Ryan Glover has been an entrepreneur for decades but, he says, it wasn’t until he was 48 years old that he found his calling. “I don’t think anything I’ve done in the past—whether it’s in music, entertainment, television—will be as impactful [as] what I’m doing now with Greenwood.”
Greenwood, which he founded in October 2020 alongside Killer Mike and former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young, is a digital banking platform “for Black and brown communities and allies who are committed to closing the racial wealth gap,” Glover says.
A California native who graduated from Howard University, Glover moved to Atlanta in the ’90s and founded the record label Noontime, which would go on to produce music by Aaliyah, Mary J. Blige, and Ciara. He eventually “got tired of babysitting adults” and left for Turner Broadcasting, where he worked for a few years before launching his own network, Bounce TV.
Glover never borrowed money from a bank to launch his businesses or, more recently, to build his home in Chastain Park. That mindset, he says, “stems from stories of banking mistrust told to us over generations,” he says. According to a report from the U.S. Federal Reserve, Black-owned businesses are twice as likely to be rejected for loans as white-owned businesses. And, according to CNBC, lenders deny mortgages for Black applicants at a rate 80 percent higher than that of white applicants. “I’ve seen our parents and grandparents use their mattresses as their banking depositories,” Glover says. “I want to change that narrative.”
The banking platform is named for the early-1900s self-sustaining business district in Tulsa, Oklahoma, known as Black Wall Street. The average dollar would circulate in that community for more than a year before being spent elsewhere. Racist white mobs destroyed the Greenwood District in 1921, killing 300 people and destroying 35 city blocks of property. One of Glover’s goals is to honor the bank’s namesake by “recirculating capital back into the community”: Greenwood will award $10,000 a month to a Black- or Latinx-owned business, and users will be able to opt into spare change roundups to benefit nonprofits such as the NAACP or UNCF (meaning, if you pay $1.50 for a cup of coffee, Greenwood will round the purchase total up to $2 and donate 50 cents).
“None of us are bankers or technologists. We are Black men who live in America, who understand what our community needs to create better lives for ourselves. It all revolves around creating wealth,” Glover says. “Ambassador Andrew Young, who is like a father to me, has always said, the civil rights movement wasn’t about being able to eat a ham sandwich in certain restaurants that they didn’t want us in; it was about one day owning a restaurant.”
More than half a million people across the U.S. have signed up for Greenwood’s waiting list. As this issue went to press, Greenwood was gearing up to launch its debit and savings accounts; investment and credit options are planned for later this year. —Heather Buckner
Michelle Khouri’s passion for sound took her on a winding path through corporate America and the music industry, but it wasn’t until she became a marketing entrepreneur and started a podcast that she found the right tune. “I became obsessed with the industry,” says Khouri, founder and CEO of FRQNCY Media, a podcast production and audio company. Since 2018, FRQNCY has grown to a team of 15 and produced shows for Coca-Cola, Apple, and Diane von Furstenberg; last year alone, it surpassed $1 million in gross sales. This year, Khouri will launch Recordical, a membership program designed to make recording more affordable and accessible. —Muriel Vega
Maggie Lee has covered local politics as a freelance journalist for more than 10 years. But following such a contentious beat was wearing her down. She began to consider turning her weekend gardening hobby into a full-time gig. Lee, who is 43, says, “At a certain point during Covid, I just said, I’m not getting any younger. I can’t wait until retirement.” So, last year, she and her husband bought six acres and moved to Fairburn, where Lee is preparing to grow and sell specialty herbs and cut flowers. Doing data research brings in enough income to get her through the startup period. Hopefully, her crops will be in farmers markets by spring. Lee says, “I cannot tell you with what joy I did not watch any local election debates this year.” What’s most surprising? “How many of my friends and colleagues have also dreamed of moving to the farm.” —Betsy Riley
Eddie Powell & Matt Carhart
Rare and Retro
As Covid wore on, West End neighbors Eddie Powell and Matt Carhart were frustrated with the slowing pace of their jobs—Powell’s as a corporate account manager and Carhart’s as a technology consultant. Over drinks, they got to talking about their passion for sports and sports memorabilia, and Rare and Retro was born. Powell, a Brit who came overseas to play soccer at Canisius College, had seen European fans go wild for vintage jerseys; he was certain the U.S. market would follow suit. The two began collecting memorabilia, filling up Powell’s dining room with merchandise and selling it online and at pop-ups. They’ve exceeded their goals every month so far. “Our goals were conservative,” Powell says. “We also had a Holy crap, this would be great goal. We’ve been closer to that.” —Betsy Riley
Jess Legge & Kimberly Lexow
Jess Legge and Kimberly Lexow founded Sifted to upgrade the catered corporate lunch. But the pandemic shifted their business model to shared virtual experiences like cocktail-mixing how-tos and revealed their true purpose: “to tie teams together,” says Legge. Sifted provides office lunches using sustainable practices and provides meals for people experiencing food insecurity. It has catapulted into six states and served 2 million meals so far at companies like Uber, Twitter, and Google. The founders, who had no food experience, came up with the idea for Sifted on a Sunday, built the website on Monday, and had their first client by Wednesday. Legge’s advice for would-be entrepreneurs? Don’t overthink it. “Just do it.” —Betsy Riley
In elementary school, Wanona Satcher used to sketch houses and build cities on her grandparents’ living-room floor, emulating her childhood role model, Herman Russell, whose developments she daily drove past in her native Southwest Atlanta. Now, the architecture and city-planning maven funnels her passions for workforce development and affordable housing into West End–based Makhers Studio, a nonprofit-turned–for-profit green manufacturing and design-build firm that repurposes existing materials (like shipping containers) to create affordable real estate in marginalized communities. “This is an opportunity to build affordable real estate and community connection in a more sustainable way so that we’re not exploiting people, we’re not extracting resources, and we are lessening our carbon footprint,” Satcher says. She hopes Makher Studio’s industrial-chic build-outs—modular housing, and small business and community spaces—will impact public policy and change what affordable housing could look like globally. But first, baby steps. “Early 2021, we acquired our first manufacturing facility in Mechanicsville, with the goal of redeveloping blighted properties and employing locally,” she says. “Interestingly, it’s at one of the Russell family buildings, so, we’re coming full circle.” —Kamille Whittaker
Ubiquitous on the internet, those little user-consent boxes (and the privacy laws behind them) are big business—such that Kabir Barday’s company OneTrust, founded to help companies evaluate the data they’ve collected and make sure they don’t run afoul of privacy laws, is the largest startup founded in Atlanta in the last 10 years. A little over a year ago, Inc. named it the fastest-growing private company in the U.S., with an inconceivable growth rate of 48,000 percent over three years.
An Atlanta native who graduated from Georgia Tech, Barday founded OneTrust five years ago, in his late 20s, after working at Atlanta tech company AirWatch. Cookies were a deviation from the original business plan: a pizza franchise.
Being a first-time CEO and first-time founder, Barday says, “is a whole other level of pressure.” There’s the obvious financial stuff: The company has raised more than $900 million from investors around the world. There are the customers, who depend on him to help them comply with privacy laws. (OneTrust also helps them handle consumers’ requests to delete their data.) Then, there are the employees, all 2,000 of them: “These are largely people that are early in their career. This is going to define their career trajectory, their growth. I have to look all of them in the eye and say, I’m going to be there for you, and we’re going to deliver.” It’s a lot to balance.
At first, he didn’t. Barday flew about a million miles in the two years after he founded OneTrust. He saw his fiancee (now wife) “maybe 30 days that [first] year. I missed two of my closest friends’ weddings. And, man, does that take a personal toll on you.”
Barday uses the words blessed and privileged to describe his life, but “just because you’re in a lucky position doesn’t mean that it’s not okay to talk about some of the struggles.” He’s still learning to do that—in part, to set the tone for the rest of his company. “I’m trying to make sure everybody else is comfortable talking about it—it’s not a taboo topic,” he says. The pandemic helped in that regard: “I think that’s one of the big wins, not just for OneTrust, but for startup culture—flex work and work-life balance and a focus on mental health and the acknowledgment that a company should be there, not just for the employee but for their entire family.”
Barday notes another thing that sets OneTrust apart from some other Atlanta-based tech startups: 100 percent of its full-time employees have equity in the company. “That’s the whole point of working at a startup,” he says. “And we want to create the next generation of success and entrepreneurs in Atlanta.” —Heather Buckner
Dirt Church Ceramics
Chef Zach Meloy, who once owned the now-shuttered Better Half, was on track to helm the kitchen of a new restaurant when the pandemic dashed his plans. So, he turned to his hobby: ceramics. “I was in a state of panic, I guess, because I didn’t know what I was going to do,” says Meloy. Working out of his garage, he began Instagramming his plates and bowls, and orders took off, including from other chefs looking to up their presentation: Meloy designs around dish concepts and ingredients, to make produce pop. He still cooks private dinners, but the ceramics are steadily taking priority—he hopes to expand to a larger studio soon: “I’m really excited, and I’m also terrified,” he says. “But that’s good because that means I’m taking it seriously.” —Lia Picard
Malory Atkinson lives and dies by her calendar. The cofounder and managing partner of Shear Structural—an all women-owned structural engineering firm in Chamblee—says, on any given day, she “could be energy modeling a paper-manufacturing facility for adaptive reuse on the Westside; heading up a pro bono project like the At-Promise Youth and Community Center, which transformed a warehouse that had been vacant for a decade; or closing the day working the register at Elemental Spirits,” a boutique bottleshop in Poncey-Highland that she opened with her husband in early 2020. There, alongside craft spirits, Atkinson retails vintage glassware from her long-running ATLVNTG Etsy shop. It’s a right- and left-brain dance that the Tech and State construction and marketing graduate relishes. In the queue: 360 Peachtree, a public-private partnership with the City of Atlanta and a development team for two affordable housing towers on an existing downtown church site. —Kamille Whittaker
David Lloyd Davis
Cascade Springs Nature Conservancy
David Lloyd Davis and his husband have walked Cascade Springs Nature Preserve nearly every day since they bought a home nearby 24 years ago. “No one seemed to really be looking after it,” he says. “I thought, How is this going to end up if no one takes the lead and does something about it?” So, in 2019, Davis founded Cascade Springs Nature Conservancy, one of the first conservancies in Southwest Atlanta, where the 125-acre preserve had languished for decades, even as the city diverted resources into wealthier neighborhoods’ parks. Through replacing rotting signs and building boardwalks over muddy trails, the nonprofit hopes to address racial inequities in access to (and funding for) greenspace. —Allison Salerno
Garrett Langley was in high school when he met Tripp Rackley, one of Atlanta’s early tech entrepreneurs. Langley teamed up with him while he attended Georgia Tech and afterwards, helping launch Firethorn, Experience, and Clutch Technologies. Four years ago, ready to launch his own company, Langley took Rackley’s motto to heart: It’s not the industry; it’s the team. He reached out to former coworkers Paige Todd and Matt Feury, and they considered fitness, physical therapy, and toilets before settling on public safety. Less than 20 percent of property crimes (and less than half of violent crimes) get cleared in the U.S. And 70 percent of crimes involve a vehicle, making tag numbers and car descriptions the keys to finding the people who have committed those crimes. Yet regular security cameras don’t capture that data. Langley’s team created Flock Safety, a system of solar-powered cameras that read license plates, vehicle color, make, and type (for 10 percent of the cost of traditional networks). The company has 400 employees and works with 1,500 cities in nearly every state. Roughly 3 percent of all solved U.S. crimes now use data from Flock Safety. As this issue went to press, Flock Safety was submitting a proposal to the City of Atlanta. —Betsy Riley
A sudden dearth of in-person meetings and social events during Covid translated into the equally rapid rise of calls and Zooms; and, in that shift, scheduling platform Calendly hit its stride. The company (which has 10 million users) grew 1,000% in 2020. Founder Tope Awotona, who emigrated from Nigeria and graduated from the University of Georgia, drained his personal savings to start Calendly, which is now one of the largest startups to come out of Atlanta in the last 10 years. —Heather Buckner
Ryan Hersh was paid to solve problems as a project manager at Emory University, but his biggest problem was how to hack a commute that was taking him an hour to go four miles door-to-desk. Resorting to his bike to chisel away at commute time didn’t help. “Atlanta is just hilly enough for me to break a sweat,” he says. “Sometimes, I had to wear a tie at work and a sweaty guy in a tie is the worst.” After a test ride on a $5,500 early-model electric bike, a new hack emerged for Hersh: how to build an e-bike for half the price. He sourced a frame from Canada, a battery from Japan, and a motor from China and built the prototype for what became Edison Electric Bikes. Hersh went from building and selling one e-bike a week from his porch to a 460-bike production run with roughly 1,000 customers. “The great thing about electric bikes is that the City can build as many paths as it wants,” he says. “But it’s not going to make Atlanta any flatter. The electric component really makes Atlanta as flat as a pancake.” —Kamille Whittaker
Sowmya Burugu always dreamed of running a restaurant—far in the future, when she retired from her job modeling and designing software system architecture for a Fortune 500 company. Fate had other plans. Stuck at home during the pandemic, Burugu developed a knack for mixing cocktails. When she learned that the Decatur restaurant Café Lily was in danger of closing, she decided to launch her dream early. With the encouragement of her partner, Katie McLellan, a longtime Café Lily employee and minority owner, Burugu cashed out her 401(k) and became a restaurateur. She’s now co-owner and bar manager, overseeing a craft cocktail menu infused with the Indian flavors of her childhood. And she kept her day job. —Rachel Garbus
Read More: This article is part of our January 2022 cover story, Entrepreneurship is changing. So are Atlanta’s entrepreneurs.
This article appears in our January 2022 issue.