The Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA) handed out its Innovation Awards Tuesday as its Launchpad startup competition celebrates a decade of turning ideas into businesses.
More than 500 attended the celebration of innovation in the state at the Alabama Innovation and Entrepreneurship Conference luncheon at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.
Andrew Yang, founder and CEO of Venture for America, said during his keynote address that Birmingham is the best-kept secret in the innovation and entrepreneurship world because of the level of support and activity he has witnessed in the Magic City.
“It’s phenomenal to see the energy and spirit of entrepreneurship really coming into its own here in Birmingham,” Yang said.
Venture for America, or VFA, works with existing innovation companies and startups by offering fellowships to recent college graduates to help them learn what it takes to start their own company or carry an innovative idea through to fruition.
Yang introduced 10 of the fellows working at Birmingham area businesses. They have been in Birmingham ranging from a couple of weeks to a couple of years.
“They had the same experience that me and the team had, which is when they come to Birmingham, they feel it’s like this incredible secret and then they can’t wait to share the secret with their friends and colleagues,” Yang said. “They come and they’re blown away by what they find here in terms of the companies and the entrepreneurs.”
Yang showed the trailer of the “Generation Start Up” documentary that focuses on VFA’s efforts. He hopes to have a screening of the film in Birmingham soon.
Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield said innovation is a key economic driver in the state and while a startup may not employ thousands like an auto plant, it creates a culture of success that can improve lives and amplify the possibilities that exist in the state.
Alabama Power CEO Mark Crosswhite, chairman of EDPA, noting the 500 people in attendance, said business and civic leaders see innovation as something worth supporting and nurturing.
The focus of the event was the sixth annual Innovation Awards. The awards themselves were glass sculptures created by Amy Soverow of Soverow Glass Studio for the event, which Tom Stanton, CEO of Adtran, handed out.
This year, EDPA recognized:
Corporate Innovator of the Year (small company, with less than 50 employees) was IllumiCare, a Birmingham company that created a nonintrusive ribbon of information that hovers over a hospital’s electronic medical record to give physicians real-time, patient-specific cost and risk data.
Corporate Innovator of the Year (large company with more than 50 employees) was CFD Research Corporation (CFDRC) in Huntsville, which develops software, hardware concepts, designs and prototypes for the aerospace and defense, biomedical and life science, energy and materials, and other industries. It includes SynVivo, a disruptive technology with a goal to revolutionize drug discovery and personalized medicine.
Outstanding Achievement in Innovative Manufacturing went to Horizon Shipbuilding in Bayou La Batre, a shipyard recognized for its Gordhead collaboration software that aims to revolutionize the way shipbuilders and other manufacturers conduct business by improving communication more easily through sharing problems and quickly arriving at collaborative solutions.
Outstanding Public-Private Partnership for Innovation went to HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and iCubate Inc. in Huntsville. ICubate is a privately held molecular diagnostic company with a test to identify bacteria such as staphylococcus. The company is housed in the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, a nonprofit dedicated to innovation in genomic technology and sciences.
Lifetime Achievement in Innovation was awarded to Joel Anderson, chairman and director of Anderson Cos. in Florence. Anderson was recognized for, among other things, his major influence on Florence-area startups as well as industries nationally and internationally, including pyrotechnics and wholesale distribution industries. He was an innovator in computer technology for magazine and book distribution and is credited with making fireworks safer through the American Fireworks Standards Laboratories.
Angela Wier, vice president of EDPA, said LaunchPad was itself a startup 10 years ago looking for funds like all other startups. The first year LaunchPad had $150,000 in money available to startups. Today, it has $1.5 million it awards annually.
“We will have a big announcement next week of a direction we’re moving,” she said. “Our vision is in the next five years to have regional Launchpads around the state. We will be announcing our first one next week. We would like to direct our energy to running one big shark tank a year as the regions ramp up. There’s so much energy in the communities now, a lot of support at the local level that was not as strong when we started.”