Editor’s note: Jim Roberts, executive director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UNC-Wilmington, offers WRAL TechWire readers an exclusive insider look at Venture Atlanta.

ATLANTA - Upon arriving at Venture Atlanta, it hit me again what a big urban city Atlanta really is and how many cultural assets the city has to attract the South’s best and brightest to compete for the young workforce with Raleigh, Charlotte, Nashville, and Wilmington.

This was my first trip to the Georgia Aquarium and the perfect place to host a conference for ADHD tech entrepreneurs. The Ocean Ballroom was full of younger tech entrepreneurs, older investor types and enough lawyers to fill the Georgia Dome.

The Chairperson of the conference committee, Melanie Leeth of Imlay Investments, immediately put a stake right into this North Carolinian’s heart when she mentioned from the podium an up and coming future industry for Atlanta was the intersection of the tech industry and the FILM industry. (Unfortunately, the keynote speaker on film from Paramount Pictures had to back out due to a death in the family.)

Lead with Strength or Cobbler and Shoes Dilemma

The irony of starting the conference with a cybersecurity panel one month after Atlanta’s own Home Depot had a huge data breach is either great timing or a familiar situation with the lack of partnership between the local tech industry and local large employers.
Atlanta has long been known as a hotbed for internet security startups and the strength of the engineering program at Georgia Tech.

Many entrepreneurs on stage gave the Go Tech cheer to the dismay of the Bulldog grads in the audience.

Thomas Noonan, the most visible and successful tech entrepreneur I know in the Atlanta area was on the opening panel. Noonan was CEO of Internet Security Systems (ISS), an information tech security company and JouleX, an energy management based startup acquired by Cisco, is now the GM for Energy Wise Solutions for Cisco. As the Internet of Things topic was discussed, Noonan said there would be 50 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2025.

(I MAY have been the first in line to talk to Mr. Noonan to grab his card for our favorite IOT entrepreneur Scott Moody of K4 Connect, frequent speaker and mentor at our accelerator in Wilmington. Turns out it was his only business card! Yes hustle still works in the technology age.)

The Alpha Dog of the panel was General Harry Raduege, Senior Counselor to The Cohen Group & Chairman of Deloitte Center for Cyber Innovation. As a former Department of Defense leader, he told many interesting stories of September 11 events including running down to the server room in the Pentagon as the water was rising in the room that would have damaged all of the servers and the crucial information contained on them. He also told the story about the concerns that there could be multiple days of attacks. He recalled the overwhelming challenge to communicate during the attack and how most of the redundant infrastructure was more for hard line phones but not as much for mobile phones.

Cloudy with a Chance of SaaS

There was a long parade of early stage companies promising the benefits of Cloud based software or Software As A Service (SaaS) to the point of the eye roll reaction of a couple of investors sitting at my table at the event. Again, this was a venture capital conference so this is the same march that all of us have experienced.

Some of the more memorable moments within the startup showcase may show my North Carolina bias for this WRAL audience. One of my major topics in the Wilmington area is Brain Drain/Brain Gain as I am eager to attract UNC Wilmington graduates back to the coast and keep our bright students to help build our talent base for the innovation economy. So when I saw one of the best presentations was by USER IQ, it also hurt to hear they were two Duke University grads.

Or of course, seeing friend Brian Dally tell the story of why he recently moved from Raleigh to Atlanta with his sexy startup around crowdfunding real estate, GroundFloor. Not only that, he recruited two former Republic Wireless executives and another former Motricity executive. A Wilmington based angel group, Cape Fear Inception Micro Angel Fund, has invested in GroundFloor. Brian gives a very confident investor presentation that makes investors feel that they are going to miss an opportunity if they don’t invest in Groundfloor as I witnessed when he presented at our accelerator at UNC Wilmington, the Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The executive from CloudTags gave a good presentation with some real rockstar brain power. With an energetic presentation, the presenter mentioned teamwork between teams at Georgia Tech and MIT. The company is working with North Carolina based retailer with their data and analytics platform to capture valuable customer engagements. The kicker is a $1.2 million investment by the Foundry Group and TechStars founder Brad Feld.

But the most memorable moment from the conference so far was when a pregnant entrepreneur, Roz Lemieux of Attentive.ly, opened her presentation by saying she currently had two startups, but one was going to be pre –revenue for at least 18 years as she rubbed her belly. That got a great laugh and woke up the audience a bit from the post lunch presentation parade.