Venture Atlanta announced that UnderGrid Networks will join the line-up of presenting companies at the 2019 conference. UnderGrid Networks, a technology and engineering firm guiding businesses on how to incorporate emerging technologies like AI and blockchain into their solutions, won the opportunity to present on stage as part of the launchpad2X’s annual Pitch Competition sponsored by Venture Atlanta.
UnderGrid Networks, which was founded by Marilyn Jackson, is a firm delivering digital products and services for effective, new ways of navigating the physical, mobile, and online environments. UnderGrid is the first presenting company named to present at the 12th annual Venture Atlanta conference on October 16-17 at the Southern Exchange.
Here, Marilyn shares with us what’s next for her company, her experience as a woman in the deep-tech sphere, and what it’s like to be a part of the launchpad2X and Venture Atlanta communities.
What was the inspiration for UnderGrid Networks, and what made you realize this would be a successful business concept?
UnderGrid Networks happened over a period of time because of what I’ve done in my career with companies like BellSouth (Next Generation Networks), Cisco, Verizon, and IBM. I hadn’t really been exposed to entrepreneurship but was heavily involved in intrapreneurship, creating new products and services. I knew I loved being on the leading edge of technology, and I realized that I had a knack for innovation.
Right now, we’re making a paradigm shift from our web world, which created apps and all the things we know today, to what we call the semantic word, which is going to be more cognitive in nature. Once 5G is fully enabled, there’s going to be a lot of rewriting and rethinking in terms of how we connect and interact. So what I’ve done with UnderGrid Network services and product offerings is think about this from a business perspective, and reimagined what the 5G economy will mean for next-generation companies.
“What does the 5G economy mean for healthcare? What’s it going to do for broadband? For marketing? All of these elements will need to be reconsidered because when you’re constantly connected, you have a lot of data, and you have to secure it and manage it differently. There’s a significant amount of work to be done, and I essentially told myself to pick a spot and get started.”
How were you introduced to launchpad2X and Venture Atlanta?
Here in Atlanta, the tech economy is very consumer-minded. We often use tech, but we seldom create it. When I was first introduced to launchpad2X by Bernie Dixon, I thought I wasn’t a good fit because I’m not creating another app or a simple platform — I’m driving tech innovation.
But because I’m coming from that direction, and having had a full career in tech where I’d done great things with great companies and worked as an Intrapreneur on several projects, I realized that my next step should be to build similar products and services under the umbrella of my own company. There was one obstacle that I had to overcome, as I realized the vast difference between being an Intrapreneur versus an Entrepreneur. I quickly learned that as an Entrepreneur, there are a lot of things you don’t learn at the C-level or in an executive suite of a large corporation because you’ve got people to do it for you. But I took a chance on myself, and it has paid off. I credit LaunchPad2x with giving me the confidence to stay the course.
With the launchpad2X program, I’m transitioning to understand how to successfully be an entrepreneur, even without the protection of a corporate structure. As far as Venture Atlanta goes, it’s still new to me, but I’ve been around this community, and I’ve seen the influence of the event, and I’m excited for this to be a part of my entrepreneurial journey. I’ve been self-funded up to this point, but it’s time for me to scale and grow, and Venture Atlanta is the opportunity to help me get here.
“Our solution is essentially going to be a filter to protect your personal data, and give you the right to release it. It’s going to be very, very disruptive to the market. Moving forward, individuals are going to have more control over who gets access to their information, and what can be done with that information.”
Women in tech always bring a unique perspective to where the industry is heading and what the biggest challenges are. What has your experience taught you about the industry and what we have to look forward to?
I think having women in tech is very necessary, especially at the Design Table. As an engineer, I’ve been in the trenches. I’ve done massive Cisco router installments, migrated huge Data Centers, converted code — you name it, I’ve done it — and what I’ve learned is that there just aren’t enough women at the table. Much of today’s tech design comes out of the male mind. For instance, the cell phone that you’re using right now. It’s square, it’s big, it’s cumbersome, especially for female hands, and that’s simply because a man designed it. He designed it for his square pocket on his shirt, and when the first cell phone became popular, it was designed to be worn on the hip in a holster. No woman would have ever designed it that way.
That poses a bigger question: How could products be optimized if we looked at them with a different perspective? Technology, in general, is dominated by the design thinking that goes into it. Women need to be at the table with design; with insider tech. It’s not just learning to code; you have to really understand the underlying technology that supports it. Women need to be pushed toward the maker element of tech — no better time than now with the “internet of things” in its prime development space.