‘Innovation District’ in Birmingham best reflects downtown section’s future, officials believe

‘Innovation District’ in Birmingham best reflects downtown section’s future, officials believe
Innovation Depot, home to more than 100 startups, stands at the center of Birmingham’s ‘Innovation District.’ (Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

When the Birmingham City Council voted last month to change the name of the city’s “Entrepreneurial District” to the “Innovation District,” some influential leaders applauded the move not just for branding reasons, but for the realization of what the Magic City has become and can become.

Since that decision, leaders from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, REV Birmingham, Innovation Depot, the Birmingham Business Alliance and the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama have met with Birmingham Mayor William Bell to ensure the Innovation District will emerge in reality and not just in the changing of the signs that mark the district.

“The City Council’s action to change the formal name of the ‘Entrepreneurial District’ to the ‘Innovation District’ is a declaration of the intent of the City of Birmingham, UAB, Innovation Depot, BBA and other partners to put Birmingham’s City Center on the global map as a hotbed of innovation,” David Fleming, president of REV Birmingham, said. “It is a response to recognition by stakeholders that the goal of this area is to be a place in our city that fosters new methods, ideas and products. This area can be defined by the connection, culture and collaboration that results in an innovation economy in our city. This is critical for the growth of the Birmingham region and our competiveness in the modern economy.”

Innovation Depot said 75 percent of its companies would like to locate in permanent locations near the business incubator once they "graduate." (Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)
Innovation Depot said 75 percent of its companies would like to locate in permanent locations near the business incubator once they “graduate.” (Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

As with the Entrepreneurial District, the Innovation District is bordered by the railroad lines to the south, Second Avenue North to the north, Interstate 65 to the west and 18th Street to the east.

At the heart of the district is Innovation Depot, a business incubator established by UAB that is home to a number of startups, many of them in innovative and emerging technology fields.

Devon Laney, CEO of Innovation Depot, said having an identified district provides a place for companies to grow in a place where they have indicated they want to be.

“Having an established Innovation District focused on the connectivity, walkability and clustered technology industries startups most desire can have a major impact on this region moving forward,” Laney said. “Innovation Depot’s member companies overwhelmingly want to remain ‘close’ or ‘adjacent’ to Innovation Depot when they graduate. Seventy-five percent of our companies indicate a preference to remaining in the downtown area, with a majority specifically citing the Innovation District.  Connectivity is essential, both in terms of infrastructure and the relationships and resources the companies have developed here at Innovation Depot. This is a new model of urban economic development.”

Economic development officials agree.

The Entrepreneurial District signs are still up, but the district around Innovation Depot is being renamed the "Innovation District." (Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)
The Entrepreneurial District signs are still up, but the district around Innovation Depot is being renamed the “Innovation District.” (Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

“We feel that changing the name to Innovation District better represents what’s currently happening, and will happen, in the area anchored by Innovation Depot,” Brian Hilson, president and CEO of the BBA, said. “This is a great way to help spread innovation throughout Birmingham’s central business district, and attract and retain more businesses in our area.”

At some point the signs that mark the “Entrepreneurial District” will come down and new ones will go up declaring it the “Innovation District.” But the real signs will be the innovation taking place by those who are already in or will come into the district, Laney said.

“The city was recently named as a ‘Tech Hire’ city by the White House, and Fast Company magazine named Birmingham as the No. 1 city in America for millennial entrepreneurs,” Laney said. “This positive focus on our city and region is driving the growth of young entrepreneurs in the technology space we see. TechBirmingham, BBA, Innovation Depot, UAB, and other partners are helping to promote and advance the technology ecosystem in our community, with a major part of that effort being the vision and development of the Innovation District.”

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