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Accelerator program propels Birmingham startups to successful launches

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Fledging team members COO Steven Robbins (left), Creative Director Zahrah Abdulrauf and CEO Weida Tan found a site for their business at Innovation Depot in Birmingham, amongst other young entrepreneurs. Robbins said that Fledging will launch new products in late August, with plans to debut more products at the end of first quarter 2019. (Fledging)
By Alicia Rohan
Alabama NewsCenter

Fledging – one of seven student-led ventures of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Commercialization Accelerator – has moved into Innovation Depot, allowing students to work in the hub of Birmingham’s startup network.

“We’re extremely proud to have Fledging join Innovation Depot,” said Devon Laney, president and CEO of Innovation Depot. “Not only are they a great company with an exciting product, but the move is exactly what we hope to see through our partnership with UAB – ideas coming out of the university transitioning into our incubation program to grow. We look forward to helping support Fledging’s growth.”

Founded by doctoral student Weida Tan and computer science undergraduate alumnus Steven Robbins, Fledging provides software/hardware solid-state drive replacement solutions for MacBook users. Fledging’s adaptors allow users to upgrade storage capabilities on Apple computers without requiring Apple-specific solid-state drives.

The company is already generating more than $30,000 in monthly revenue and, with a recent launch to the Amazonmarketplace, is poised for growth. Fledging has four employees and  seeks funding for the company’s next generation of products.

“Moving into Innovation Depot allows us to continue working alongside other entrepreneurs within the Birmingham innovation community,” Tan said. “We’re excited to keep growing the business and are looking to start expanding our product line in the coming months.”

Fledging was in UAB’s first Commercial Accelerator class, an initiative of the UAB Harbert Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The 10-week program is free to UAB students, faculty and staff, and guides participants through fundamentals of entrepreneurship through guest lectures, mentor connections and collaborative curriculum designed to help propel business ideas into reality.

Steven Robbins, CCO for Fledging, said the company launched a Kickstarter campaign for its first product.

Fledging offers several different solid-state drives (SSD), sometimes called solid-state disks. Fledging COO Robbins said that many people have reached out to the company about the Feather SSD. (Fledging)

“Feather SSD is a high-performance, low-cost upgrade to expand the storage capacity of Mac computers that is up to 35 percent cheaper than other replacements, while being up to 100 percent faster,” said Robbins, who worked in his dad’s computer repair shop while growing up. “We believe in delivering high-quality technology to our customers without the crazy high price tag. We’ve been blown away by the success of the campaign and the number of people reaching out to us about Feather SSD.”

Fledging will soon launch a new product, Fledging Shell, which will be the “first U.S. product delivering the latest and greatest in external storage device technology,” Robbins said.

“We are finalizing the design with our manufacturers now, and will be launching another KickStarter campaign to announce the launch,” he said.

Kathy Nugent, Ph.D., executive director of the HIIE, said UAB is committed to driving prosperity within the region, a key component of which lies in fostering innovation.

“Our goal with the Accelerator program is to create a streamlined pathway from idea to commercialization,” Nugent said. “Fledging’s move is a significant milestone in the startup’s trajectory, and underscores UAB’s efforts to feed the Birmingham innovation ecosystem.”

Based on the success of the student accelerator, the HIIE is launching its first faculty accelerator program, designed to meet the needs of staff and faculty researchers seeking to commercialize their innovations.

“We continue to celebrate the successes of the inaugural Student Accelerator program,” said Max Polec, director of the UAB Commercialization Accelerator. “We’re looking forward to building on those achievements and launching the first faculty-focused accelerator in the fall, along with bringing in a new group of student entrepreneurs through two concurrent programs.”

The first cohort in the accelerator program provided the foundation to launch two successful startups, with the development of five others. Fledging, along with Vector Applications LLC, formed as a result of the program. Startups Ceres and Sniper Digital Marketing are planning to incorporate soon.

“The Student Accelerator program cultivates the entrepreneurial spirit on campus, enabling student founders to turn their ideas into profit-earning companies,” Tan said. “Such endeavors have been longed for by students for years. The vision of this program will impact the entire student body and the startup community for years to come.”

The fall accelerator programs are September through November. Any UAB student, staff or faculty innovator interested in participating may sign up here.

Innovation Depot offers workstations, immersive educational programming and incubation services, and provides a competitive advantage in attracting customers, talent, mentors, press and funding to grow a startup business.