In recent years, the technology sector of Forsyth County has grown to become a major focus of the local business community, and at a ceremony on Thursday morning, local leaders took a step toward growing and expanding the industry.
On Thursday, the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Digital Ignition, a technology and startup incubator, located on Bluegrass Valley Parkway in south Forsyth, complete with several speakers, including Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan – a Forsyth County resident – and Joanne Sanders, general manager of Digital Ignition and president of EWISE Communications, which has leased space in the facility for three years.
“We now provide best in class resources and services and connections to really help companies here grow,” Sanders said. “The other thing about our members up here is that because of the area most of the members we have here are former Fortune 500 executives that are now starting companies, so we have incredible business acumen here at Digital Ignition, we have incredible services, incredible connections and support teams. This is a really exciting time for Digital Ignition.”
Digital Ignition was first launched in 2016 as part of digital display company Convergent as a co-working space, but over the last year or so, officials have expanded the offerings beyond mere space to work to include attorney, accounting and other incubation services.
“This isn’t a facility. We’re not cutting a ribbon on a facility,” Duncan said. “We’re cutting a ribbon on a vision.”
Sanders said the incubator had quickly grown since its inception.
“Because of what we have done in really less than a year, our occupancy for Digital Ignition has grown from 15 percent to 90 percent,” Sanders said. “We are now home of 30 companies … in Forsyth County that are thriving and that are just growing exponentially as well.”
Benjamin Andrews with Advanced Technology Development Center, or ATDC – which has operated since the 1980 and is part of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute – said when he was invited to Digital Ignition, rather than the size and offerings of the facility, he was interested in “the quality of the entrepreneurs and the quality of the companies.”
“My first visit up here, they introduced me to a number of companies, and I saw that … these are the kind of companies that we want to work with,” Andrews said. “Since then, we’ve had a coach that’s been coming up here, one of our catalysts on staff, and we’re doing weekly office hours here so companies here can meet our people and get access to the resources we have.”
New technologies and new companies can mean more jobs in the community, particularly in the blockchain, financial technology, artificial intelligence and “internet of things” technology.
“I truly believe that in five years from now, we’re going to look back and say this is a monumental day for Forsyth County,” said Scott Evans, senior technology project manager for the chamber of commerce. “To give you perspective, just in the last three months, Joanne and I have hosted three different technology companies, most of them are focused on blockchain. We hosted them here because they are looking for space.
“Just take these three companies that toured through here, if they get the funding that they’re looking for, they’re going to create over 600 extremely high paying jobs over the next five year.”
With traffic being one of the most common complaints among Forsyth County residents, it’s fitting the space will be used for a collaboration with the Georgia Department of Transportation.
“We’re going to host 10-20 of the top software development teams from around the world here at Convergent over the weekend to help create crowdsource ideas for the smart and connected cars of the future,” Evans said.
A group of technology executives is also working with the office of Sen. David Perdue to look at the process of federal government procurement for rapidly emerging markets.
Duncan has long touted a vision of Georgia being the east coast’s hub of technology and the county is making waves in the technology world.
“We’re not one of those people that just want to create marketing flyers. I don’t want to give a slick little presentation that says that that’s what we want to be,” Duncan said. “We want to earn the title, and it’s opportunities like this, it’s ideas and visions like this that if we can replicate all over the state, genuinely replicate, then we will become the technology capital of the east coast, and we’ll have the entire world watching what we’re doing and wither copying it or coming here.
“Either one works for me because it tells us we’re doing the right things.”