Alabama Launchpad entrepreneurship program expands reach

Alabama Launchpad entrepreneurship program expands reach
Alabama Launchpad has invested $2.4 million in 51 Alabama companies. (Abraham Rowe/Alabama Launchpad)

Alabama Launchpad, a business plan competition that has helped turn dreams into reality for entrepreneurs and innovators across Alabama, is expanding.

The Shoals area will be the first regional site for Launchpad, which was started by the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA) a decade ago.

The University of North Alabama College of Business, the Shoals Chamber of Commerce and the Shoals Entrepreneurial Center have partnered to put on the regional challenge, in which winners could receive a share of $100,000 in startup funding.

Meanwhile, the Alabama Launchpad program is getting a boost from a $707,488 grant awarded by Governor Robert Bentley.

“Alabamians benefit when our entrepreneurs can turn innovative ideas into companies that create jobs,” Bentley said. “Alabama Launchpad offers important resources to help startup companies transform from dreams to viable businesses.”

New direction

Since its inception, the Launchpad program has invested $2.4 million in 51 Alabama companies. Alumni businesses have created 365 jobs and secured $24 million in follow-on funding.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and other officials pose with award winners at the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Conference in Birmingham in September. The conference is part of Alabama Launchpad, a program of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, and helps high growth companies start, stay and grow in the state. (Jamie Martin/Governor's Office)
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and other officials pose with award winners at the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Conference in Birmingham, part of the Alabama Launchpad program. (Jamie Martin/Governor’s Office)

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) is administering the grant from the Alabama Research Alliance Trust Fund, which was established by the state in 1981. Interest earned by the trust fund is used to support projects in Alabama that spur innovation and the development of new technology.

EDPA Vice President Angela Wier said the Shoals partnership is an exciting new direction for Alabama Launchpad.

“As more and more communities embrace economic development strategies to support entrepreneurship, it is a natural evolution for EDPA to help communities build local feeders to the statewide programs,” she said. “When the partners in the Shoals invited us to think with them on ways to align resources, processes and calendars, we had no idea how fast the team was prepared to move.

“We have been impressed by the communication, collaboration and planning among the partners, and we are humbled to have the opportunity to participate with and learn from the Shoals team,” she added.

Spurring growth

The Shoals Alabama Launchpad is being supported with grant funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Giles McDaniel, executive director of the Shoals Entrepreneurial Center, said the grant is already being put to good use.

“This new Launchpad initiative is just another step in our ability to not only assist startups in the Shoals, but to also attract them to the area as well,” he said.

Anyone can apply for the Shoals Alabama Launchpad regional, but the business must be in Lauderdale or Colbert counties. Winners from the regional can also compete in Alabama Launchpad. Go to the Shoals Launchpad web page for more information.

The deadline for applications is Oct. 17.

Adtran CEO Tom Stanton, left, poses with this years winners of the Alabama Innovation Awards from EDPA and its Launchpad program. (Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)
The Alabama Launchpad business competitions have boosted fledgling companies across the state, and now the program is adding a regional competition in the Shoals area. (Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama Launchpad spotlights innovative new companies. Competitors submit to a rigorous application process, including a video pitch and business plan. The field is then narrowed to finalists who make live pitches before a panel of industry experts for a share of funding.

ADECA Director Jim Byard Jr. said the collaboration and teamwork to grow the program is inspiring to watch.

“We are so pleased to see the Shoals and Alabama Launchpad aligning resources for the benefit of entrepreneurs. The innovation occurring throughout Alabama is tremendous, and the state is supportive of this connectivity. We would like to see more of it,” Byard said.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.

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