Birmingham, Ala., may not immediately come to mind when reviewing leading Southern startup hubs, but what the city lacks in notoriety, it makes up in effort and heart. Support from groups and organizations like TechBirmingham, BOSS-Birmingham, Code for Birmingham, and Innovation Depot, as well as downtown Birmingham’s University of Alabama at Birmingham, is compelling evidence of a startup community pushing for momentum in a region often dominated by more established hubs like Nashville and Atlanta.
One of the more well-known organizations in Birmingham’s nascent startup sector is Alabama Launchpad. Established in 2006 by the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama Foundation, Alabama Launchpad is a multi-phase startup competition for seed and early growth-stage startups, as well as for existing businesses moving into high-growth markets. More than $1.5 million has been awarded to 35 startups since its debut.
Between 20 and 25 companies apply per cycle, and all applicants are vetted through a multi-step mentoring and feedback process. Typically, three to six applicants will go on to receive funding provided that certain milestones are met. Applicants tend to reflect the diversity of Birmingham’s young startup ecosystem, and program director Greg Sheek says the program isn’t focused on any one industry.
“Alabama Launchpad works with companies across many sectors; we see biotech, mobile tech, health tech, advanced manufacturing, education tools, and many others,” he said. “Our main evaluation criteria focuses on teams having a significant and clear market for their product or service and a capable management team.”
The first contest of 2015 is already underway, with the first pitch event scheduled for Jan. 23. Five to eight teams will be selected to move on to the finals. Brewery Buddy founder Josh Sahib, one of the current competitors, says that regardless of whether or not his team advances, the experience of participating in Alabama Launchpad has been invaluable.
“This competition has made us think more critically about our business and to prioritize some of the overarching strategy that can be lost when you’re in the weeds of product development,” he said. “If we’re fortunate enough to get funding, we’ll hire some additional programming assistance so we can roll out our complete service faster.”
Photo Credit: Alabama Launchpad