Featured Expert: Aly Merritt

What business or socioeconomic trends do you see that are either concerning or positive for the startup community and/or for the future of coworking communities?

Aly Merritt: On the bright side, there’s a surge in entrepreneurship. Startups are popping up everywhere, even in rural areas and in industry verticals outside the standard B2B SaaS, fintech, etc., and coworking spaces and startup hubs are buzzing with creativity. People are daring to chase their dreams outside the 9-to-5 grind, and they’re getting back together in-person – on their time and their schedules. 

But there’s a downside too. The obsession with rapid scaling, “hustle culture” and funding rounds can be concerning. Sustainable, long-term growth should matter as much as aiming for unicorn status. I hope we can strike a balance between ambition and sustainability.

Remote work has shifted the landscape, and the rise of hybrid work models after so many companies initially went remote also opens the door for coworking spaces and innovation hubs to create mini-offices for people located in certain cities. But those same hybrid models could reduce the reliance on coworking spaces as people shift back to their own company offices, even if it’s only a few days a week. How do innovation hubs evolve to meet the changing needs of remote workers?

In terms of socioeconomic trends, diversity, equity and inclusion are finally top-of-mind for many. It’s heartening to see more startups and spaces prioritizing diversity in their communities. But there’s still a long way to go, and we need to ensure that these efforts translate into real, meaningful, long-term change.

What have been some of your observations about ATV members in terms of how they consciously or unconsciously benefit from the serendipitous interaction with others in the ATV coworking space?

Aly Merritt: We like to say that Atlanta Tech Village specializes in engineered serendipitous interactions. If you think about our space as a hive of diverse talents, you can see how conversations might brew organically at the coffee shop, community kitchens or during impromptu meetings in the elevators. This blend of ideas from various backgrounds ignites the brainstorming of unconventional solutions and fuels innovation. And these chance chats evolve into deep friendships, mentorships, or collaborations – we have several founders who weren’t successful alone, but once they met each other, they pivoted into one company and are now in the middle of raising their third round!

Learning here is a fun adventure. Informal chats with industry leaders and surprise workshops offer invaluable insights, and casual conversations often lead to cross-industry partnerships – people find new customers during elevator rides, or new ways of thinking about a problem can arise while whiteboarding (or even walking by in the hallway and seeing the whiteboard question)! Everyone here wants to help others, and it results in a truly collaborative, supportive environment that drives success. 

How is ATV different or similar to other coworking spaces at other startup hubs in the U.S.?

Aly Merritt: Atlanta Tech Village stands out from other coworking or innovation spaces by fostering an incredibly vibrant and tightly knit community across the entire ATL ecosystem; we focus on the bigger picture, not just “our” space. We believe that when we attract entrepreneurs and investors to Atlanta, everyone here wins. 

We are a place where serendipity thrives, with diverse members constantly sparking innovative collaborations. And we are more than just traditional startups space – people come to us because what they need is community, not just office space. We offer specialized programs like our It Takes A Village pre-accelerator, as well as corporate partnership initiatives, which provide startups with invaluable support and connections. We drive events, meetups and networking opportunities for everyone in the ecosystem, and create faster access to talent, capital and ideas. We also have a deep commitment to inclusion and diversity, actively working to create an ecosystem that reflects the real world. It’s not just a place to work; it’s a dynamic, supportive, and inclusive community that elevates startups in a unique way.

How do you involve local, regional or even global corporate partners with what you do at ATV?

Aly Merritt: I feel like we have this fantastic knack for involving corporate partners from all over in our ecosystem – and we focus on authentic partnerships, not “sponsorships.” Our goal is to bring  value to both our partners and our Villagers so it’s a win-win for everyone.

We host A LOT of events, meetups, and networking sessions – 300+ events a year – that bring together entrepreneurs and local and regional businesses. These gatherings provide a platform for startups and corporate partners to mingle and explore potential collaborations organically.

We also work to bring in mentors and advisors with corporate connections and expertise, which ends up being a two-way street: Startups get priceless insights, and corporate partners get a taste of that startup innovation and agility.

We also know the importance of global connections. As the fourth-largest tech hub in the U.S., we support many international delegations and startups, and use our network to open doors for startups to connect with global corporations and other innovation spaces. These connections can lead to investment opportunities, market or customer expansion, and technological advancements.

Whether it’s a local gym or a global tech giant, we’ve got a knack for making everyone feel like they’re part of the vibrant tech ecosystem in ATL. I think it’s a pretty impressive web we’ve woven!

Finally, what is the best piece of advice you have given or received about working in the entrepreneurial community?

Aly Merritt: Ask others how you can help, without expecting anything in return. That approach alone will drive more authentic connections and a stronger network than pretty much anything else you can do. 

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