After Shipt’s Success, Birmingham Innovators Look For Next Big Thing

By Dennis Pillion
Alabama Media Group, Birmingham

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Many entrepreneurs and innovators are happily starting to call Birmingham home. A recent panel at a conference was called “1 billion reasons to believe in Alabama,” featuring the heads of three successful Alabama-based companies that within the past six months sold for a combined total of more than $1 billion.

Alabama Media Group, Birmingham

Just hours after Birmingham startup Shipt announced it would keep its headquarters in town and hire 881 new employees, dozens of Birmingham’s most impactful technological innovators and entrepreneurs gathered for the imerge innovation conference to talk about the next wave of startup companies to emerge from the Magic City.

The event was held at the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama at its campus adjoining Railroad Park and featured presentations by tech luminaries from Birmingham to Brazil.

The event was part of Birmingham’s Innovation Week, which continues today with the sold-out Sloss Tech event at the Lyric Theatre.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin delivered the opening remarks at imerge Thursday, saying as an under-40 mayor of a major city he felt that he was a “kindred spirit,” with the innovators and tech culture and that small startups will continue to play a big role in Birmingham’s economy.

“I have a fundamental belief that the growth of a city is not based on what a government does, particularly a municipal government does alone, but more so on what small business owners decide to be, in collaboration with entrepreneurs and those in the innovation and tech space,” Woodfin said. “That will be the real definition of growth in our city, how we support them, how we invest in them and how we make sure they are successful.”

$1 billion in Alabama
The highlight for many was a panel called “1 billion reasons to believe in Alabama,” featuring the heads of three successful Alabama-based companies that within the past six months sold for a combined total of more than $1 billion.

The “$1 billion” panel included Shipt’s founder and CEO Bill Smith; Shegun Otulana, founder and CEO of TheraNest, and Chad Trull, founder and CEO of HospiceLink.

All three are still running their companies after their “exits.”

The trio talked about the advantages and the challenges of running their nationwide businesses from Birmingham hubs as opposed to other locations, the biggest hurdles they faced in creating their companies and the importance of establishing a culture in their firms.

When asked what they would do if they were in charge of recruiting more businesses to Birmingham, they all agreed on the need for more direct flights from Birmingham’s airport, and the importance of building on the successes that Birmingham has seen from ventures like their own.

“There’s so much momentum in Birmingham over the last five years,” Trull said. “You can feel it.

“I think we’re on the cusp of it [more tech development], we just have to continue that momentum.”

The event also included a keynote Q-and-A session with 22-year-old Brazilian startup wiz Henrique Dubugras, who co-founded Brex, a company that offers charge cards for startup companies looking to get off the ground. Brex, based in San Francisco, has raised $57 million in venture capital.

Dubugras talked about growing up in Brazil, learning to code as a teenager and developing his first apps, and creating a startup at 16. He discussed how his company offers almost immediate charge cards for startups so they can move quickly after securing funding and how to manage a successful startup.

Musician and entrepreneur Holly Williams performed and spoke at the conference, talking about growing up in her famous family (she is the daughter of Hank Williams, Jr. and granddaughter of Hank, Sr.), and how transitioned from the music world to the business world after she and her sister were injured in a horrific car crash in Mississippi.

Williams decided she needed a backup plan in case her career as a singer-songwriter didn’t pan out, and she has now founded three separate businesses, H. Audrey boutique, White’s Mercantile stores and White’s Room and Board.

Williams also played several songs with husband Chris Coleman, including John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery,” on a guitar that bore Prine’s signature along with that of Kris Kristofferson and others.

$151,000 in startup funds
APEX Pro, a Birmingham startup company that developed software for auto racers to track and monitor their performance, was the big winner in the EDPA’s annual Alabama Launchpad pitch competition.

The company landed both the $100,000 top prize in the seed category, and the $1,000 audience choice award, voted by an online survey.

Global Inspections LLC took home the $50,000 prize in the concept category, for its plans to improve and implement technical training programs for pipe welding.

2018 Innovation Award winners
The EDPA also handed out its annual Innovation Awards. The winners are as follows:
–Startup of the Year — XpertDox, Birmingham, is a free web-based resource that connects patients to expert doctors, hospitals, ongoing clinical trial and peer-to-peer support.
–Outstanding Achievement in Innovative Manufacturing — Alignment Simple Solutions, Pelham, a company that manufactures portable, affordable and accurate wheel alignment products and accessories for all vehicles.
–Corporate Innovator of the Year (small company, 10-50 employees) — Inventure Renewables, Inc., Tuscaloosa, which pioneers process technologies for the rapid, low-cost, high yield extraction of natural biochemical and material building blocks from low-value/waste to provide cost-effective, carbon neutral biofuels, biochemicals and biomaterials.
–Corporate Innovator of the Year (large company, 50+ employees) — Shipt, Birmingham, a membership-based online grocery marketplace delivering fresh foods and household essentials through a community of shoppers and a convenient app.
–Startup Executive of the Year — Dr. Karim Budhwani, Birmingham, is CEO of CerFlux Personalized Medicine, which aims to reduce the pain, reduce the discomfort and reduce the cost of cancer treatment.
–Business Executive of the Year — Miranda Bouldin Frost, Huntsville, is president and CEO of LogiCore, which since its inception in 2002, has been an innovative resource for Department of Defense, Government, and commercial clients.
–Social Entrepreneur of the Year — Buddy Palmer is president and CEO of Create Birmingham, which has a mission to invest in imagination and invention. Through its programs, Create Birmingham constructs and supports diverse avenues for commercial and nonprofit creative success.
–Lifetime Achievement in Innovation — Art Tipton, president and CEO of Southern Research, Birmingham.

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