Introducing Athensmade

Tagged: Athensmade , Athens , Georgia , entrepreneur , creative

A little over a year ago, a group of Athens entrepreneurs got to talking. The subject was the local business community and the issue was an identity crisis. The people talking were all owners of successful Athens-based enterprises who found that their stories weren’t being told. Under the leadership of local entrepreneur Davis Knox, there were many more conversations held and many more collaborations formed before a plan solidified and Athensmade was born. The guiding vision of the organization is to build awareness of local businesses and attract talented people to Athens. They aim to make Athens nationally known as a community where entrepreneurs, young professionals and creative professionals thrive.

Athensmade is at its core an “economic gardening” initiative. According to the Kauffman Foundation, economic gardening is “ economic development model that embraces the fundamental idea that entrepreneurs drive economies. The model seeks to create jobs by supporting existing companies in a community.” The underpinning of an economic gardening approach is assisting local existing second-stage companies in areas critical to their overall financial success. One of those critical areas is website and search engine traffic. Enter the most fundamental of Athensmade’s efforts: their branding initiative, a campaign in which they will simultaneously promote Athens’ brands to larger markets through content creation and social media outreach, while at the same time promoting Athens as a destination for the next generation of entrepreneurs by cultivating leaders from within the community and undertaking campaigns to share the quality of life of our community. The website,, will serve as a clearinghouse of information about local businesses and will cross-pollinate with a company’s own websites to build awareness and drive traffic.

Another local business support function, and perhaps their most creative initial endeavors, is the creation of the Experiential Learning Institute (ELI), which exists to introduce students to the professional world beyond the Arches. Athensmade is developing the ELI in response to the new graduation requirement pioneered by the University of Georgia that asks all undergraduates, regardless of degree, to complete one hands-on learning experience while enrolled. By partnering with UGA, Athensmade is assisting professors and advisors to direct students to internships within the local Athens business community by being a single point of contact between internship-seekers and Athens-based companies. Part of the ELI’s work will also include the development of a Best Practices Manual for recruiting and working with interns - a resource that can be used by any business to more effectively utilize student talent coming out of UGA and the other postsecondary institutions. The manual will include tools for recruitment and management as well as assistance in navigating the specific logistical and legal considerations that come along with working with students.

So just what does it mean to be Athensmade? An Athensmade company is headquartered right here in Athens-Clarke County and can be either a service-provider or a goods-producer. Athensmade businesses can range from a one-person show to a mega corporation, as long as they are a brand that calls our fair city home. The honor of using the Athensmade logo will be granted to eligible local companies on an annual basis at an awards ceremony every spring. Companies honored will have the privilege of using the Athensmade logo on their wares and marketing materials and will be asked to join the Advisory Board of Athensmade to ensure the needs of local businesses continue to remain front and center in the organization. It is their hope that a continued conversation among successful Athens’ based endeavors will cultivate more entrepreneurship by improving the overall narrative around doing business in Athens and by focusing a conversation on how to better support local enterprise. To that end, Athensmade has formed a strategic partnership with the Athens-Clarke County Economic Development Department to function as the local business ambassador for the department’s business development and retention efforts. Athens-Clarke County has committed to assist in the initial start-up costs of Athensmade by offering matching funding for the first two years. With that commitment in place, Athensmade was able to onboard Executive Director Mary Charles Howard, a name that many in Athens associate with Athens Food Tours and the annual Agro Cycle Tour. Howard holds a degree in landscape architecture from UGA and most recently served as the Director of Marketing for local engineering firm.

Athensmade is one more tool in the toolkit for businesses in Athens. With a laser focus on locally made products and locally provided services, entrepreneurship support and close relationships with the University of Georgia, Athensmade is poised to change the dialogue about what it means to be made in Athens.

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