Birmingham and the Best

Birmingham has a strange relationship with the concept and value of “the best.” Sure, we want to be the best place to live, work, and play; to have the best schools, best jobs, best houses. We want to hire the best. To my knowledge, no one in Birmingham is expressly against being the best, but when we collectively put (or try to put) this “be the best” concept into practice, our actions bely our values. 

Instead of the best, we accept the second-rate — otherwise known as “Birmingham being Birmingham” –- sometimes unknowingly, sometimes with more guilt than we should. I am guilty of it, as, I am sure, are many long-time Birminghamians. We hire people not because they are the best for the job but because we go to the same country club as their parents. We pass laws not because they are the best for the state but because some power structure (from gun lobbyists to the business council) wants it. We hire outside consultants to tell us how to be the best, then promptly ignore their advice because they are outsiders.

Consequently, we often enter into relationships with non-Birminghamians with an inferiority complex. I myself have twice in the past twelve months been deferential to “professionals” in two “more developed” entrepreneurial systems only to learn that this deference was not owed or warranted. The people I was dealing with were idiotic, and my deference cost time and money. The quality of people’s work – good and bad – has no relationship to geography. Birmingham forgets that at its own peril, and while I am speaking mostly to myself, believing we are inferior simply because we live in Birmingham sets a foolishly low bar for our community, our companies, and for outsiders. 

We need to rethink and refashion our relationship with the best. We have the best ingredients — the best food, best outdoor spaces, best location, best places to live, best places to work and, most importantly, the best people. But in the midst of  these “best” platitudes, a prevalence of mediocrity exists. We need to:

  • Stop assuming that we cannot get funding for our companies from outside of the state;
  • Stop accepting the second best from our own companies;
  • Stop accepting subpar performance from out-of-state consultants and advisors just because they are from out of state;
  • Stop accepting subpar performance from founders within the state;
  • Stop accepting subpar performance from investors regardless of location.

In short, we need to not just merely repeat the “we want to be the best” mantra, but actually be the best. No one starts a business or an organization or any endeavor on the premise that they do not actually need to be the best. No one gets up in the morning hoping for mediocrity. If we do not want to strive for the best, then we need to get out of the way of people who do. Find what you are best at and do it.

I focus on this because, as we look back at First Avenue Ventures’ 2022 Annual Assessment, much remains the same. We believe that Birmingham’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is still in transition, and an open question remains as to whether or not that transition will be made. We still need equity and at-risk capital; we still need more people to get involved with the entrepreneurial ecosystem; we need more companies; we need more founders; we need more success. It may take a year or two for this transition to happen, and we need to put everything in things that are the best and only things that are the best. This will create a harsher environment where resources are finite, which will mean hard choices. But if we do not have a better mentality, then the market can and will wash away mediocrity — it already is.

As we get further into the year and the tide of post-Covid cash is ebbing, the era of easy early-stage investment and development seems to be receding. If I were to wager on the title for my year-end article set to publish in January 2024, I would say that we have now entered the winter of our discontent. The financing wells are beginning to dry up, the entrepreneurial naysayers are beginning to whisper more, and the hindsight peanut gallery is beginning to hum. The only counter that I can see is to grow better companies that strive to be the best in their market and the best at solving their problems. Second rate will not cut it, and that is a mind shift.

Establishing and maintaining these high standards is so critical for Birmingham because as goes the Birmingham entrepreneurial community, so goes Birmingham. As I have worked in the area over the years, I have become more committed to this premise. In order to raise the standard of living in Birmingham, two things need to happen: (1) a better education system for all and (2) better jobs. I can and do advocate for better education for all, but I believe I can actually do something for better jobs because of First Avenue Ventures’ work in the entrepreneurial system. I salute the others who are involved and encourage everyone to join in this work.

And if we all collectively hold ourselves to high-quality, fundamentally sound, high-growth development in our entrepreneurial work, I am convinced that we will move the needle in making Birmingham the best place to live, and then we truly can be the best. 

Birmingham Funded Start-Up List (Mid-2023)

1. Accelerate Wind: Erika Boeing, Principal

2. Acclinate Genetics: Delmonize Smith and Tiffany Jordan, Principals

3. Adjuvax: Yu Zhao, Principal

4. AerBetic: Arnar Thors, Principal

5. AI Metrics: Andrew Smith, Principal

6. Alpha Young, LLC: Christopher Yanucil, Principal

7. Alveolus Bio: Vivek Lal, Principal

8. Analytical AI: David Odaibo, Principal

9. APEX Pro (DEFT Dynamics): Austin Gurley, Principal

10. Ashipa Electric: Olu Ajala, Principal

11. Astound Research: Joel Berry, Principal

12. Ayas Renewables: Joe McGrail, Principal

13. Babypalooza: Cecilia Pearson, Principal

14. Backr (formerly ProU Sports): Thomas Coiner, Principal

15. Blox: Chris Giattina, Principal

16. BoomNation: Brent Flavin, Principal

17. Boulo Solutions: Delphine Carter, Principal

18. Bridge Therapeutics: Dr. Greg Sullivan, Principal

19. BuildPlane: Christopher Winslett, Principal

20. BuyorBorrow Music: Dave Karr, Principal

21. Case Status: Lauren Sturdivant and Andy Seavers, Principals

22. CerFlux: Karim I. Budwani, Principal

23. Chonex: Michael Lynch, Principal

24. Circulogene Theranostics: Mike Mullen, Principal

25. Cleaned and Green, LLC: Lyle Reynolds, Principal

26. ClearMIND, Inc.: Liz Read, Principal

27. Cloverly: Dave Folk, Principal

28. Compression Works: Scott Dodson, Principal

29. Con.doit: Ian Hoppe, Principal

30. Conserv: Austin Senseman and Nathan McMinn, Principals

31. Copysmith: Anna Wang, Principal

32. CoWello: Shegun Otulana and Oz Imaghodor, Principals

33. Croux: Lindsey Noto. Jennifer Ryan, Kenny Kung, Stewart Price, and Brett Ables, Principals

34. Datacy: Kaleb Jordan Wilson and Paroma Indilo, Principals

35. Eagle Solar & Light: Sam Yates, Principal

36. Edify Online: Anil P. Agarwal, Principal

37. Endomimetics: Joseph Garner, Principal

38. Fighting Cancer Network Inc.: Matt Scalici and Mike Ousley

39. Fleetio: Tony Summerville, Principal

40. Fresh Technology: Mike Bodnar, Principal

41. FuelFox: Ben Morris, Principal

42. Fulmer Instruments, LLC: Benjamin Fulmer, Principal

43. Glow: Yazmin Cavale, Principal

44. GoodJob Software: Chase Morrow and Stephen Johnston, Principals

45. Guideway Care: Craig Parker, Principal

46. HData: Hudson Hollister, Principal 

47. HealNow, Inc.: Halston Prox and Joshua Smith, Principals

48. Help Lightning (formerly Vapaar): Gary York, Principal

49. High Five Dental/High Five Healthcare: Chad Trull, Principal

50. Immediate Solutions: Matt Pierce, Principal

51. Immersive Experience Laboratories: Corey Shum, Principal

52. Immunowake: Xiaoyun Wu, Principal

53. Kaya: Corey Anand, Principal

54. Kirklin Solutions: James Kirklin, Principal

55. Linq: Jared Mattsson and Elliott Potter, Principals

56. ListedKit: Derrick Magnotta, Principal

57. Magic Medical Solutions: Paul Cox, Principal

58. Mixtroz: Ashlee Ammons, Principal

59. MomentMD: Abanob Farag, Principal

60. MoovMo: Daryl Harris, Principal

61. MRIMath: Hassan Fathallah-Shaykh, Principal

62. NRTC Automation: Greg Owens, Principal

63. The Office Exchange: Anthony Grivet, Devin Davie, and Robyn Ong, Principals

64. OGRE: Wes Queen, Principal

65. OpenVia (formerly known as The Porch Pod/End Point Logistics): Patrick Campbell, Principal

66. Prepaid2Cash: Peter Vogt, Principal

67. Prepaid Technologies: Stephen Faust, Principal

68. Preventric AI: Philip White, Principal

69. QuantHUB: Matt Cowell, Principal

70. Quantalytix: Will Bryant, Principal

71. Rampart IC: Tom Livingston, Principal

72. Reliant Glycosicences LLC: Matthew Renfrow, Principal

73. REPOWR: Patrick Visintainer and Spencer Ware, Principals

74. ResBiotic Nutrition, Inc.: Vivek Lal, Principal

75. Shipshape: Ryan Dalton and Alexander Linn, Principals

76. Shipshape Urban Farms: Angela Speetjens and Kenneth “Dale” Speetjens, Principals

77. Smart Solutions: Kevin Braswell, Principal

78. Smart Alto: Hassan Riggs, Principal

79. StreetMetrics: Drew Jackson, Principal

80. Stroma Vision: Anıl Üzengi and Oğuzhan Mete Öztürk, Principals

81. Sunfire Biotechnologies: Deborah Bidanset, Principal

82. Sync Energy: Chris Heineman

83. SynsorMed: Theodore Harvey and Amin Holmes, Principals

84. TabX: Josh Taylor and Jay Taylor, Principals

85. Talent Engines: Michael Connolly, Principal

86. TIXiMED, Inc.:  Anath Shalev and Mike Goodrich, Principals

87. TriAltus Bioscience: Bob Shufflebarger, Principal

88. Tricorder Array Technologies: Robby Tindal, Principal

89. TruSpin Nanomaterial Innovation: Robert Agnew and Anthony Brayer, Principals

90. TrustSpot: Larry VanDenHandel and Ryan Haidinger, Principals

91. Tuesday Advisors (Formerly LeadHR): Ross Blankenship and Howard Glenn, Principals

92. University FanCards: Lynn Boggs, Principal

93. Urgent Care for Children: Allury Arora, Principal

94. Vendrix: David Stewart and Joe Turner, Principals

95. Vulcan Biosciences: Michael Heaven, Principal

96. WineView: Gary Campbell and Angela Grace, Principals

97. Wyndy: Tommy Mayfield, Principal

98. Xcellent Life: Dr. Lakiesha Crawford, Samuel Berestizhevsky, and Victor Brown, Principals

99. XpertDox: Sameer Ather, Principal

100. YUDU Outdoors: Brian Senn, Principal

101. Ziscuit: Mark Peterson, Principal

102. Zorro-Flow: David Askenazi, Principal

Exits in the Last Three Years

  1. Atlas RFID (Year of Exit: 2021)
  2. Baremetrics (Year of Exit: 2020)
  3. Diamond Fortress (Year of Exit: 2021)
  4. DiscoveryBioMed (Year of Exit: 2022)
  5. Fetch Talent (Year of Exit: 2020)
  6. Incysus Therapeutics (Year of Exit: 2020)
  7. Main Street Family Care (Year of Exit: 2020)
  8. Pack Health (Year of Exit: 2022)
  9. ProctorU (Year of Exit: 2020)
  10. Simpeo (Year of Exit: 2023)
  11. SPNet Clinical Solutions (Year of Exit: 2020)
  12. StrategyWise (Year of Exit: 2020)
  13. True Load Time (Year of Exit: 2022)