- HBCUvc | Trains students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) in venture capital and technology entrepreneurship
- CharltonCunningham.com | Personal website
- Twitter @charlton_87 | 1000 followers
- Podcast | The Keystone Podcast
- Medium Blog | Charlton Cunningham
- Believes that Atlanta still needs a big winner to prove to the world that Atlanta’s startup ecosystem is legit!
As many of you know, we don’t always just focus on venture capitalists. I enjoy inviting people who are making a difference in the startup and VC world. One of those individuals is Charlton Cunningham. He’s an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Builder based out of my hometown, Atlanta Georgia. So what does an entrepreneurial ecosystem builder do?
“Back in 2012, there was no easy way to get involved in startups. I got the idea from my travels to Chattanooga where there was a growing startup community. I asked myself, why isn’t there something like this in Atlanta? The idea of an ecosystem builder is relatively new. The father of ecosystem building is Brad Feld, with a give-first mentality: This idea that the entrepreneur is the champion and how we as ecosystem builders can better their lives, help them create businesses, jobs, and opportunities. That’s our job, being empathetic to the entrepeneur.”Charlton Cunningham | VCHunting S2E12
What I particularly appreciated the most from our conversation was that Charlton revealed to us a very powerful method of becoming who you want to be: by merely working hard to network, meet people, create value by serving others, and growing his brand. This is very much reminiscent of the way Turner Novak got into venture capital! People like Charlton are critical for any type of community to be formed, but also sustained:
“I created a community to bring people together to hold each other accountable, building things is lonely. I pulled successful entrepreneurs together to speak at my conference, Hive ATL, and this led to my first job in the startup ecosystem.”Charlton Cunningham | VCHunting S2E12
Having been in the Atlanta tech scene ever since I landed here from Korea in 2005, I’ve seen the community grow, slowly by surely. Many of my experiences haven’t been too great (maybe I was just going to the wrong meetups and events), mostly because I was in the position of a founder looking for either investment or colleagues. Creating a B2C company back 10 years and asking for money from venture capitalists then versus now, I know things have changed for the better since we have people like Charlton taking the lead around community engagement! Is the startup game in Atlanta changing?
“The southern tropes of (risk-averse investing, etc) are definitely true. But they have been changing in the last couple of years. Even the B2C space. We’re seeing people come in and try to find the next B2C winners and how they can focus more on consumers. I definitely see the culture shifting.”Charlton Cunningham | VCHunting S2E12
So what is Charlton doing today? When he was working with StartupATL, he was primarily focused on the city of Atlanta. These days, he’s spending his time expanding his network:
“Five years ago I felt like I couldn’t leave Atlanta because my network was here, and then I began building relationships outside of Atlanta (and two trips to SXSW). I’m currently volunteering at a collaborative network called Build in the South where we connect startups with VCs. I also have a podcast called The Keystone where we connect ecosystem builders across the world.”Charlton Cunningham | VCHunting S2E12
I picked a quote from back on November 19, 2011, from Charlton’s twitter, I wanted to know if Charlton could communicate who he is succinctly and he answered with confidence:
“I am a generalist, and at my first internship, my boss said that people trust me quickly and that is a skill and don’t misuse it! In my work, I have to build trust with all these different parts of the ecosystem. What do I do with this trust? I leverage it on behalf of the entrepreneurs when they need access to those relationships. I’m essentially a keyholder, not a gatekeeper, and I give away the keys when necessary. Knowing who I am makes things happen.”Charlton Cunningham | VCHunting S2E12
I really appreciated connecting with Charlton for many reasons but one is that I want to highlight movers and shakers in the Atlanta tech space. If you’re a founder, venture capitalist, or the entreprocurious, you probably want to connect with Charlton!
I look forward to seeing how he will continue to bridge the gap for entrepreneurs in Atlanta and beyond! Enjoy my retrospective!
Charlton Cunningham Social Media
I don’t have time for your nonsense!