Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator startup teams gathered recently to learn from renowned Birmingham entrepreneur Shegun Otulana. One of Birmingham’s brightest entrepreneurs, Otulana sold his company Therapy Brands for $1.2 billion in May.
Otulana joined the Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator for its “founder stories” series, sharing the story of his company, how founders can navigate the challenges of the startup journey and his vision for growth in Birmingham.
In 1998, Otulana moved to Birmingham from Lagos, Nigeria, to attend the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he studied engineering and management information systems. He registered his first computer software company, Zertis, in 2004, not long after graduating, eventually going full time in 2011 before founding TheraNest in 2013. Otulana served as founder and CEO of TheraNest and its parent company, Therapy Brands, a leading provider of software solutions for mental and behavioral health providers. As of May, Therapy Brands served more than 28,000 practices nationwide.
Otulana shared how he recognized a need for those providing mental and behavioral health services, and those needing those services, to be treated with the same dignity as those involved in other areas of health care. His commitment to helping provide a solution is evident in Otulana’s advice.
“When it comes to growth, first think of the core of your business, the value, the mission. That core mission is what you build people around, and people build a company,” Otulana said. “Take that core and translate it outside to how you can engineer a high rate of acceleration around your product.”
As far as product development, Otulana shared how he values the innovation process.
“Find a way to build quality products and your brand. You have to have this experiment iteration. In doing that you find when something works; then you double down on it.”
In addition to talking with founders about how he navigated building a team, managing work and personal priorities, Otulana also offered guidance on focusing time and feedback.
“There is going to be a lot of distraction. As a founder, you just have to be mechanical in how you get feedback. You will have a lot of people telling you how to do things,” Otulana said. “Prioritize filling your calendar with conversations with people you will sell to. These will help you hear the voice of customers, gain insights to the industry and give you outputs to create your product.”
Otulana is now focused on elevating local founders and supporting the Birmingham startup scene with his new venture, Harmony Venture Labs.
Founder stories are an integral component of the Techstars accelerator model. At Techstars accelerators across the country, serial entrepreneurs are invited to speak to cohorts about how they built their companies and the lessons learned along the way. As part of the founder stories series, members of the Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator will have the chance to learn from local entrepreneurs sharing honestly about their own journeys to success.
“No matter what type of business you have, we all have common battles that we fight as founders,” said Nate Schmidt, managing director, Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator. “Being able to invite successful startup founders to our space to share the battles that they have fought and overcome is critical to the success of our program.”
The Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator’s rigorous program is well underway since the second class was announced in mid-September. Ten startups from across the nation and Canada are actively engaging with mentors across Alabama this month to enhance the future of energy. For more information, visit the Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator program page at www.techstars.com.