Athensmade is a nonprofit organization focused around connecting and sharing stories of small business owners and entrepreneurs within the surrounding Athens area. Operating for nearly a year, the project aims to promote Athens to other companies through the stories of other successful entrepreneurs.
“Storytelling encompasses a lot of what we do, which is sharing the stories of Athens’ makers,” said Mary Charles Howard, executive director of Athensmade. “We sit down and talk with entrepreneurs and get to know what they do and then share that with other people.”
The organization first arose from a project designed by Jim Flannery, founder of Four Athens. The project was set aside until David Sutherland, secretary of Athensmade and founder of Launch Institute, and Davis Knox, co-founder of Fire & Flavor and president of Athensmade, decided to revive the project as a non-profit.
Sutherland lectures in the University of Georgia Terry College of Business and tasked some of his students with determining Athensmade’s mission by comparing their goals to the work of similar projects such as Portland Made.
“About three years ago, Davis Knox and I got together and started talking about what we could do with this Athensmade idea, so we gave it to a team in my innovative projects class,” Sutherland said. “We looked at other college towns to see what they were doing and the students came back with a vision for what Athensmade should be.”
Sutherland said Athensmade is focused on cultivating current and future “makers” by sharing their stories not only locally, but globally as well.
“Makers” are what the organization calls the variety of artists, musicians and businessmen who make up the small business owners and entrepreneurs of Athens.
“We have metal workers, we have woodworkers, software developers-- all kinds of people making and doing all kinds of things,” Sutherland said. “We noticed in Athens there were a lot of things going on, but they didn’t really know each other. So we decided to create this community where they can interact with each other through hosting events.”
Athensmade is tasked with discovering as many local makers as possible, a job Howard said is mostly done through pre-existing connections.
“Right now we’ve mostly found people the old-fashioned way,” Howard said. “We ask people we know who they know and talk to those people about who they know and so on.”
Many of the board members go into local schools to share their stories and encourage students who may have similar goals. Sutherland said the outreach portion of Athensmade is how the organization plans to facilitate the growth of makers in Athens.
“One of our focuses is to help future makers develop their skills and orient themselves to the business world,” Sutherland said. “We’re trying to connect high schools as well as colleges in the region to businesses in the Athens area so students see the opportunity and have the support to become a maker.”
Though Athensmade has many goals within the community, running a non-profit is not without challenges.
“Finding people to donate is always a challenge,” Sutherland said. “Just visibility, getting people to know us a little bit is a challenge, but that’s happening. Another challenge is clarity, getting people to really understand what we do.”
As Athensmade grows, Sutherland said he and the board look forward to seeing progress in both the Athens community as well as helping students find their paths.
“We’re starting to see a lot of smaller businesses getting acquired by bigger companies and staying in Athens which is great,” Sutherland said. “We look forward to seeing the impact we can have. I think the most exciting thing will be when we connect a student and get to watch them go through all the steps to success.”