Until she went before a panel of judges in the 2013 Alabama Launchpad Start-up Competition, Melanie Rubery had never in her life made a sales pitch.
But the dietician-turned-entrepreneur had an idea and she wanted to get support through Alabama Launchpad to help get her Nutripilot off the ground and at the fingertips of people who could use the app to make healthier lifestyle decisions.
Her pitch was a success. In May 2013, Rubery was one of three winners in the competition, winning a share of up to $100,000 available in prize money. Rubery won $38,000.
This year, Alabama Launchpad is increasing the amount of money available to startups. Teams will compete for a share of up to $300,000 in prize money.
For Rubery, entering and competing helped provide much of the support Rubery needed, including a year of free space at Innovation Depot, a business incubator in downtown Birmingham.
“I am a dietician by trade, and I had no entrepreneurial background,” she said. “I thought I was a longshot, but there were others who believed in me more than I did.”
A registered dietician since 1998, Rubery said at the time she began developing her app she was in private practice. She knew that there were many people who wanted to live healthier lifestyles but had difficulty making daily decisions about food and exercise.
When it came time for her to make her Alabama Launchpad pitch for her app before a five-judge panel, she said, “I looked at everyone as a client. Getting in front of people and explaining an idea was not difficult.”
Alabama Launchpad, a program of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama Foundation , provides participants access to sound business advice and to critical start-up and development capital. The support of Alabama Launchpad gives entrepreneurs the momentum to take an idea from concept to reality.
The program, a public-private partnership, includes various stages of competition that gives participants a framework to develop their business ideas and to connect to a network of experts, investors, and service providers. The goal is to increase the odds of success for each business.
The Launchpad competition was more than a process for an award, Rubery said. It was program for focusing on an idea, developing business plans, and forecasting and focusing on the future of your company, she said.
Winning the competition brought benefits the Vestavia Hills resident needed to move forward with a successful startup.
“The first thing that it did was provide me with the seed money to finish the app development I needed to get it to the market place. It also connected me with other entrepreneurial organizations and provided mentors for me,” Rubery said. The recognition she received as an Alabama Launchpad winner also helped Rubery grow contacts.
The most difficult part of the process for Rubery was forecasting the market because you have to think beyond your launch about how to grow and sell the product. “I’m still learning,” she said.
Alabama Launchpad participation prompts you to go ahead and face some of the challenges necessary for any business, Rubery said.
“A lot of times, if you don’t feel the pressure, you may table decisions. This competition and the process causes you to focus,” she said. “If you are serious about launching and growing your business, Alabama Launchpad is for you.”
Rubery is now preparing for the next phase of her business – the second release of her app. She said she is also in the process of connecting her app with major health platforms.
She also is looking to increase the size of her staff and return to Innovation Depot. Last fall she moved into the incubator for three months. As the business grows, Rubery said she anticipates moving her business from her home back to the incubator.
Without Alabama Launchpad, her progress would not have been as great, Rubery said. “I would be getting there, but I would not be as far as I am now without Alabama Launchpad.”
To learn more about Alabama Launchpad and entering the competition, please visit www. alabamalaunchpad.com/startup-competition/
Special to Alabama Launchpad: Sherrel Wheeler Stewart