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Partnership Puts Weight Behind Making Georgia a Tech Go-To

The Partnership for Inclusive Innovation, a public-private partnership focused on spurring innovation, is working to move the needle on the mission to make the state the “technology capital of the East Coast.”

Digital image of five people sitting around a table made of puzzle pieces working together to assemble it.
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Georgia’s Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan took office in January 2019 with the ambition of transforming the state’s technology ecosystem. A partnership between the state, academia and the private sector would be a central component to this goal.

The Partnership for Inclusive Innovation (PIN) was first announced in August 2020. With funding from Georgia Tech, the state and private-sector partners, the public-private partnership serves as a vehicle for economic development by supporting scalable pilot programs, community research and student engagement.

It will build on the work of the Georgia Innovates Taskforce, which provided recommendations to help the state determine the best path forward.

“[The goal for the pilot programs] is to spin them out as quickly as we can into the real world instead of being a product pilot program, being a successful up-and-running concept and business that’s able to solve Georgia’s problems,” explained Duncan. “But also, hopefully these entrepreneurs can then go monetize nationally or globally based on their successes here.”

The idea to make Georgia a technology capital came earlier, during Duncan’s time as a state representative when he noticed other states bolstering their technology sectors by encouraging innovation through championing pilot projects. The state had already made significant strides in this area with projects like the Georgia Cyber Center, first announced in 2017.

As Duncan described, Georgia’s economy has already drastically changed since his youth. Decades ago, textile mills and manufacturing plants were the norm. That dynamic has shifted. In his hometown of Alpharetta, where there were once almost no technology companies, hundreds now exist.

“For me, it really opened up this idea: if you are intentional about inviting technology and innovation, it will find a place,” Duncan explained. “And so, this was an opportunity to help backfill the next generation of jobs.”

With the help of tech entrepreneur and Policy Director Mike Dudgeon, and technologist and former President of Georgia Tech Dr. Bud Peterson, the Georgia Innovates Taskforce was formed to recommend actions that would help actualize this goal. This taskforce would be the foundation for the PIN program.

The public-private partnership model is effective, Duncan said, because it combines the expertise and drive of the private sector with the scale and scope of state government — a dynamic that allows government to be the spark, rather than the flame.

PIN seeks to fund high-impact, low-cost pilot programs, with the first example being Mesh Network, announced in December 2020, which PIN Executive Director Debra Lam described as an entrepreneurship workforce training program for historically underrepresented and disadvantaged groups. PIN provided $250,000 in funding that allowed the network to expand from Augusta throughout the state.

Lam indicated that pilots are chosen for a mix of financial metrics and wider metrics that are not geared specifically towards economic development, like the opportunity to focus on underrepresented entrepreneurs and communities.

As Lam described, the pilot program seeks high-impact projects that could be expanded throughout the state, while the community research program helps communities plan for a smart future with the Georgia Smart Communities Challenge. The student engagement aspect gives college students hands-on, paid experience helping on technology projects with the Smart Community Corps.

Lam said all three “legs” of the program are quickly accelerating, as the second pilot program will be announced in the coming weeks. The launch of the fourth class of the Georgia Smart Communities Challenge — based on connectivity — is in progress for four communities that will be announced this summer. Additionally, Smart Community Corps has announced its third class, so in a couple weeks, students will begin those working experiences.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on PIN, but Duncan argued that it was actually a tailwind to the partnership’s effort as it increased the overall awareness of technology’s role in business.

Duncan believes PIN is a step in the right direction for the state, comparing it to a startup business with a lot of energy behind it.

“At the end of the day, the partnership is really there to cultivate and to create this forward-looking momentum with the private sector,” said Duncan.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.