By Dawn Azok
Made in Alabama
Birmingham’s startup scene got a major boost on Wednesday, as a traveling caravan of national tech and innovation leaders met some of the city’s most dynamic entrepreneurs.
The Rise of the Rest bus tour, led by America Online founder Steve Case, made stops at key centers of innovation around the Magic City. The day culminated with a pitch competition at Sloss Furnaces and a grand prize of $100,000 awarded to local tech startup Mixtroz.
Birmingham is a community on the rise, Case said.
“This is a city built by innovation, and the innovation happened to be steel,” he said. “Now, it’s gone from a city focused on steel to a city that is focused on startups.”
Case cited the transformation of Innovation Depot from a long-vacant department store to a thriving hub of entrepreneurship, as well as local startup Pack Health’s innovative approach to health coaching.
“There are great things happening in Birmingham, and you should all feel great about that,” he said.
But there’s also more work to be done, and that’s the goal of the Rise of the Rest initiative. Since 2014, Case and his team have visited 35 cities on seven separate tours.
“What we see in each of these communities is what we see in this community,” he said. “A community rallying to support their entrepreneurs and making a lot of progress, but there’s still work to be done.”
Case is chairman and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based investment firm Revolution. Last year, Case and J.D. Vance, Revolution managing partner, announced a $150 million Rise of the Rest Seed Fund to further the program’s goal of supporting emerging startup ecosystems outside the Silicon Valley, New York City and Boston.
Case said three states — California, New York and Massachusetts — account for 75 percent of venture capital in the U.S., leaving the rest of the states to fight over the remaining 25 percent.
Women and minority entrepreneurs also get less funding.
“What we’re trying to do is level the playing field so everybody everywhere has a shot at the American Dream,” he said. “Our hope is that 10 years from now, the capital is spread more broadly.”
For Kerry Schrader and Ashlee Ammons, the mother-daughter duo behind Mixtroz, the support of Birmingham’s startup community has been significant.
Mixtroz was founded in Nashville but came to Birmingham to be part of Innovation Depot’s Velocity Accelerator. The firm’s software drives live event attendees from the digital space on their mobile phones to a physical space at the event in real time while collecting valuable data.
“Birmingham for us has been amazing,” Ammons said, citing support from the city, other companies and Innovation Depot. “If you come in dedicated to entrepreneurship, it’s phenomenal.”
Vance said everyone involved in the startup community must tell their own stories to build Birmingham’s image as an entrepreneurial launching point.
“What really makes a difference is an assertive story about what a cool city it is,” he said. “We’ve only been here for a day, but I’m sold.”
This story originally appeared on Alabama NewsCenter and the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website