Annual Assessment

Annual Assessment Of The Birmingham Entrepreneurial Community

2022 Annual Assessment

I have said this before, and I will probably say this again, but to grow our entrepreneurial economy, we need to directly invest in companies. We do not need to blindly invest in them, but we do not need to commission another study on the ecosystem. We need to be smart, but we do not need to be frugal. Most importantly, we need to pull in institutional money from outside of Alabama (Why? Because we simply do not have it here). We have laid the basis for a great flourishing of enterprises in Birmingham.  But unless these businesses have the capital support to grow, they will stall.

Consider: when we released our report last year, we had 86 funded start-ups on the list, a decrease from 2020. This year we have 104, which is a great increase, particularly considering the fact that the overall capital markets were down. Alone, this is great news. However, when you dig deeper you see this number is somewhat distorted. The accelerators as well as the grants and similar programs, coupled with a more robust pre-seed angel network, are helping companies begin their journey.

However, we do not see that same funding activity at a higher dollar level, and this is problematic. The key unresolved question for me is whether we are building a great slate of start-ups only to have them wither on the vine. I believe we are not doing nearly enough. This is not just about pulling venture capital into the state; we also need to more professionally manage our investments and our start-ups to position them for later success. 

Going forward, one key metric to which we will be attuned — and hopefully the community will be as well — is Series A funding. This is a little tricky because there is no clear definition of “Series A,” but let’s say that it is between two and twenty million dollars. At this level, funding sources more likely than not need to include a professional investing firm. At the very least, someone serious and professional needs to have looked at the business and to believe it to be credible. In 2022, according to Crunchbase, we had six funding rounds that fit this definition: Conserv, REPOWR, BoomNation, GoodJob Software, Fresh Technology, and Immunowake. In 2021, we had seven: StreetMetrics, Datacy, Linq, Help Lightning, GoodJob, Alveolus Bio, and Prepaid2Cash. 

Going down to six Series As in 2022 from seven in 2021 is not a complete data set. Macrofactors in the economy certainly were worse in 2022 than 2021. Several key industries – bio and fintech in particular – were off. Nonetheless, it is foreboding.  Are we preparing a bunch of seed-level companies that will not be able to advance merely because of our geographic location? I fear so.

This is an intuitive hunch about which I hope I am wrong, but to give you a deeper sense of my reasoning, consider a brief history (from my perspective, at least) of the last thirty or so years. This provides the necessary perspective to see where I think we are going (or not going):

Mid-1990s through 2001: Paltry Activity. Yes, some successful companies formed in this period, but communally, we did very little. The Entrepreneurial Center and OADI, predecessors to the Innovation Depot, began, and some companies flourished — ComFrame and Emageon, for example — but these were the exception, not the rule. When the era began, we did not see the flourishing of tech company growth.

2001-2007: Premature Celebration of Doing Nothing. When the bubble turned into a dot.bomb, we were overjoyed because Birmingham had a diversified economy – automotive, financial and construction industries – so we were fine. We ridiculed the craziness of the West Coast, which confirmed the idea that an economy based on tried and true economic engines was perfect for the great state of Alabama.

2008-2012: The Doldrums. As it turns out, an economy based on automotive, financial and construction industries was not a good thing. Everything got hammered in the economic crisis.

2012-2017: A New Beginning. Fueled by a renaissance in downtown Birmingham, new companies began to sprout up. This culminated in a year that brought huge exits for Shipt, Hospicelink, and Therapy Brands. The hard work was done beforehand to get to the headline exits, but with these headlines, Birmingham took notice.

2017-2022: Golden Opportunity. In this period, we have seen a plethora of new start-ups (see our Funded Start-Up Lists), multiple follow-on investments, and a handful of exits. We went from few to a plethora of resources for companies: Alabama Launchpad, the Alabama Innovation Corporation, Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator, Prosper HealthTech Accelerator, and the Velocity Accelerator, just to name a few. To those who have had a long career in this ecosystem, this period was what we had always hoped to see. For a city sometimes hell-bent on not funding great companies, we may have even swerved the other way. Only time will tell how it plays out.

2023: TBD. Will the previous period spawn the recycled capital necessary to fuel a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem? Will the spectacular gains of companies created during the Golden Opportunity period draw more capital into the ecosystem, or will spectacular failures deter the early-stage asset class? 

My rationale that we are coming to an end of economic period is again perhaps more of a hunch than a logically defensible position. First, I feel like we as a city now know the benefits of entrepreneurialism. If you went back just a decade ago, a Birmingham entrepreneur was a rare species, a unique bird, possibly not from here. They were akin to the long-haired hippie freaks. Now, the Rotarians and Kiwanis have heard the stories of the founders. Founders are being admitted to clubs (social and civic). If you start a company, you now embraced in society and not ostracized. While some continue to doubt the economics, the debate is around the risk versus the reward, not whether or not money can be made at all.

We have also studied – perhaps ad nauseum – the benefits of the entrepreneurial ecosystem and of the jobs they create, and we’ve seen many examples of both. While tactics may be debated, we are clear that the economy is in flux and in order to best position the city, we need to adopt, encourage, and invest in these new companies. Bringing existing companies into Birmingham is far riskier than creating great new companies in Birmingham.

We are also beginning to see an elevation of sophistication in early-stage companies as well. Both founders and investors are more familiar with the rules. Investors know about SAFEs, convertible debt, and caps; founders know better what is required to get that funding and what must happen with it.  While still an inherently inefficient market, the early-stage market is becoming more navigable and more rules-oriented. While much needs to be done, things are moving in a good direction.

Key Takeaways:

First, the full story is only written in hindsight and with some distance. I do not think we have that hindsight. We have planted a lot of trees — young companies — and only time will tell whether they will grow. We have created a lot of systems as well, and only time will tell if they will be successful. I know that some people who labored in the 1990s thought they were doing everything successfully.  Collectively, we can make the future we want, but we have to intentionally invest in it.

Second, we must remember that as an entrepreneurial and innovative community, we are young.  Birmingham was born as an industrial town whose growth was funded by people who did not live here.  Currently, our main economic engine is UAB, which is great — but again, it is not funded by the people who live here. Innovative ecosystems have a generous cycle of capital – founders grow a company, exit, reinvest. We are getting some of that, but we are nowhere close to other cities. We must realize who we are, and while we can take pride in that, we must also realize that many other cities are doing the same thing at the same or at a higher level and have had a head start.

Third, from my perspective at least, we need to treat the work that we have done as incomplete.  Start-ups have to grow, mature, and develop. First and foremost, they have to be good companies in the right market at the right time with the right team. Our primary role is to support the founders, who are “in the arena”2; we need to ask them what they need, but primarily to give them the right conditions and get out of their way.

For those of us not working in a start-up who want to encourage this, we need to invest. For me, that means focusing on pulling more risk equity capital into the ecosystem. There are specific ways in which we can do that:

If you work in government, you need to:

  1. Invest tax money in schools, parks, and other communal organizations that make Birmingham a safe and attractive place to live.
  2. Do not pass laws that get us in the New York Times (even if you think the New York Times is published for and by a bunch of liberal freaks) or the Wall Street Journal (even if you think it is by and for right-wing nut cases). The people we want to attract to this town need to read newspapers and have a good grasp of current events, whether on the right or left.
  3. Get out of the way.

If you are a corporation that wants to help:

  1. Look at the strategic venture model and develop it within your organization —
  2. If your treasury is large enough to have stocks and bonds in your portfolio, consider alternative investment strategies, including local-based venture capital.

If you manage a financial fund, are on the board of a financial fund, or have a financial fund large enough ($20 million +):

  1. Consider diversification into alternatives.
  2. As an alternative, consider investing in early-stage companies – either directly or through a fund — and work with people operating (physically) in Birmingham.

If you work in a corporation or other large organization and are interested in entrepreneurial work and want to get involved, my suggestions (in order):

  1. Start by reading books on early-stage investing (Brad Feld is always a popular choice).
  2. Volunteer (pro bono) on the board of start-up.
  3. Invest through angel network groups.

When I talk to people, they always say that they want to make Birmingham a better place to work and live; they often want their kids to come back and live here. Across the board, regardless of race, demographic, gender, or anything else, that almost always comes back to good jobs that give you the security to raise a family. That means creating good companies – and creating good companies requires the investment of cash directly into them. Other things are great, needed, and necessary, but without equity capital, they will amount to nothing.

We can create a great economy and we can write a great ending to this chapter. But that is not going to happen by simply wishing it into existence. It is going to take investing capital directly into investable businesses.

Happy 2023, Birmingham.

1 When we started tracking the Funded Start-up List, Birmingham’s only accelerator was the Velocity Accelerator. Since that time, Birmingham has added a Techstars program and the Prosper HealthTech Accelerator. Additionally, Gener8tor and Launchpad have increased their funding activity. All of this is great, and we are very supportive. However, because the terms of these programs often, if not always, includes funding, several companies are included on the list simply by being a member. This has increased the number of start-ups who are raising funds in this new (to Birmingham) way.

2“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know

2021 Annual Assessment


As always with the new year, we’re taking some time to pause and reflect. First Avenue does so by compiling our annual list of funded start-ups in Birmingham, which helps us analyze the health of the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. I also like to take stock and look back at some of my earlier articles and assessments and to ask people familiar with the ecosystem what they are thinking about its current status. When I do, three themes emerge:

  1. Our ecosystem is not as strong as we think it is. 
  2. We need more and better equity funders in the ecosystem.
  3. Valuations and funding activity makes no sense unless we are seeing a paradigm shift in the overall economy (and I think we are).

When compiling the 2021 list of Birmingham Funded Start-Ups, we saw a decrease in the number of funded start-ups.  In 2020 we had 86. In 2021, we had 81. We did see a healthy number of Seed, Series A, and Pre-Seed (Pre-Seed being defined largely as anything not classified in the foregoing) rounds. We also saw a healthy number of exits, which is pivotal for an emerging ecosystem. However, we also saw a lot of fade-outs – something that is inevitable but still disappointing. While the list does show that some aspects of the ecosystem are strengthening, this negative news is discouraging.

Additionally, we saw a significant number of companies move to different cities. This latter trend is something that I think will continue. Zoom and remote work have their benefits, but they also allow for less “stickiness” to any one city. In some cases, this is a positive thing for Birmingham. People love the city and move here from the costlier coasts, which helps build the community. But when the love fades, people can just as easily leave, and in several cases, companies have indeed left. Remote work is to the entrepreneurial community what the transfer portal is to college football: it giveth and it taketh away. We have defined “located in Birmingham” in a broad and generous light, but I see this question evolving. What exactly is a headquarters or a location? It’s a difficult question to answer, and it’s a question that may make any objective measurement of the entrepreneurial ecosystem’s health more challenging. 

Which leads me to the first of our aforementioned themes: our ecosystem is not as strong as we think it is. Yes, there is much that we can and should celebrate, but we also need to take off the rose-colored glasses and see things as they really are. The mindset of most Birmingham start-ups remains parochial and local. We try to boot-strap things when instead we need real funding. We fall for shiny objects. We do not dig and do the hard work when analyzing a start-up’s potential.  

Consider the following: Alabama had a record-breaking year in venture capital funding in 2020 – $179 million but California had an $81 billion year. Yes, Birmingham has a lot to celebrate; we have had successful fundings and successful exits, but let us not delude ourselves. Though the funding gap may not be as wide as it was in previous years, the ocean between VC hubs and middle-tier markets like Birmingham is huge. On a per capita basis, Alabama (population 5,030,000) received just over $35.58 in venture capital funding. Comparatively, California (population 39.23 million) received $2,066.00 per person. Say what you want about the hippie socialist West coast, but that is 59 times more of an economic driver. 

Comparatively, though, when we look outside of Alabama for funding, we find success. Shipt, Therapy Brands, Hospicelink, INFLCR, In8bio, and Prepaid Technologies all found financing outside of the ecosystem, and their success charts a course for others to follow. By looking outside of Birmingham, our perspective is broadened and success is more robust. 

The Alabama Innovation Commission is moving in the right direction and pulling influential lawmakers into the process. But their report – with which I totally agree in concept — was incomplete in key areas, overly broad in others, and potentially problematic in its execution ability. Additionally, the corporation board is primarily composed of politicians, and politics tend to be the anathema of innovation. How much better off would we have been if all the money spent with the Hoover Institution was instead actually invested in start-ups?   

I think some of this is because we are thinking too small. We are trying to satisfy everyone, which means no one will benefit. Politics – whether formal at the state level or informal within the ecosystem or individual companies — are the restrictor plates of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. When institutional venture capital is out in abundance, why are we not building businesses for that capital? While not every entrepreneur can or should be working towards the Series A,B,C rounds of funding or an IPO, a well-worn path exists for ready, willing, and able risk-takers.  

Which leads me to my next theme: we need more and better equity funders in the ecosystem. If you look behind the curtain at the funded start-up list, you will see that several share the same backers. This is all well and good, but if the goal is to get more funding into the ecosystem, these equity sources cannot do it on their own. If only 10 sources consistently fund businesses with equity and the goal is to get to 200, how is that going to work? It won’t. However deep their pockets, with such limited sources of equity, the human and financial capital will run dry.   

We need more Pre-Seed, Seed, and Series A funders in this community. We need people who are actually, actively investing. We need more funds. We need institutions who have large amounts of deployable capital to work with people and firms to invest in this economy. We do not need champions; we need investors who are doing their homework and rolling their sleeves up.  

This salvo is not a charitable ask: if done right, I think early stage investing leads to high financial rewards commensurate with the high risk. However, we rarely do it right. Too often, investors play a wait-and-see game: they wait to see which one of the many start-ups succeed and which ones fail. While I understand the financial principle — create optionality until that’s no longer possible — as institutional capital flows more towards the early stage companies (and I think this is a permanent trend), local capital will get shut out. This will limit our local impact and risk capital outflow away from the city. Local ecosystem investors and participants need to be more proactive — more definitive with yeses or nos and not maybes, more willing to lead, and more willing to pay people through fees, carries, or other incentives.

Why is this important? My final theme: a paradigm shift is underway. When I wrote the mid-year assessment in July 2021, I remarked at how we were in good times economically, but honestly did not have a good answer as to why. That continues, but as we have moved through the year, my thinking, like that of the Fed, has shifted from this being a transitory issue to a fundamental shift. Investing in the innovative economy is not just a good way; it is quite possibly the only way.  

Since the mid-year assessment, when I was not really sure why the start-up world was as hot as it was, I have come to believe that a more fundamental change to the economy and perhaps society is underway. A congregation of forces – supply change issues, blockchain, remote work, and responses to Covid like the vaccines and promising new treatments – are pushing our economy in a new, more innovative direction. I may be completely wrong, but I predict that we are just in the beginning of fundamental changes in the economy, and like the mice getting off the sinking ship, early-stage investors are deploying capital away from the sinking ship of the old economy and into new endeavors. 

The “overhot” VC market does not look overheated at all when you envision a world in 5 to 10 years in which these forces have more materially played out. In that world, companies, both old and new, that embraced innovation will have dramatically disrupted those that did not. If you knew that 50% of the companies that comprise the S&P 500 were going to go out of business while the other half would grow exponentially, would you think differently about your investments in younger companies today? For Birmingham, what new company is going to put its name on one of the large buildings, and what old company is going to have its name come off? When you look at things from that perspective, the “super hot” VC market may not be that off the mark. 

In order to remain relevant, vibrant, and economically healthy, Birmingham and Alabama need to embrace this change – which, of course, is not our forte. But I think that if we spread the risk, work in the incremental, and listen to and fight against our tendency to underinvest, we will have a better community. That, at least, is my professional mantra for 2022 and the years beyond, and I invite you to join me. 

    A Note on the Funded Start-Up List: No representation is made as to the accuracy and completeness of the information provided. We make every effort to be accurate, but this information is notoriously difficult to find and verify. If you find any errors, please let us know.

    2020 Annual Assessment

    Today, First Avenue Ventures releases the 2020 Funded Start-Up List. Thankfully, Birmingham added quite a few companies. This is wonderful. While striking an optimistic tone, our mid-year report, written in July of 2020, was unsure about the direction in which we were headed. Fortunately, at least from an entrepreneurial perspective, Birmingham ended up doing well.  

    Of course, the reason why we are doing well remains elusive. As 2021 so far looks to be an extension of rather than an end to last year’s events, truly assessing 2020 may require a little more distance.

    From an entrepreneurial perspective, the net effects of the pandemic as well as the political turbulence on start-ups in a general sense remain elusive: 


    • Will the increased reliance on teleconferencing allow for entrepreneurial companies in multiple locations (not just the current geographical hotspots) to flourish?
    • Will that same trend increase the ability of coastal institutions to invest in the tertiary markets, like Birmingham?
    • Will a Congress controlled by Democrats and a Democratic President find creative ways to engage and support entrepreneurial activity, such as the New Business Preservation Act or the Endless Frontier Act?
    • Will a Congress controlled by Democrats and a Democratic President work on regulations, such as re-classification of independent contractors, which could potentially decrease entrepreneurial growth?


      Again, it is too soon to say. But what I do believe is that 2020 set in motion significant trends, some obvious and some less so, that will impact us for decades to come. Things will be different. Once the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us, we will see how.

       One thing Birmingham did not do in 2020, at least from an entrepreneurial perspective, was stay still. Yes, some days may have been lost to scrolling through social media or hiding from a virus, but as our team prepared the Funded Start-Up List, we found the amount of activity in 2020 encouraging.

      As a reminder, the Funded Start-Up list was born out of the work done in 2018 by Innovate Birmingham, which was the first effort (to our knowledge) to canvass our entrepreneurial ecosystem. Realizing that some start-ups would fail while others succeed, a current list of companies in recent receipt of outside funding (which provides critical validation) would help give a good perspective of the overall health of the community. The sense at that time was that while much had been accomplished, much was still necessary. 

      Generally, we include companies that are not location-based that have received $100,000 from outside parties in the last five years. We exclude restaurants and similar retail businesses, as these are location-based businesses. While crucial to the overall Birmingham economy, these businesses do not fit within the growth of the entrepreneurial start-up system, which is what we are trying to measure and what we believe most crucial to the overall health of the economy. While the standards of $100,000 and five years are somewhat arbitrary, we believe they are good objective metrics in judging the vitality of the start-up ecosystem. The $100,000 standard represents a level of seriousness with validation from someone other than a founder. The five years standard represents a level of freshness important in evaluating the current status of the ecosystem: companies will automatically roll off, and if you follow this, coupled with companies that exit, annually, you will have a snapshot of whether the ecosystem is growing or not.

      Thus, we are happy to report that the ecosystem is indeed growing: we have 85 companies on the list this year as compared to 56 companies last year. This growth is significant, particularly given where we were in the spring of 2020.  At that point, I was exceedingly worried about the health of start-ups. I made the assumption — and I was not alone in this — that the capital markets would decrease due to the economic effects of the pandemic. While I am not a stock market prognosticator, the prediction a stock market decrease would lead to a decrease in overall capital for start-up funding did not occur (or, at least, it has not yet). That is probably the single most important factor in the robust nature of this entrepreneurial report.

      But is this a case of a rising stock market lifts all boats, or is this something unique to Birmingham?  Obviously, I am most interested in the Birmingham market. However, I do think certain trends are particularly in Birmingham’s favor, namely:

      1. UAB had some wins. In8Bio (formerly Incycus) filed to go public, and while they have not done so yet, that indicates financial success around the science. UAB also has a strong pipeline of companies – Yuva Biosciences; Sunfire Biotechnologies, LLC; TriAltus Bioscience; Reliant Glycosciences, LLC; Humbolt Innovations; HemEdits; and CNine BioSolutions, LLC. Generally, UAB is beginning to turn out more companies, and they’re doing so more efficiently and more effectively.
      1. Support services are in place. Five years ago, the only hub for start-ups in Birmingham was Innovation Depot and their accelerator, Velocity Accelerator. Today, multiple accelerators, incubators, funds, and other support services for entrepreneurs are active in Birmingham (see BhamBizHub for a complete list of services). In fact, a big contributor to the Funded Start-Up list was TechStars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator, which provided not only expertise but capital to several companies new to this year’s list.
      2. Birmingham has had exits. While we had a big year for exits in 2017 (e.g. the year Shipt, Hospicelink, and Therapy Brands sold), the concern was that 2017 was an anomaly. 2020 saw several positive exits: Fetch Talent, MainStreet Family Care, Select Providers Network (SPNet), and StrategyWise. 

    Are there issues specific to Birmingham? Of course, and two issues in particular should be of community focus in 2021:

    1. Lack of minority founders. While we do not have good demographic information on all of the founders, empirically, one can see that not enough people of color are on this list. Yes, there are some, but if Birmingham is going to build an inclusive economy, we need to be mindful that this list is full of white people. Organizations such as Bronze Valley, as well as programs like the Community Foundation of Birmingham’s inclusive economy initiative, are critical, but more resources are needed.

    2. Lack of funds. Yes, the Alabama Futures Fund is active, but we need more funds. I believe that in 2021 we risk the number of investable deals in Birmingham exceeding the investment capital in the community to do those deals. If that happens, we will lose exciting new companies to other cities or other opportunities. Transitioning the economy is a game of attrition. Pooled capital helps diversify risk and professionalize the management of the portfolio. We need more.

    That said, just six to nine months ago, I was questioning the survival of the Birmingham entrepreneurial world. We should celebrate where we are. Turbulent times may continue, but the start-up community has endured. We are now more aware of the economic transformation; it is happening rapidly — perhaps, in some cases, dangerously so. As a community, our success depends on evolving with it.

    A Note on the Funded Start-Up List: No representation is made as to the accuracy and completeness of the information provided. We make every effort to be accurate, but this information is notoriously difficult to find and verify. If you find any errors, please let us know.


    2019 Annual Assessment

    2019 is in the books, and as is custom, we reassess where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going. Birmingham is lucky for its entrepreneurs, and we cherish their hard work. They are the backbone of our city, without whom we wouldn’t have as strong and vibrant of a community or economy.

    Our bottom-line assessment: we need more. As has been our stance for the last few years, we remain cautiously optimistic about the Birmingham entrepreneurial scene. It is good, but it can be better. 

    In our July 2019 assessment, we said that we were concerned with the lack of exits, the state’s political climate, and gaps in connecting companies and available talent.

    Regarding the first concern, we did have a couple of exits in 2019. However, these exits, coupled with a lack of exits in 2019, are not of the monetary size of the 2017 (Shipt, Therapy Brands, Hospicelink) exits. Exits provide the human and financial capital necessary to fuel the continued growth of the ecosystem, and we continue to need more exits to provide the fuel for growth. All exits help create a second generation of successful entrepreneurs to mentor the first This concern was a push in 2019; let us hope 2020 brings us more.

    Some progress has been made on the second point, the “talent gap.” Birmingham has begun to better embrace the entrepreneur, showing a willingness to judge resumes on a win/loss basis and an acceptance of entrepreneurial risk takers. We’ve also seen more acceptance of entrepreneurs in the Birmingham social community (e.g. entrepreneurs belong to social clubs, perhaps even country clubs). I am not sure we always appreciated entrepreneurs, and our reluctance may have held the economy back. Although impossible to quantify, we believe that Birmingham has surpassed this biased perspective.

    On the third perspective, the Alabama legislature did not have another monstrosity of a PR situation, like we had with the abortion bill. Of course, the legislature has not been in session in the last six months, so I am not sure that can really be considered a win. 

    Additional positive notes were that several companies received follow-on funding from institutions. Incycus and Fleetio, in particular, had large funding rounds.

    Birmingham Bound attracted numerous companies, and the Alabama Futures Fund continued to be active in Birmingham. 

    So why the glass-half-empty perspective? It is not enough.

    For the first time this year, First Avenue Ventures released a list of funded startups that have received material outside funding since 2015. Our goal with this list is to have a comprehensive list of all of Birmingham’s current startups. Based on this list, we have approximately 55 funded startups. This number is an important indicator of where we are as an entrepreneurial community. 

    While the list is not yet tested in years, in pulling this information together, we were surprised at the lack of depth in Birmingham’s entrepreneurial scene.

    However, Birmingham does have something on which we can build. The eye-opener for us came when we were talking with a respected serial entrepreneur/funder from a major hub on the East Coast. We talked about ways we could get more institutional capital to invest in Alabama, under the premise that institutional investment is a key component of exponential growth.  We talked about flying people down to meet companies, but then we realized that we don’t have enough companies in the pipeline yet. We have some, to be sure, but to pull together a parade of companies ready for institutional investment – that is a challenge.  

    That lack of start-ups positioned for institutional funding is the cold bucket of water on all of the kudos about Birmingham’s entrepreneurial scene. In today’s world, in order to grow a city’s economy, a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem is imperative. Birmingham will always lose its big companies – to purchase, to market winds, to mismanagement, to excellent management. The ONLY way to replace them is to grow them internally. Companies just are not moving headquarters. As a side note, though I am not a member and therefore cannot be super critical, I was nevertheless disappointed with the BBA’s lack of emphasis in this area in their 2019 year-end report (or, at least, the PR Summary of its report). We need a BBA focused on the entrepreneurial section of the economy first and foremost.

    At First Avenue Ventures, we look forward to rolling our sleeves up in 2020 and getting dirty. We have been working with several entrepreneurs and look forward to working with more in 2020. Just as we see it as our mission to point out both the good and bad about Birmingham, we want to help entrepreneurs and companies with a realistic perspective. That requires digging in and seeing where we can help as well as being candid in our approach. This stuff is hard, but the challenge provides the reward and the meaning that makes it worthwhile.

    To going forward in 2020: