Alabama has quickly established itself as an attractive home for founders wanting to launch and grow startups.
The state’s momentum in helping technology and innovation startups flourish was the focus of a panel discussion Oct. 25 during the Alabama Economic Growth Summit in Hoover. Britney Summerville, vice president of community involvement at Shipt, moderated the discussion and said deliberate efforts to attract startups are helping the state grow.
“Technology is a huge part of our thriving ecosystem right now, and we are seeing no signs of that slowing down,” Summerville said. “We want to continue to remind our legislators and supporters of business in the state that technology is here and growing and that we’ll do it better and do it more with everybody’s support.”
Summerville praised Rep. Bill Poole, chairman of the House Ways and Means Education Committee, for leading efforts in the Alabama Legislature to pass new legislation that encourages startups, especially those based in technology and innovation, to locate and operate in Alabama. Poole said passage of the Alabama Incentives Modernization Act is just the beginning of the state’s strategic elevation plans.
“The results will inform the decision processes from a policy standpoint going forward,” Poole said. “We’re going to have opportunities to build on that success.”
Matt Hottle, founder of the Alabama Futures Fund, applauded strong bonds between government and business leaders across Alabama. Hottle said Alabama’s strong public-private partnerships are extremely attractive to startup founders looking for more than funding.
“We’ve made investments in five companies: one from Alabama and four of them we got to relocate from other places: Atlanta, Virginia and two from San Francisco,” Hottle said. “If you talk to those folks, they will tell you things like, ‘I’ve never had access to public-private partnerships like I have here. I’ve never had access to senior-level executives. I’ve not had access like Alabama Capital Network can provide to very seasoned, experienced people. I haven’t had advocates in our legislature like you have here. And, by the way, this place is pretty awesome.’ When we think about our ability to grow this state through startups, attracting them both from outside and fostering ones that are already here, understand we are way better positioned than most people realize.”
Hottle said Techstars’ decision to launch an energy technology accelerator with Alabama Power in Birmingham is one of the best examples of the state’s leadership in the public-private sector.
“Alabama Power did an unbelievable job,” Hottle said. “It took a lot of time and a lot of smart, ambitious people working on it, and they did that on behalf of the state and on behalf of the startup ecosystems. What an opportunity for us to capitalize on all of the things we have going for us. TechStars is a huge component of how that’s going to happen.”
Miller Girvin, CEO of Alabama Capital Network, said the ability of investors to successfully exit Alabama-based startups such as Shipt is also helping the state recruit more startups and more investors.
“People sit up and listen,” Girvin said. “They take note. They have circulated around the communities that are doing early-stage investing.”
Girvin said the state needs to make sure rural areas of Alabama are also included.
“A lot of us in the bigger cities have access to universities and corporate supporters,” Girvin said. “We need to continue perpetuate that in the rural areas and smaller cities.”
Poole said more emphasis on education will help.
“Investment in education is an investment in solutions,” Poole said. “We’ve got to continue to do better.”
Hottle said Alabama’s attractiveness as a home for startups will grow if Alabama attempts to elevate the region.
“Eighty percent of all venture capital is concentrated on the coasts,” Hottle said. “If we want to be relevant as a state, we have to be relevant as a region. That means we have to go across state borders.”
Summerville said these recruitment efforts also encourage businesses already in Alabama.
“The existing businesses that are here in Birmingham, especially in tech, are excited there is an emphasis on bringing more,” Summerville said. “They love the fact that, by doing so, it will attract more tech talent and retain tech talent that they have. When companies make it over to take a look at our city, they are wowed by what they see — that very natural, collaborative effort between public and private. The fact that it’s incredibly authentic is what gets their attention and what makes them want to stay.”