains or on the water, enjoying time with his wife and two children. @cohnhead