BBA, UAB, Alabama Power, Regions Bank and Community Foundation are among the backers of a new initiative.
A Special Sponsored Report from the Alabama News Center
By Michael Tomberlin
Innovate Birmingham is an initiative backed by some of the largest corporations, institutions and organizations in the city working almost exclusively behind the scenes to develop a strategy for the Magic City’s economy.
Now, Innovate Birmingham is using Birmingham Innovation Week to roll out its plan for shaping the region to grow and recruit the next generation of jobs.
Bob Crutchfield, a longtime venture capitalist and supporter of innovation, is the executive director of Innovate Birmingham.
“It’s very exciting,” he said of Innovate Birmingham moving to make the plan a reality. “One of the things that led me to take the role were great leaders from the community like Alabama Power, Regions Bank, UAB, the Community Foundation and the BBA who stepped forward and said we want to take a hard view of technology-based economic development and really turn it into an economic development strategy that creates predictable, repeatable and sustainable results.”
The BBA is the Birmingham Business Alliance. Other partners in Innovate Birmingham are the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, the city of Birmingham, Jefferson County, Protective Life, McWane Corporation, Southern Research, BBVA Compass, Innovation Depot, Alabama Capital Network, Birmingham Venture Club, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, REV Birmingham, TechBirmingham and Mayer Electric Supply.
Crutchfield said Innovate Birmingham’s strategy will focus on five lanes of activity:
- Initiating a data project to assess commercial adoption opportunities with corporations of $35 million and above in revenue, along with an inventory of all technology companies in Birmingham and the state to segment them for mapping and matching.
- Working with companies in startup, accelerator and high-growth phases to help with operational strategies, fundraising, strategic planning, mentoring and matching them with others who can help them grow.
- Working with the Alabama Department of Commerce and others to look at economic development incentives and how they may be directed at startups to help them grow and remain in the state.
- Launching a real estate initiative to identify and foster places for companies to locate or relocate.
- Fostering an environment of economic prosperity and inclusion for innovation- and tech-based companies.
When Innovate Birmingham was formed, there was talk of establishing an Innovation District around Innovation Depot. Crutchfield said companies that graduate from the business incubation programs at Innovation Depot often locate nearby, but the district itself is not so geographically limited.
“The way we look at it is the district is our urban core,” he said. “We have a large urban core in Birmingham from Avondale to Parkside and from Southside to Uptown.”
With UAB, Southern Research, Innovation Depot and other elements, Birmingham is demonstrating its innovation acumen.
Crutchfield said there are other ways to measure innovation.
“Birmingham has 30 Venture for America fellows, the largest cohort of any city in the country, so that’s very exciting,” he said.
Art Tipton, CEO of Southern Research and a fellow in the National Academy of Inventors, noted the innovation of patent-holding fellows who call the Magic City home.
“The National Academy of Inventors has 757 fellows,” Tipton said. “The population of the United States is about 327 million, so if you traveled around the country and you randomly talked to 420,000 people, you would find one member. The population of the Birmingham metropolitan area is just over 1.1 million, so if you do the same math, we should have between two and three members – and actually the math says we should have 2.6 fellows in the Birmingham area. We actually have eight.”
Crutchfield said with an environment of institutions aligned unlike Birmingham has had before, Innovate Birmingham is prepared to grow the tech economy.
“The timing is now,” he said.