A Peek Into Birmingham’s Startup Ecosystem

April 28, 2016

12:30 pm

In the 1960s, Birmingham, AL earned the nickname “The Magic City” and “Pittsburgh of the South”. The city served as a primary industrial center and, along with Atlanta, was a railroad hub in the Deep South. Its major industries were iron and steel production. These days, Birmingham is marked by a burgeoning startup scene in the financial services, healthcare, and technology space.

But, that’s not all the city offers. In tandem with the inflow of bright, driven minds – trendy bars, breweries, award-winning restaurants, and talented creatives have also flocked to the city. Still, the cost of living and doing business is low and Birmingham boasts real southern hospitality, so newcomers quickly feel at home. It is a hidden gem that’s being discovered. Mickey Millsap, cofounder of Austin, TX-based UShip said upon his recent move to Birmingham:

“[Birmingham] feels like Austin felt before it exploded with growth.” 

In 2015, Birmingham was named by FastCompany as the nation’s top city for Millennial entrepreneurs. Drive downtown and into the heart of its recently re-named Innovation District and you’ll start to feel the magic. Historical buildings throughout downtown are being transformed into high tech centers while their vintage facade is maintained.

Nestled inside of Birmingham’s Innovation District, you’ll find Innovation Depot. Innovation Depot is a 140,000 square foot 501(c)3  award-winning startup incubator recently named “Most Innovative Incubator” by the InBIA. It serves as the epicenter for technology, startups, and entrepreneurs in the Birmingham region. Inside of Innovation Depot, you’ll meet instructors from Depot/U, Alabama’s first software developer bootcamp and you’ll pass by the soon-to-launch Velocity Accelerator (Birmingham’s first immersive, equity-based, mentor-driven, seed accelerator).

In 2015, 104 member companies from Innovation Depot produced 809 awesome jobs for entrepreneurs. 141 startups applied to enter into its incubator program, 17 were accepted, and 12 member companies graduated. In 2015, Innovation Depot member companies raised $27.7 million: 4 percent grants, 39 percent angel investors, 3 percent friends and family, and 54 percent venture capital. Member companies produced $161 million in gross sales in 2015 and Innovation Depot’s total five-year impact is $1.38 billion. 

Other organizations, like REV Birmingham (REV), have been an incredible boon for revitalizing places and energizing businesses. They’ve created vibrancy in the City of Birmingham. REV and Create Birmingham worked to bring Co.Starters to creatives and lifestyle businesses in the city. They’re joined also by MAKEBham, which is an open, membership-based space that facilitates creativity and the development of creative enterprises through facilities, resources and education. The best part of it all? These groups work closely together to make Birmingham great.

These organizations have produced transformational change in the city: you can find cohorts from REV’s Co.Starters Birmingham hosting pop-up shops in restaurants, breweries, and venues downtown. And now, thanks to REV’s Zyp Bikeshare, you can bike to them. Feast & Forest, now booming in Birmingham’s 2nd Ave loft district area is just one of many examples of the impact REV has had for creatives and lifestyle businesses in Birmingham.

There’s so much vibrancy and development within Birmingham that it’s impossible to convey in one Tech.Co article – and for this reason, over time, I’ll be highlighting other incredible startups and organizations within the city.

This article is part of a Launch Pad PITCH series which serves to highlight the ecosystems and startups represented.

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Hamrick serves as Director of the UAB iLab at Innovation Depot - an award-winning 501(c)3 startup incubator. She has contributed to successful outcomes for several early-stage startups and is a shareholder for the cancer molecular diagnostics company: Blondin Bioscience, which recently secured Phase 1 SBIR funding from the National Institute for Health. In her extracurricular life, Hamrick is a sponsored competitive expedition athlete and spends time flying single engine prop planes at the Birmingham Flight Center.