Britney Summerville, Chris Moody, and Brad Feld 

On September 3rd, we had a great conversation with Chris Moody, venture capitalist & partner at the Foundry Group, and Brad Feld, a founding partner of the Foundry Group, co-founder of Techstars, and author of the recently published book, The Startup Community Way. They joined our very own Britney Summerville for a conversation about startup communities and how Birmingham can continue building on the momentum and growth of our tech ecosystem. 

Here are our five key takeaways from the event:

  1. Birmingham has the same energy that Boulder did in its early years.

Chris Moody kicked off our conversation by recalling his visit to Birmingham in 2018 during the Rise of the Rest tour when he was introduced to our startup community and many Birmingham founders. His last visit was in 1987 to a very different Birmingham when he was an undergrad at Auburn attending the Iron Bowl, and Moody was wowed by the number of startup and tech companies that had blossomed in our city over the 30-year gap. He left Birmingham “vibrating with energy on the plane ride home,” recalling that, “it reminded me of Boulder a few years ago.” 

After his 2018 trip, Moody suggested to a few Birmingham leaders that we should capitalize on this momentum. It was then that Birmingham Bound was created to recruit more tech companies to relocate to Birmingham and empower existing tech in Birmingham to thrive. Brad is now a member of the Birmingham Bound leadership council. Moody and Feld both believe Birmingham has all of the needed elements of a strong startup community that will grow our tech ecosystem.

2. Birmingham is rich in many types of capital.

Birmingham may not have as much investment activity as the Bay Area, but Feld reminded us there are 7 different types of capital that are essential for successful startup communities: intellectual, cultural, financial, institutional, network, physical, and human capital. Network capital and intellectual capital were mentioned as two of Birmingham’s strongest resources due to the collaborative spirit of our entrepreneurs & local leadership and the strong pipeline of diverse university graduates. Feld remarked, “It’s very clear that in Birmingham, the rising tide will float all boats.” 

3. Distributed workforces will allow people to have more flexibility to choose where they want to live.

With the COVID-19 pandemic initiating widespread remote work for many companies, Feld mentioned that there is a “geographic positive-sum game” for people moving across the country which will be a huge win for cities like Birmingham. People have more freedom to decide where they want to live and how work fits in with their lifestyle: some people enjoy commuting an hour into a bustling city, and some prefer living closer to family. Birmingham has a renewed opportunity to recruit boomerangs, people who grew up and moved away, to return closer to home.

4. Helping entrepreneurs succeed should always be our focus.

With several accelerator cohorts starting this fall in Birmingham such as the Techstars Alabama Energy Tech accelerator and Bronze Valley’s accelerator, we asked, “How can we create an exceptional experience for the startups in these programs?” Feld replied, “The movement in and out of the city makes it vibrant, but making sure entrepreneurs have a positive outlook on the support they received from the city is the goal, not to keep them in Birmingham or create more jobs. That’s an outcome if there are enough groups of companies that have fantastic experiences in Birmingham.” As startup community builders, we have several weeks to make a lasting impact on the accelerator cohorts by helping them gain access to the best support and mentors possible in Birmingham.

5. Big exits and initiatives like Birmingham Bound have caused a phase shift in Birmingham.

Boulder had several huge exits in 2013-2014, after which the city earned its reputation as a hub for tech startups. Feld called this “a phase shift” for Boulder as it was previously only known for being an outdoor-enthusiasts’ paradise. In Birmingham, successes of tech startups like Daxko, Therapy Brands, Shipt, Fleetio, and several other tech companies in the last ten years have shown that we are much more than a banking and industrial city. This has caused more founders to have confidence they can start companies or second ventures. 

Additionally, Moody commented that Birmingham Bound’s recruitment of 17 high-growth tech companies to Birmingham over the past two years is a sign that Birmingham has gone through a phase shift, and it’s on us to keep spreading the good word about our city.

A big thank you to Chris and Brad for spending an hour with us and reenergizing our goal to make Birmingham a tech powerhouse. If you missed the live event you can still catch the recorded conversation here, and purchase Brad’s new book, The Startup Community Way, here

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