Alabama Launchpad expands reach with new regional competitions

Winners of the Shoals Regional Competition of Alabama Launchpad are all smiles after being awarded their prizes. The startup development program is expanding to include more regional competitions following its success in the Shoals area. (EDPA)

Alabama Launchpad, a program of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, is looking for communities that want to replicate the statewide competition on a local level.

EDPA is accepting requests for proposals for the Alabama Launchpad Regional Partnership Program through Monday, April 3, and will admit two regions per year over the next five years.

The reason behind the move is simple: To help more high-growth-potential companies start, stay and thrive in Alabama.

“We want to create more startups, give them a better chance to be successful, connect them to investors and help them create jobs and wealth faster,” EDPA Vice President Angela Wier said.

Alabama Launchpad’s Greg Sheek speaks to judges at a recent competition. (Abraham Rowe/Alabama Launchpad) 

Investing in growth

Alabama Launchpad already is a proven success. Since its own launch 10 years ago, the program has invested $4 million in companies that have created more than 500 jobs and gone on to raise $50 million in follow-on funding.

“We want to move the statewide event to being more like a big playoff of the winners of the regionals,” Wier said. “Five years out, we’d like to be running a big Shark Tank-style annual competition and have regions across the state that would run one locally.”

The new program also will provide a way for regions focused on innovation-based economic development to map existing programs that help startups and entrepreneurs and to identify gaps in local resources.

It’s already been a success in the Shoals, the site of a pilot regional partnership program that recently wrapped up its first competition.

Caitlin Holland, vice president of investor relations for the Shoals Chamber of Commerce, said organizers were initially concerned that they might not get many applicants, since the community is smaller than Alabama’s traditional entrepreneurial hubs of Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile.

But they were pleasantly surprised.

“We were hoping to have four or five, but we ended up with nine good applicants with nine good ideas,” she said.

By the time the final stage of the competition occurred late last month, that pool had been narrowed to five finalists, and they all received a portion of $97,000 in startup funding.The winners were:

  • Alchemy, a jewelry sealer that protects skin from discoloration and irritation and also protects jewelry from tarnishing.
  • Luxe Brand, a maker of luxury leather shoe laces.
  • nSide, a firm that provides interior mapping of schools and other large buildings and also partners with emergency responders.
  • Southern Swaddle, which makes baby swaddles out of fabric that comes from locally sourced products.
  • Sycamore Physician Contracting, a website that links emergency room doctors with available shifts.
Alabama Launchpad has invested more than $4 million in startups since the program’s inception. (EDPA)

Support system

While the statewide Launchpad competition is typically heavy with tech firms, the Shoals contest offered more entrants in the area of fashion, Holland said. That’s not surprising, since the region is home to designer Billy Reid and clothing company Alabama Chanin, she added.

More regional Launchpad competitions also will be more convenient for entrepreneurs, Wier said. For instance, in the decade-long history of the statewide competition, just three participating companies were from the Shoals. But when the region hosted its own program, that number tripled.“We were thrilled with the response. Our community really rallied around the idea of Launchpad, and we were excited to put our footprint on it,” she said. “Even the ones that didn’t win I think would tell you the experience was worth it. They found this network of entrepreneurs and others who will support them.”

Ultimately, the regional partnership will deepen the reach of Launchpad, as well as support and mentoring for entrepreneurs and innovators.

“The model does work,” Wier said. “It creates jobs, and it creates follow-on funding. We’re just trying to accelerate that, and the regionals should give us a way to grow it faster.”

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.

Republished with permission of Alabama NewsCenter.

Alchemy, a startup in the Shoals, is one of the firms that received funding from Alabama Launchpad’s first regional competition. (EDPA)