We recently celebrated our one year anniversary of Birmingham Bound. Since October 2018, we have had 11 companies commit to opening an office in Birmingham, and our team of one has grown to a team to three. We are just getting started!
For the majority of this year, we have been hustling to get as many tech companies to visit Birmingham as possible. Our focus was to have those companies experience the energy of our city’s rich tech ecosystem and show them all the resources our city has to offer. In November, we were able to put our ear to the ground and listen to what the Birmingham tech ecosystem needs.
We began researching what other non-coastal startup hubs are doing well, and while we don’t want to be the next (fill in the blank City), we have the unique opportunity to create a business ecosystem in Birmingham that is informed by communities around us that work. Our schedule allowed us in November to take several “inspiration treks” to experience Chattanooga, Atlanta, Chicago, and Pittsburgh.
We went to Chattanooga Startup Week hosted by Co.Starters, visited multiple tech community spaces in Atlanta such as Atlanta Tech Village, Switchyards, and the Gathering Spot, attended Techstars Chicago Startup Week, and participated in Techstars Startup weekend in Pittsburgh.
Here are a few takeaways from our visits and reflections we had about Birmingham:
We can set expectations for our companies and the impact they create in our city.
Atlanta Tech Village has a set of 5 core values that dictate whether or not companies are invited to use the space. They set a precedent that all companies who are part of the village must be nice, dream big, pay it forward, work hard, and play hard.
We need to more effectively market our city.
Innovative hubs market their community and lifestyle as their brand just as much as they talk about their entrepreneurial ecosystem. For example, in Chattanooga, they not only emphasized the affordable cost of doing business, but they also heavily advertised their nearby mountains to attract people looking for an outdoor lifestyle.
Frequent programming and events (and free beer) encourage community building.
We went to a “Will this Float” pitch night in Chattanooga and a Startup Village Pitch night in Atlanta. It was helpful for founders to work on their pitch and get their names out, but beyond that it was wonderful to see the community come together in a common space and support the founders. Events like these make being a part of the startup community more inviting to young founders and give them a reason to stay.
We need to continue helping minority and female founders get their foot in the door earlier.
We have work to do to make our entrepreneurial community more inclusive, and it is not an issue exclusive to Birmingham. Throughout our visits we saw that each city was making a concerted effort to change their current practices. Hearing from Chicago Blend, a coalition of Chicago VC firms changing the way VCs diversify their portfolio, was eye-opening and reflected some of the efforts of Bronze Valley in Birmingham. We all benefit from where there is a greater diversity of thought and experience within the community.
Birmingham has something special going for it right now, and we can’t take it for granted as we continue to grow.
One of the reasons that Birmingham is a great place to do business is our small city interconnectedness, with close public & private partnerships. Even as our tech ecosystem grows, we must hold on to the aspects of what makes doing business and living here great.