Seven high-growth companies are one week into a 13-week intense “boot camp” of development that organizers believe is key component to the tech-sector economic development efforts to drive Birmingham forward.
The companies range from startups to a 14-year-old business. What all of them have in common is that they’re established with a product and revenues and a diversity that is seen as part of the secret sauce that makes Velocity Accelerator work.
“We intentionally don’t focus on one industry sector,” said Devon Laney, CEO of Innovation Depot. “I think it’s part of the strength of the program to have diversity in the industries and the sectors and to be able to attract companies from outside of Alabama to Birmingham and hopefully stay when they get done.”
The past two Velocity Accelerator classes taught organizers that having companies at the same stage in their development was also important.
“We wanted companies that were all at a very similar place – companies that all had revenue, they all had products,” Laney said. “They were all at a very similar stage so that the curriculum of the Velocity program would be applicable throughout the program at the same time to all of the teams so that they could move through the program sort of together, really, in a lot of ways, and progress at the same pace throughout the program.”
This year’s cohort companies are:
- Fanboard was founded in Atlanta by Morgan Drake, Josh Fisher and James Simpson and marries augmented reality with live events like sports and concerts
- S(w)ervice was formed in Birmingham by Thomas Walker and Warren Wills and offers an on-demand auto maintenance solution with appointment bookings and vehicle valet services.
- Babypalooza is a Birmingham company founded by Cecilia Pearson that is a parenting platform where live events intersect with technology to make it easy for new, expectant and hopeful parents to access the products, people and parenting information they need most.
- Uptime Dynamics was founded in Birmingham by Thomas Smillie, Tom Woodruff and Maggie Belshe to redefine what a computerized maintenance management system can do for manufacturers.
- Need2Say was started in Birmingham by Oscar Garcia with the mission of helping you communicate what you Need2Say in your second language so that you will realize your full potential in school, work and daily life.
- Milk the Moment was founded in Nashville by Courtney “Coko” Eason and uses the MILK App, which rewards you whenever you refrain from using your phone in places or situations where we all could be a little more present, intimate, focused and safe.
- Fledging was formed in Birmingham by Weida Tan and Steven Robbins and produces premium electronics like storage products, such as its flagship product, Feather SSD (Solid State Drive) for Mac devices.
Over the next several days, Alabama NewsCenter will feature each of the companies in this year’s Velocity Accelerator program.
Laney said companies from all over the world applied to be part of the new Velocity Accelerator cohort, bolstered by the successes of the previous two classes.
The initial Velocity Accelerator in 2017 had nine companies, three of which had raised additional capital by the end of the program and two more have done so since.
In 2018, there were seven companies, five of which raised follow-on capital and two of them from out of state relocated and stayed in Birmingham.
“We’re looking at this as economic development,” Laney said. “We see this as a pipeline of growth companies that we can help support, attract to Birmingham and retain.”
Laney said the first two Velocity Accelerator cohorts took the $1.5 million invested in them and have leveraged that seed investment to raise more than $8 million and create over 70 jobs in the past two years.
“The return on the investment from the private sector, I think, is phenomenal,” Laney said.
Several of this year’s cohorts were well aware of the past success and cited it as a reason for wanting to participate in the intense Velocity Accelerator program.
“I’m proud of the history,” Laney said. “I’m glad that now we have something to build on and that other entrepreneurs and other startups can see the history and say, ‘Yes, I want to be in Birmingham. Yes, I want to go through Velocity because I understand the potential I have there to grow my business.’”
The 2019 cohort kicked off Jan. 28 and concludes April 30 with Velocity Demo Day at Iron City, where each company will pitch to potential customers, investors and community supporters.
Participants in the program receive $50,000 each from the Velocity Fund, which is supported by Alabama Power, Regions Bank, BBVA Compass, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, Protective Life, UAB, the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, Encompass Health, EBSCO, Brasfield & Gorrie, McWane, Altec and Hoar Construction.
Laney said the support from the private sector is part of the buy-in that has been critical to the program’s success.
“The program is great. The curriculum is great. We’ve done a good job with all of those things, I think,” Laney said. “The community support and the buy-in from the community is the reason that Velocity is successful.”
Having the corporate community provide dollars and not just lip-service of support is a key to creating a sustainable innovation economy, Laney said.
“It speaks volumes. It’s a difference-maker for us.”