Danny Ross, longtime Dunwoody resident, venture capitalist, entrepreneur, inventor, community leader and member of the Dunwoody Economic Recovery Committee, has submitted to the city a 44-page proposal for a Dunwoody tech incubator, a plan that was turned down when he first proposed it in 2012. Now, it’s more relevant than ever as the Committee seeks ways to respond to a changing economy in which technology touches every aspect of our lives.
Thanks to Atlanta’s expanding tech ecosystem, many cities OTP – including Peachtree Corners, Alpharetta and Marietta – now have tech incubators, many with ties to Georgia Tech’s ATDC (Advanced Technology Development Center) and TAG (Technology Association of Georgia).
Already recognized as one of the country’s top ten tech cities, Atlanta is the undisputed leader in fintech, with more than half of U.S. financial technology firms based here and nearly 70 percent of all U.S. debit, credit card and prepaid card transactions processed in the state. With the growth of online banking, shopping, healthcare and their demand for contactless forms of payment, Atlanta is fertile ground for tech start-ups.
Danny Ross sees this ecosystem of talent, resources, need and opportunity as a source of both financial and intellectual capital for the incubator he has dubbed the Innovation Center of Dunwoody.
For now, his proposal is in the hands of Dunwoody’s Director of Economic Development Michael Starling and a consultant hired by the city to study the options for growing Dunwoody’s new economy.
“We have to compete for talent, tech companies and small entrepreneurs,” said Starling. “Quality of place and quality of life are important as is access to business resources. Work forces want to live in a true live-work-play environment. We want to do all the right things, including the hardscape and softer issues like the possibility of an incubator.”
No stranger to the give-and-take of selling new ideas, Danny, who with his son Dell holds seven technology patents, started his first business while in college, selling imported wigs door-to-door. Lacking seed money, he bought the wigs with money borrowed from “Understanding Henry,” sold them on credit that customers paid off by earning commissions for bringing him new customers, repaid Henry and made a profit. His customers called him “Mr. Dan, the Wig Man.”
After his first job, with IBM during the infancy of the computer era, his reputation for tech and sales savvy led to leadership roles in tech start-ups in Atlanta and New York, including the launch of the Timex Sinclair, a home computer that sold for under $100 through Timex watch retailers.
“We sold the world’s cheapest computer at the world’s largest department store [Macy’s New York],” he said. “It made the New York Times, and Fortune magazine named it one of the top ten new products for 1983.”
A price war between Timex, Commodore and Texas Instruments eventually caused the demise of the Timex computer.
“But first we put a lot of them into classrooms,” Danny said. “I still meet people who say their first computer was a Timex.”
When Danny returned to Atlanta, he co-founded a venture capital firm and entered the nascent Atlanta tech ecosystem.
“We funded 30 startups and served on their boards,” he said. The company was based in Midtown at ATDC, where some say Atlanta’s tech revolution was born.
In 2004-2009, he also found time to be co-president, along with his wife Queenie, of the Dunwoody Preservation Trust. During that time, he was instrumental in saving the Donaldson-Bannister Farm, now a Dunwoody public park; campaigned for Dunwoody cityhood; and served on Dunwoody’s first city council.
“I never intended to be a politician,” he said and served only one term.
Danny believes an incubator can help replace service jobs lost to AI and robotics, build our tax base, retain top talent, attract support businesses and fill our office buildings.
“Go back 30 years to Silicon Valley,” he said. “All those little cities started by forming incubators. Look at what incubators have already done for Alpharetta and Peachtree Corners.”
Like Michael Starling, he thinks Dunwoody already has the infrastructure, including plenty of banks and office space, low personal tax rates and high quality of life.
“Why go all the way to ATDC when you can get the same resources in Dunwoody?” he asked.
The answer depends on the consultant’s report, due later this year.