Founders of Switchyards and Alternative apparel launch event series to help local startups

One reason Atlanta is considered to be a startup friendly city is the amount of support nascent companies can find in the local business community.

Two years ago, Alternative, the Atlanta-born makers of eco-friendly, comfortable clothing and accessories, moved its design operations from Los Angeles to Atlanta.

“We were told by the fashion industry that you can’t do fashion in Atlanta. We were very nervous. Not many people, if any, do what we do in this town,” said CEO Evan Toporek. But the company received more than 600 applications for 10 positions and was easily able to hire qualified employees. “The business has thrived ever since. It got us thinking about how you can do non-traditional business in Atlanta,” he said.

Toporek approached Michael Tavani, Scoutmob founder and creator of Switchyards Downtown Club, a hub for business to consumer focused startups, and together they came up with the concept for an event series at which Atlanta-born brands would share with new entrepreneurs and the public their stories of success.

SweetWater Brewing Company‘s Vice President of Culture and Creative Steve Farace in February during the Made in Atlanta series. Image: Jason Seagle

Made in Atlanta launched earlier this year with the Bitter Southerner, an online forum that features writing and discussion with a Southern focus. Other featured companies include independent brewery, SweetWater Brewing Company as well as Leslie Zinn, founder of Atlanta-based juicery, Arden’s Garden.

In June, the featured speaker is Matt Bronfman, Principle and CEO of Jamestown, the real estate and management company behind Ponce City Market. Husband and wife design team, Sid and Ann Mashburn, will be featured in July.

The events are open to the public and often draw about 250 attendees including some Switchyards members. For each event, the first 100 individuals to sign up receive a limited-edition Alternative brand t-shirt with an exclusive design.

A laid-back atmosphere, which includes free drinks, encourages an authentic interaction among the attendees and the guests, said Toporek. Featured speakers often find themselves sharing stories about the struggles or successes of their companies that they haven’t shared before.

For many attendees, just hearing these stories helps them envision a future that may seem unrealistic at the present, said Tavani. While none of the brands claim to have everything figured out, said Toporek, they are all willing to talk about the ups and downs and how to continue building.

Though Alternative is more than 20 years old, Toporek likes to think the company still operates as a startup. Atlanta brands, he said, have strong DNA. “They are still founder led for the most part. When they get up there and talk they are a reflection of their brands. Their DNA is evident and how much the company cares about culture and commerce,” he said.

Attendees at Made in Atlanta series featuring King of Pops. Photo: Jason Seagle

Atlanta has the right mix of tools — similar to those you may find in San Francisco or New York — to be a great city for founders and entrepreneurs, Tavani said.  But even better, it doesn’t have the heightened level of competition that those cities have. “Atlanta is the perfect middle American City where you have the talent and enough people…but  also the blank slate and scene to do something interesting and stand out,” said Tavani.

But new founders can make a few missteps. In some cases, they try to do too much, said Toporek. Entrepreneurs may get a taste of success and begin to believe that everything they do will be successful. “They cast too wide a net instead of focusing on what they do that is really different and great,” he said.

Another mistake founders make is not creating a culture of profitability from the very start, said both Toporek and Tavani. They may be so focused on raising capital that they don’t focus at all on how the business will sustain itself among consumers. Do consumers care about the product or service? Can founders show measurable results from month to month? Those are just a few questions founders need to be asking themselves as they work on their ideas.

It can take 12 to 18 months to figure out if a startup idea is going to happen, Tavani said. Founders may discover that their first idea isn’t that great but they have to be around long enough to get to ideas three and four.

Some young companies get stuck in analysis paralysis, he said. “The cost of entry to be an entrepreneur nowadays is practically zero. That is a good thing and a bad thing. Some people don’t want to jump in because it isn’t perfect yet. I am a big believer in just getting out there, putting something out there and learning by doing,” Tavani said.

Networking within and outside of their industries is invaluable for founders and Atlanta is a relatively easy place to do that. All of the companies that Tavani and Toporek have called upon, have readily agreed to participate in Made in Atlanta.

“It is not that hard to grab a cup of coffee with someone who you want to meet. There is an openness and a willingness to share among business leaders in this town,” Toporek said. “Silicon Valley has become what it has become because there is greater power in many than in one.”

Event Preview

Made in Atlanta – Edition 006 – Jamestown CEO Matt Bronfman

6 – 9 p.m., Thursday, June 29, free

Switchyards Downtown Club, 151 Ted Turner Drive Northwest, Atlanta

Click here to sign up for the event

For more information on the Made in Atlanta series, visit http://switchyards.com and Alternative website to include as well is http://www.alternativeapparel.com

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