Alabama Launchpad’s Latest Finale Advances State Start-ups to Success

Say “startup” and most think Silicon Valley, Boston or Boulder, not anywhere in Alabama.

But the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama Foundation is working to create a start-up-friendly environment to provide resources to help startups stay in the state and become companies that ultimately will help create high-wage, high-growth jobs for Alabama.

 On May 3, five start-up teams from Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Mobile pitched their “pre-seed” businesses before a five-judge panel in the seventh annual Alabama Launchpad Start-Up Competition Final.

The teams competed for this first round of the “Proof of Commercial Relevance” competition after registration opened on Dec. 12. They were aiming for a share of up to $100,000 in prize money to help advance their business ideas.

By 2 p.m. on finale day, the judges chose three startups to receive funding.

Exscien Corp., a Mobile-based biotechnology firm that develops drugs to repair damage to mitochondrial DNA, was awarded $54,000, while Nutripilot, a Birmingham-based company that provides a collaborative healthcare solution for corporations, people and doctors using the combination of smartphones and web-based portal, took home $38,000 and Carbon Nanotube Engineered Surfaces, an Auburn company that uses nanotechnology to enhance the surface composition of engineered materials improving interlaminate strength by as much as 40 percent, won $8,0000.

We started the competition with 22 teams, double the number from 2012.  Twelve were selected to pitch to our five-judge panel of entrepreneurs, investors and corporate stakeholders on March 4. The judges narrowed the 12 to seven at that time.

Throughout the Launchpad process, teams were provided mentors and received important feedback.

Alabama Launchpad paid for valuable market assessment reviews that evaluated the market viability of the seven teams.

Those reviews took a comprehensive look at the business and helped the startups refine their plans. Angela Wier, EDPA vice president, described a commercial assessment “effectively a prize in itself.”

After the assessments, our judges cut the number to move forward to the May 3 finale to five.

Alabama Launchpad participants raved about how valuable the competition proved to be.

Dr. Mark Gillespie, principal investigator for Exscien, credits the process with helping them become more convinced in the value of their product, but also it helped align what was done in the laboratory with a business plan.

“There’s no doubt it accelerated the pace of development,” Gillespie said, even before finding out the startup won $54,000.

We had a great turnout for the finale, which was held at Evonik Corp. Auditorium, 750 Lakeshore Parkway. We were impressed with the startup teams arising out of Alabama.

Wier sums it up best.

“The enthusiasm of these young companies keeps Alabama Launchpad energized as we develop programs to help them advance.” Wier said. “We are excited at the opportunity to help Alabama increase its supply of entrepreneurs and create more high wage jobs in the state.”

We are working to make to make Alabama a start-up hotbed through the Alabama Launchpad Competition, which encourages innovation and entrepreneurship, and is reflective of the Renewal component of state’s larger economic development plan, Accelerate Alabama, that also focuses on Retention and Recruitment of industry.

Alabama Launchpad has a track record of success. More than $1 million has been awarded to competition winners. In 2012, four teams from across the state earned their shares of the $100,000 via the start-up competition and are today moving more quickly toward creating high-wage, high-growth jobs.

We look forward to the talent the second round of Launchpad’s “Proof of Commercial Relevance” competition will highlight. Registration continues until May 22. This is the first time back-to-back “pre-seed phases” will occur.

Stay tuned.