Metro Atlanta is transforming into a top tech market – inventing the tech of tomorrow while inspiring the young, disruptive minds that seek to improve our collective quality of life. Scott Henderson, CEO and co-founder of Sandbox Communities, has been working out of Tech Square in midtown Atlanta for the past six years to better connect this talent with a growing array of opportunities in the region.
Tech Square is a neighborhood that today has the highest density of startups, academic researchers, innovation centers and students in the Southeast. With Sandbox, Henderson’s company offers a mix of community programs, media content and collaborative spaces to help these bright minds discover and connect with each other.
The most prominent program is Tech Square ATL, a 1,200-member community with regular small- and large-scale events. This member community also publishes weekly digital content about the people in the neighborhood through Tech SquareATL.com and is one of the most consistent contributors to ChooseATL’s THEA streaming platform.
The Garage at Tech Square is Sandbox’s private event venue that doubles as a collaborative workspace for Tech Square ATL members. Event clients include a roster of high-powered companies like Bloomberg, Turner’s ELEAGUE, PayPal, Honeywell, Stanley Black & Decker along with community groups such Georgia Tech’s Institute of People and Technology, MARTA and the Metro Atlanta Chamber.
Both Tech Square ATL and The Garage help create a stronger sense of community for the ATDC startups, 20 corporate innovation centers, Square on Fifth (SQ5) residents, Georgia Tech researchers and other technologists that enjoy both programs.
“I returned to Atlanta in 2012 after working on a national campaign to encourage more communities to support entrepreneurs. Through my travels and time living in Boston, I came to understand the importance of creating a greater sense of place and community. On my first afternoon in Tech Square that fall, I was surprised to discover everything this neighborhood has to offer. I had lunch with a Mark Cuban-funded entrepreneur, met the founders of Hypepotamus, and was invited by Merrick Furst to stick around for Flashpoint’s second cohort demo day – basically meeting the Atlanta ecosystem in one afternoon,” Henderson said.
From these meetings, Henderson became intertwined in the then-nascent startup community by serving as the first executive director of Hypepotamus and leading the launch of Hypepotamus.com as a media publication. He came to understand the unique advantages and disadvantages of the Atlanta tech startup scene and helped forge the vision of what the area could become.
When he ended his tenure at Hypepotamus, Henderson narrowed his focus exclusively on Tech Square. With developments in tech, individuals can now work almost entirely from a mobile phone. The question became how to make people want to go to work and enjoy the workspaces that they occupy.
Working with The University Financing Foundation and Gateway Development Services – the private developers behind Centergy – Tech Square Research Building and SQ5, Henderson got to work on this new challenge. This led to Henderson to co-founding Sandbox Communities with David Tyndall, one of the principal partners of Gateway Development Services.
“Through Tech Square ATL and The Garage, we’re creating the framework for community. The talent that companies are trying to attract want to be here,” Henderson said. “Everything we do is designed to create connections that fuel commerce. That might be hiring somebody, finding an investor, landing a new client, or learning something new that helps you solve a challenge you have been wrestling with.”
There are five elements to Sandbox’s community formula: organizing around a shared belief, mentoring and sharing knowledge, creating exclusive access open to anyone who wants to earn it, storytelling and lore about the community, and the ritual and spectacle that embody the community’s shared belief.
Sandbox’s portfolio of talent-focused programs includes the semi-annual Tech Square Job Fair, Tech Square Summer Camp for summer interns working in the neighborhood, and regular Mentor Circles matching job seekers with a variety of mentors from different files. All together, these programs have helped over 3,500 job seekers and summer interns in their career searches.
This Spring, Sandbox expanded its reach from Tech Square to all of Georgia thanks to Day One Georgia, a statewide high school innovation challenge. The inaugural contest culminated in a daylong summit that kicked off Tech Square Innovation Week, which ran from May 5-11 and included Atlanta Startup Battle and ATDC Startup Showcase.
The challenge, open to high schools across Georgia, this year asked students to present innovative solutions leveraging artificial intelligence. Through public, peer and expert voting, three schools emerged as the top finishers – Lambert High School, Maynard Jackson High School, and Athens Community Career Academy, taking first, second, and third place, respectively.
“We are very good at coming up with new ideas to bring together the community. Working with the State of Georgia, we conceived the Day One Challenge concept in early February, launched it on March 5, and set the deadline for April 5,” Henderson said. “45 teams joined the challenge and 12 succeeded in submitting complete solutions for applying artificial intelligence to improve health, education or sustainability. We learned as much as the students and can’t wait for next year’s challenge.”
Tech Square today is home to seven startup accelerators, over 100 startups, 17 corporate innovation centers, 10 research labs, 10 top 10 engineering programs, one top 10 MBA program and over 1,300 Georgia Tech students. Sandbox Communities connects these individuals to tell the metro region’s story of tech innovation through partners including The University Financing Foundation, ATDC and ChooseATL.
“It’s simple – we connect the awesomeness,” Henderson said.
For more information about Tech Square, the Tech Square ATL member community, and the many events and opportunities available to students, interns, and more, visit: http://www.techsquareatl.com.
You can learn more about The Garage at http://www.bookthegarage.com, Tech Square Summer Camp at http://www.techsquaresummercamp.com, and Day One Challenge at http://www.dayonegeorgia.com.