8 things we learned at Sloss Tech

Written by Madoline Markham

There are approximately 1,200 tech jobs available in the Birmingham area, and the people behind the first Sloss Tech conference hope to see the community grow. As a video by Telegraph Creative that opened the July 15 event so eloquently stated, “The feeling of potential drives this city… Today a new magic is at work in this city. It’s not steel, it’s tech.”

Here are a few tidbits we learned about the city’s tech community and thoughts how it can be fostered moving forward.

1. There’s no formula for innovation.

Trib Tab beer in hand, Andy Grignon, who helped build the first iPhone, talked a lot about innovation. “There’s never a moment in a project where you say, ‘Oh, let’s innovate,’” he says. “The genesis of these ideas happens when you least expect it.”

2. Money and talent are key to tech growth.

Grignon dished out some thoughts on Birmingham’s tech future, which he dubbed #siliconyall. “For startups to work, you need money, talent, interest,” he says. “The community must be involved. It’s going to take some years to see some traction.” He recognized that Birmingham has talent and desire, but questioned if that translates into a rich talent pool and how the city can capitalize its affordability as an asset.

3. Tech can help maintain relationships.

Barton Guthrie, an entrepreneur and neurosurgeon at UAB Neurosurgery, has helped create a mobile merged reality experience to allow doctors to train each other remotely. “Anywhere you are in the world, someone who wants to help you can enter your field and interact with you in real time,” he says. The business community in Birmingham picked up his idea and helped transform it into Help Lighting.

4. Startups should learn from others.

Dozens of pieces of advice for startups were rolling off the tongues of professionals who have been there and done that during a morning panel discussion. One that stood out to us was that no business should be an island. “You don’t need to learn through your own experience all the time,” says Shegun Orulana, CEO of mental health software company TheraNest. “Learn from other people’s experience.”

5. Boring is not bad.

Gary York, CEO of Help Lighting, titled his talk, “Build a Boring Startup,” and the key to it is to build a startup, he says, is to keep in mind how to fight entropy. “When I talk abut a boring company, what I’m talking about is one that executes well,” he says. “When you pursue things well along the way, you have fewer headaches.”

6. It’s all a gamble.

A panel of four that had collectively started 11 companies, had six successful exits and five failed exits, readily admitted that exits are tough to get through. “Being an entrepreneur is like playing poker. You can have a hand and play it the best you possibly can and lose,” says G.T. LaBorde, CEO of IllumiCare.

7. Pay it forward.

Perhaps the biggest applause of the day came during a discussion on how those who have had successful exits are continuing to invest in startups. The applause-worthy moment came when G.T. LaBorde said seven people from the company  he sold went on to become CEOs of startups.

8. Startup transformation is part of Birmingham’s transformation.

When it decided to start over as a startup in 2013, S|ngular Software brought its employees from Madrid to the Innovation Depot in Birmingham. Since then, they have innovated to help deliver beer in Mexico in under 34 minutes and export work for a group of artisans who make religious icons in Madrid, Granada, to more than 80 countries. “The fact that s|gular is here and committed to Birmingham is so important because we really want to be an active part of Birmingham transformation,” says Alma Miller, the company’s U.S. business development director.