The domino effect: One entrepreneur’s move to Savannah
Smack Dab Studios, Balaya and ResEngine
It’s not only what you know; it’s who you know. It didn’t take long for a talented entrepreneur like Hannah Byrne to know all the right people.
Coming from a web development firm in Atlanta, Byrne launched her own full service graphic design and web development company, Smack Dab Studios, in 2004. (Her success was worth noting, with clients that included Coca-Cola, UPS and Intel.)
Not long after establishing Smack Dab, Byrne was ready for a change of scenery. She knew enough to know that she didn’t necessarily have to maintain an office space near her clients and by going virtual before virtual was cool, Byrne realized she could live anywhere she wanted.
“I was sitting in my condo thinking ‘I could be somewhere much cooler than this,’” Byrne reminisces.
Her sights focused on three creative, hip communities: Austin, TX, Asheville, NC and Savannah.
As fate would have it, Byrne stumbled across The Creative Coast Initiative in September 2005. She emailed former Executive Director Chris Miller to find out more about Savannah.
“Not even 30 minutes later he got back to me,” she says. “We met soon after at the Gallery Espresso and he convinced me to relocate to Savannah.”
Smartly, Byrne rented a place in Savannah for one month as a trial period, testing to see how the miles between her and her Atlanta clients would affect business. It didn’t. So she set up shop and never looked back. To her delight, Byrne was immediately embraced by the local group of design professionals, including Cari Clark of Clark Creative, Susan Isaacs of Paragon Design Group and Blake Ellis of Color Maria. In addition to existing clients in Atlanta and abroad, new local clients quickly emerged in the Georgia Historical Society, “Abshire PR”: and HunterMaclean.
“People recognized the quality and service we brought to the table,” says Byrne. “Armed with our new handful of clients locally, things sort of took off.”
In May of 2007 Smack Dab merged with Blake Ellis and Color Maria. “Blake brought a whole extra level of credibility and a higher level of technical consultation skill [to Smack Dab],” says Byrne. (Remember, it’s who you know.)
All the while, TCCa was behind the scenes doing what they do best: making connections. TCCa introduced Smack Dab to Balaya, a software company and developer of social media tools that was in need of a development partner. “We bid against two global firms for that job,” explains Byrne.” It was by far the biggest bid we’d ever won, beating out some huge development firms.”
“We interviewed a number of companies in our search for the right development team,” explains Bob Nunnally, CEO and Co-founder of Balaya.
“An introduction from TCCa to SmackDab started a very strong and exciting relationship between us."
“We subsequently met an ever-expanding group of service providers and investors here who helped us find our footing and launch our business. Based on those exceptional relationships, we decided to set up in Savannah.”
Balaya has been the focus of great deal of business buzz in the recent past, in March of 2009 they were accepted into the Advanced Technology Development Center at Georgia Tech, where they work closely with the ATDC team to refine their strategic business plan and pursue business development opportunities. One month later, Balaya announced that it won the Information Technology and Software as a Service category of the annual Five Ventures Business Plan Conference and Competition. The competition, in its ninth year, tests the business acumen of startup companies for a chance to win more than $100,000 in cash and in-kind services. Fifteen start-up companies competed in the finals.
It was the partnership between Balaya and Smack Dab that led to the creation of Balaya’s first product, tick-it®, a desktop application that blends the best of RSS feeds, email and Instant Messaging to make communicating with groups easier and more effective.
Eventually, Balaya hopes that tick-it will serve as a desktop platform for a number of group-focused tools. They are already in discussion with a number of companies that want to build onto the product.
But the dominoes don’t stop there.
Smack Dab’s success in Savannah with clients like Balaya propelled them to the next level and encouraged the team to delve into application development. “Between Blake and me there are 40 years of collective experience,” says Byrne, “so we asked ourselves: why aren’t we building our own applications?” Their first application, ResEngine, was bootstrapped with no investment and was launched in dire economic times. The user-friendly web-based reservation and resource tracking application enables both the largest hotels and the smallest inns or campgrounds to quickly check availability and book reservations.
Response to their first application has encouraged Smack Dab to go further, with three self-developed applications coming behind ResEngine, in various stages of development.
“We may just design and manage our own web apps,” Byrne muses.
For the growth of all three companies, both Byrne and Nunnally contend that Savannah was the quintessential breeding ground.
“Savannah offers a truly unique mix of joys and opportunities: historic architecture, a vibrant and engaged creative community, a plethora of cultural options and incredible weather,” says Nunnally.
“And The Creative Coast Alliance was the catalyst for our business being in Savannah. The TCCa network is not only strong, it is inviting and supportive; qualities you just don’t find in other communities—and we looked.”
“We have this sense of belonging to this community that we didn’t have before,” explains Byrne.
“We are going to be here and be a force in the business community and live in this great town. Savannah has not only given the business a boost, it has changed my life.”
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