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Alabama startups Domestique Coffee, Cahaba Fire Company win a combined $75,000 at latest ‘Launchpad’ finale

Two Alabama startups competed in a field of nine finalists to earn a combined $75,000 in nondilutive funding in the latest Alabama Launchpad finale, the longtime pitch competition supported by the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA).

Domestique Coffee was awarded $50,000 in the early-seed stage competition. Founded by brothers Nathan and Michael Pocus in 2014, Domestique is a coffee, hospitality and lifestyle brand sold at several brick-and-mortar locations as well as through wholesale offerings.

“Winning Launchpad will allow us to finalize our mobile user app that we’ve been developing, and it’s going to take our business to the next level,” said Nathan Pocus. “Now, we’re going to be able to really unify all of our sales channels into one, easy-to-use mobile user app and start to fulfill our customers’ needs of easy access to high-quality coffee.”

“Even if we hadn’t won this time, the connections we’ve made and the program that EDPA has put together has really been valuable for us. This is our third time participating, and so the first two times we were finalists who didn’t win. It’s been well worth the effort, and perseverance is key,” Pocus said.

Domestique Coffee brewed up the winning formula to take home the big money at the latest Alabama Launchpad. (Economic Development Partnership of Alabama)

Cahaba Fire Company, founded by Ryan King and Ben Horton, won the concept stage prize of $25,000. The company develops innovative products for fire departments and first responders so they can get the job done faster, safer and more reliably.

“I believe this win is going to launch us off the Launchpad,” King said. “The advisers, the whole process – it was amazing. We are so much further, just by working alongside our launch advisers alone, than we thought we would be. It was a success before we won, and this $25,000 is icing on the cake. It will boost us right where we need to be with production.”

Each finalist company received intensive mentorship, through one-on-one and group session training with the launch advisers, to prepare for the final judging panels.

The early-seed stage companies were evaluated by three judges: Patrick J. Murphy, Goodrich chair and professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham; Will Wright, head of Innovation at Protective Life and founding partner at Wright Strategies; and Gordon Martin, retired senior vice president of Corporate and Administrative Services at Alabama Power.

“It’s always fun to get out of your normal, daily routine and see some of the cool, new ideas that are happening around Alabama,” Wright said. “It’s also a pleasure to give back and help folks who are going through the Launchpad journey.”

The concept stage competition was judged by Amelia “Amy” Degenkolb, CEO and cofounder at Novocuff; Charles Jackson, innovation project manager at Alabama Power; and Jonathan E. Smith, founder and owner of B.A.T. Solutions.

Cahaba Fire Company is pumped up about their win at the latest Alabama Launchpad. (Economic Development Partnership of Alabama)

“The work of EDPA’s Alabama Launchpad is so important, creating access to funds that early startups may not have otherwise had and also maximizing opportunities for mentorship,” Jackson said. “The several weeks’ worth of mentorship is more vital than any funding that may happen or occur because it’s a win for every company – even those who do not walk away with the award at the end of the pitch competition.”

Alabama Launchpad has funded 114 Alabama startups since its inception in 2006. During the past 16 years, Launchpad has awarded more than $6 million to the winning companies, which today have an estimated combined post-money valuation of more than $1 billion and employ more than 1,300 people.

The latest Alabama Launchpad was conducted in partnership with Innovate Alabama, which implements programs and policies that support Alabama’s innovation ecosystem. To view a recording of the Launchpad finale, visit The finale took place April 20 at The Edge business incubator and accelerator in Tuscaloosa.

Applications are now being accepted for Alabama Launchpad’s second cycle for 2023. The deadline to apply is May 15. To learn more, click here.