If you haven’t heard by now (Lance Weatherby), ATM Direct won the 2008 TAG/GRA Business Launch Competition. On the one hand, I congratulate the ATM Direct team for their victory. They walked away with $100K in cash and $200K in services from various sponsors and partners. Not bad!
My other hand, however, is left wondering why a company that at one point was a significant going-concern, and was eventually bought out of bankruptcy court was even allowed to enter a competition aimed at fostering “new” companies. According to the rules of the competition:
The competition is aimed at “new” businesses, however the time and effort required to launch a successful business in the targeted areas may require that an entrepreneur form a company and begin certain limited functions before any meaningful business operations occur. These functions could include prototype or Intellectual Property development and for these or similar reasons up to $500K in external funding may be allowed. Market trials may also be required and for this or a similar reason some limited revenue may be allowed.
Some incredibly cursory research on the web revealed that back in 2005 or so, ATM Direct was bought by Pay to Touch for a little over $30M. One person told me that deal was a bankruptcy matter as well, although I can’t seem to find any reference to it. Just a few months ago (February, 2008), ATM Direct (or at least their patent portfolio) was sold under bankruptcy court supervision for a mere $600K to Accullink LLC (also located here in Atlanta).
No matter how you slice this, it bothers me. It bothers a lot of people that I’ve talked to over the past few days.
I volunteered this year as a pitch mentor for the other three companies that were in the competition (Skybloxx, Global Crypto Systems, and ProperNotice). Each of these embryonic teams worked extremely hard to make it to the finals of the competition. During our pitch mentoring sessions, ATM Direct was absent - no idea why.
But I know the other 3 teams came in and walked away with newly gleaned insights into their stories, and a genuine hope that they had a shot to win and get their companies off the ground. Instead, they lost to a company that had been auctioned off on the bankruptcy circuit (at least once, possibly twice).
In any event, the TAG/GRA business launch competition should be aimed at promoting and fostering the launch of new companies here in Georgia. Unless I am missing something obvious here, I can’t help but feel a little shame in this year’s affair.
It sort of reminds me of a 16 year old trying to play on a little league team - great for the team that recruited him, but not terribly fair for the other teams. I suppose one argument would be that since the assets of ATM Direct were sold to Accullink, it is a new incarnation, new company, etc. So that would qualify them for the competition. I still don’t like it, though. It just doesn’t give me that warm and fuzzy feeling that I expect from a winner of a competition like this.
In fact, one could counter-argue since the assets were purchased for $600K, that alone would disqualify Accullink/ATM Direct as that would constitute an investment that is greater than the $500K limit outlined in the rules of the competition. I’d have much rather seen a true green-field idea company in that slot (like the other three contestants).
Nevertheless, I sincerely hope that TAG/GRA addresses this matter at some point, if nothing else than to send a message to would-be entrepreneurs here in Georgia that your dreams and efforts still matter. Due diligence is a good thing. Hopefully, someone from TAG or GRA will come and post here and help make some sense of this.
Editor's Note: There's some interesting comments about ATMDirect not being "a startup." You can read them here