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Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz stopped by the Center for Applied Genetics Technologies (CAGT) on Friday, April 19, for a first-hand look at the facility that has housed so many UGA startup companies in recent years.

Hosted by Derek Eberhart, associate vice president for research and executive director of Innovation Gateway, and Ian Biggs, Gateway’s senior associate director for startups, the mayor heard about UGA’s recent strides in startup formation and technology commercialization, and he got to see CAGT’s office, lab and maker spaces for fledgling companies.

“We appreciate Mayor Girtz visiting our incubator to discuss UGA’s efforts to catalyze research-based startup companies” said Eberhart. “We look forward to collaborative efforts to help these companies thrive, create jobs and expand their economic impact in Athens.”

The Innovation Gateway incubator currently houses 20 startup companies, with more than 80 additional projects in UGA’s startup pipeline, Biggs said. Many of the program’s successful alumni are commemorated on a logo wall in the building’s lobby. Eberhart also described Innovation Gateway’s tech-transfer operation, which has helped move more than 725 UGA-invented technologies to market. In 2017, the university ranked No. 1 in the United States in that area.

Ian Biggs (second from left), senior associate director of Innovation Gateway, shows off a new drone to Athens Mayor Kelly Girtz (far left) during a tour of the UGA startup incubator on Friday, April 19. Also attending were Gateway’s executive director and associate vice president for research, Derek Eberhart, and Alison McCullick, UGA director of community relations (third and fourth from left, respectively). (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski)

For his part, Girtz said he was familiar with university technology commercialization because a family member who serves on the faculty at Texas A&M University is pursing commercial application of his research. The mayor said he wants to encourage public-private partnerships to create more usable space for companies that might want to locate in Athens, and he spoke optimistically about the university’s Innovation District initiative and its potential to catalyze economic development.

“People come here and say, ‘I love living in Athens, but where are the jobs?’” Girtz said. “I would love to be able to say to them, ‘They’re right up the street.’”

Biggs agreed and said a vibrant local economy contributes to the startup culture by making entrepreneurs less afraid to fail.

“When I lived in San Francisco, if your company went belly-up on Thursday, you didn’t worry because you’d have another job by Monday,” Biggs said. “The more we can entice UGA graduates to stay in Athens, the better. Startup companies based on UGA research are creating more employment opportunities.”