Birmingham is looking to diversify its technology economy through the Bronze Valley initiative that focuses on innovation, diversity and growth.
Non-profit Bronze Valley Corp. has identified those as the cornerstones of the next generation of great American cities.
“We will be a catalyst for change,” Bronze Valley Executive Director Neill Wright said.
A new organization established late in 2017, Bronze Valley is working to create an education-to opportunity-to-outcome pipeline for communities that are underrepresented in technology careers, as entrepreneurs and in other fields where innovators will lead the way in creating the jobs of the future.
Bronze Valley launches Wednesday and will provide a rallying point for communities looking to emerge from this era of change as places where potential – both economic and human – becomes reality.
The largest city in Alabama and the state’s financial center, Birmingham is situated at the hub of an emerging network of innovation, diversity and growth that spans the Southeast. Building on existing assets while nurturing new ones, Birmingham is positioned to anchor the development of an ecosystem in which technology-based businesses thrive – and where economic opportunity and cultural progress are expanded as part of a strategic, comprehensive, collaborative approach.
A veteran of 25 years in banking and finance, Wright said that while Birmingham and Alabama have progressed economically and otherwise, “We can do better.” Attracting capital to support minority- and female-owned startups – and providing mentorship for entrepreneurs – is only part of the picture, he adds. Bronze Valley will bring “innovation, ideas and concentrated thought” to technology-based business development, becoming “a force for improving lives in the community as a whole.”
With that in mind, Bronze Valley has a dual mission:
- generating transformative, sustainable growth
- expanding the breadth and depth of economic opportunity in Birmingham, throughout Alabama and across the Southeast.
“There is a need,” Wright said. “And there is an opportunity to meet that need. As business leaders, we have an obligation to enhance and improve our ecosystem for growth. We can fulfill that obligation by creating an entrepreneurial environment that is more nurturing, more supportive and more inclusive. Bronze Valley is the perfect vehicle for that.”
Bronze Valley’s official public launch is Feb. 14 with an invitation-only inaugural conference in Birmingham that will bring together corporate executives, elected officials, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, policymakers and thought leaders from across the country. The conference will consider long-term solutions for the barriers to diversity that have prevailed in America’s tech growth centers – including the well-publicized diversity struggles of Silicon Valley.
Incorporating the commitment to diversity into its economic development strategy is part of what the founders and supporters of Bronze Valley view as a comprehensive approach to building a robust startup culture. The success of that approach will be determined by the level of collaboration Bronze Valley can generate – and sustain – between business, government, primary and secondary education, colleges and universities, nonprofits and community organizations.
The success of Bronze Valley will be tracked in real terms: jobs created; companies started, attracted and expanded; improved educational attainment; and growth in minority and female employment in technology fields. But the ultimate indicator of success, organizers say, will be a shift in the way communities think about themselves and their economic prospects, and in how they go about securing a more prosperous future.
“It’s about creating and perpetuating a culture of innovation,” said John Hudson, a member of the Bronze Valley board of directors. Hudson is senior vice president of Marketing and Business Development for Alabama Power, a corporate sponsor of Bronze Valley.
“Not just in Birmingham and Alabama, but throughout the Southeast, we have the momentum and we have the ingredients,” Hudson said. “With Bronze Valley, we’re putting the collaborative infrastructure in place to support transformational growth and progress.”
Hudson points to disparities in the availability of funding and resources available to people of color. For instance, he notes, African-American women are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in America, and yet little more than one-half of 1 percent (0.58 percent) currently obtain startup funding for their businesses or ideas. Hudson said the “culture of innovation” envisioned by Bronze Valley includes turning such disparities into opportunities and positive outcomes.
Cities, states and regions that can create that kind of culture – and the individual and collective opportunities it produces – will be well-positioned to take advantage of the changes shaping the economy of the 21st century, officials said. But time is of the essence, they add.
“We have to act now,” Hudson said. “This is a critical moment for us if we’re going to take full advantage of what can be accomplished through Bronze Valley. The time is ripe for this idea and the role it can play in creating opportunity, realizing potential and nurturing places where economic development and cultural progress go hand in hand to strengthen entire communities.
“That’s what Bronze Valley is about, and those are the things we’re going to accomplish.”