How Technology Accelerators & Innovation Bills Spark Business Passion for Alabama Entrepreneurs

DigitalIntelligence

Government, corporate companies, non-profit organisations, educational institutions, and entrepreneurs collaborate for a better economy. They leverage the technology capabilities of Alabama.

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Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Known as the Yellowhammer State, Alabama has unique technology capabilities and created good economic development outcomes, especially related to technology employment and entrepreneurial empowerment.

As reported by Alabama Newscenter, in 2019, more innovation and technology startups moved to Alabama. The report commented, “Alabama has quickly established itself as an attractive home for founders wanting to launch and grow startups”. The report quoted Britney Summerville, vice president of community involvement at Shipt, who commented:

Technology is a huge part of our thriving ecosystem right now, and we are seeing no signs of that slowing down. 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.”

Like any state, the economy slowed down in Alabama. Closure of businesses in some significant sectors of the economy caused by the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in sudden drops in employment and economic output in 2020.

However, there was a piece of good news on This is Alabama that published an article last April titled Alabama sees an uptick in small business during a pandemic”. The critical point in the report is:

“Even as Alabama businesses faced seemingly insurmountable odds in 2020, the state’s burgeoning startup community held strong as entrepreneurs found ways to pivot and adapt to new challenges."

Technology jobs in Alabama look promising. A press release by CompTIA in April 2021 informed that technology employment in Alabama expanded by 3,200 new jobs. The data was obtained by Cyberstates based on analysis of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, EMSI (Economic Modeling Specialists International), Burning Glass Technologies, and Hoovers.

The release mentions that positions in emerging technologies accounted for 8.5% of all tech job postings in Alabama last year. In this report, the estimated average technology occupation wage in Alabama is $78,684. This figure is 106% higher than the median wage for other occupations in the state.

However, according to the Alabama Outlook report prepared by the University of Alabama (Culverhouse College of Business), the information sector consisting of communications related units such as publishers, broadcasters, telecommunications and ISPs (Internet Service Providers) decreased.

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Screen Capture from Alabama Outlook Report

The Culverhouse report specifies that “as of September 2020, these industries employed 19,000 workers across the state, a decrease of 1,600 workers (7.8 per cent) from September 2019. The sector’s real GDP declined 3.7 per cent to about $5.1 billion in 2020”. The good news is this sector shows improvement as depicted in the attached diagram.

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Screen Capture from Alabama Economic Outlook Report

The technical education capability of the state contributes to this favourable employment outcome in the technology sector. The University of Alabama at Birmingham offers nine computer technology degree programs, and it provides seven computer technology degree programs in Huntsville. The University of South Alabama also offers seven computer technology degree programs. Troy University offers four technology degree programs, both bachelors and masters degrees. A list of universities offering technology education in Alabama is at this link.

Educational technology in Alabama is vital for Alabama business. ALET (Alabama Leaders in Educational Technology) is an affiliate of ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education). ALET is an organization dedicated to promoting the positive impact of technology in education.

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Screen Capture from ALET Website

ALET members include education and technical professionals from all regions of the state. Members and sponsors of ALET work hard to provide Alabama students with world-class educational opportunities. ALET also offers scholarships to Alabama technology coordinators to attend ISTE conferences. You can find a listing of ALET and ISTE conferences at this link.

One of the capabilities of Alabama is hosting many commercial technology companies. For example, large companies such as ADTRAN, Intergraph, and Avocent have headquarters in Huntsville. In addition, telecommunications giant AT&T has a significant presence in Alabama, with several large offices in Birmingham.

More notably, Wells Fargo has a $400 million data center in Birmingham. This company has regional headquarters and an operations center campus in Alabama. In addition, construction and engineering firms such as Brasfield & Gorrie, BE&K, Hoar Construction, and B.L. Harbert International contribute to Alabama’s economy.

Banking and financial sector organisations such as ServisFirst and Harbert Management Corporation have headquarters in Alabama.

I want to briefly introduce new accelerator programs launching for North Alabama tech startups in mid-2021. The programs include three annual gBETA “pre-accelerator” programs and an annual “gener8tor Accelerator Studio” program as a non-profit venture for accelerating growth.

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Screen Capture from Innovate Alabama Website

The MidCity Accelerator Foundation and gener8tor aim to provide a focused experience with durable ventures and partnering relationships available to applicants across North Alabama through this not-for-profit venture. Attendees will obtain intensive and individualized coaching and access to gener8tor’s national network of mentors, customers, corporate partners, and investors. gBETA will operate in both Huntsville and Florence-Muscle Shoals.

These programs also have a diversity and equality focus. For example, in Birmingham, gener8tor collaborates with the Bronze Valley Accelerator to offer assistance to startups, emphasising enterprises launched by female entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color. Application details for these initiatives are available at gener8tor/Huntsville.

Another piece of good news for the Alabama technology community is recent tech grants. Apple is awarding $5 million in innovation grants to Expand Silicon and Hardware Technologies. The three-year grant is a part of Apple’s Racial Equity and Justice Initiative. It is also part of Apple’s broader New Silicon Initiative, designed to inspire and prepare students to pursue careers in fast-growing hardware engineering fields.

The grants will be split evenly across Alabama A&M and three other institutions, including Howard University, Morgan State University and Prairie View A&M. University. Alabama A&M will receive $1.25 million.

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Screen Capture from Alabama A&M University Website

Dr Zhengtao Deng, Alabama A&M University professor in the College of Engineering, Technology and Physical Sciences, said in a BizJournal article:

“The Apple Innovation Grant will enhance the educational objectives and student success metrics in electrical engineering programs here at AAMU and will provide opportunities for AAMU’s programs related to Apple’s New Silicon Initiative.”

Alabama also has a remarkable robotic park preparing the state for smart factories.

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Screen Capture from RTP Website
The Robotics Technology Park's mission is to provide a technically trained, highly skilled, and educated workforce for automation and robotics, to assist public and private entities in developing new robotics systems and technologies, and to promote the creation, growth, or expansion of companies through innovative technology solutions.”

This YouTube video provides an overview.

However, RTP upgraded its curriculum. RTP 2.0 is part of the mission to stay ahead of the demands of the ever-changing manufacturing world. Focusing on Industry 4.0, which is the digitization of manufacturing, RTP 2.0 will give Alabama companies access to the newest and most updated equipment for training their employees for the "Smart Factory" of the future.

Another business development is the acquisition of Cornerstone Media. Smart Source has acquired the majority of assets of Cornerstone in Birmingham. Cornerstone offers document management services, printed materials, and promotional products. This acquisition joins forces with best-in-class technology and substantial resources.

Alabama has created an innovation corporation to support statewide entrepreneurship, rural businesses, research and development at existing companies, and access to advanced technical skills that will drive a future workforce, as reported by Alabama News Center.

Governor Kay Ivey signed HB 540 and HB 609 into law. These bills establish the Alabama Innovation Corporation (AIC) and create a matching grant program for small businesses. The bills tasked the AIC with making the state a hub for technology and innovation and supporting initiatives, projects and activities that will enhance this growth for the entire state.

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Official photograph of Alabama Lieutenant Governor Kay IveyPhoto of Governor from Public Domain - Wiki Commons

The bills allow the AIC to make matching grants of up to $250,000 to businesses and organizations that received federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants or Small Business Technology Transfer Research (STTR) grants.

Carter Wells, vice president for Economic Development at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, commented about bills in a memo:

All of us at HudsonAlpha are grateful to Governor Ivey for her leadership and every member of the Alabama Senate and the Alabama House of Representatives for passing these needed bills. In addition, we are deeply appreciative to the Alabama Innovation Commission for their efforts leading to this win for entrepreneurs in our state”.

The creation of the AIC was suggested by the Alabama Innovation Commission. The commission was created by Governor Ivey in July 2020 as Alabama’s first commission focused on entrepreneurship, technology and innovation to develop and execute strategies to drive innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as help attract and retain talented employees in Alabama.

I also want to introduce Alabama Launchpad that is a program of EDPA. The goal is to help turn great ideas into small companies that become big companies that make the entire state brighter, bolder and better than ever. EDPA competitions improve businesses through rigorous training and feedback with qualified Launch advisors and funding for companies who win.

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Screen Capture from Alabama Launchpad

Since 2006, Alabama Launchpad has funded 102 Startup companies invested by EDPA $5.6+ Million. The current valuation of the initiative is $400 Million. For 30 years, the EDPA has been a catalyst for economic growth in the state. As a non-profit organisation, EDPA is uniquely positioned to partner with state, local, and private entities involved in Alabama’s economic development efforts.

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Screen Capture from Alabama Launchpad Website

Other recent business initiatives by the Alabama Government are Growing Alabama credit spurs $5.5 million in improvements at Baldwin mega-site, Sweet Grown initiative connects Alabama farmers to local groceries, and Construction begins on a $20 million logistics hub in Baldwin County.

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Screen Capture from Alabama Government Website

Conclusions

With legislative contributions by the state government, support from non-profit organisations and academic institutes, coupled with corporate grants, Alabama entrepreneurs are better positioned to create innovative solutions to grow the economy in the state.

Congratulations on these concerted and collaborative efforts by all stakeholders.

Thank you for reading my perspectives.

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