Ten startup companies are in Alabama and are more than halfway through a program that mixes workshops, mentorship, teambuilding and socializing.
The Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator, headquartered in Birmingham, is in its third year. Organizers are pleased with the outcomes from the first two classes and are expecting even more from the third.
“Our first two classes were amazing,” said Nate Schmidt, managing director of Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator. “We brought in 20 companies from all over the world and some companies here from the state of Alabama. Those companies have had a ton of success. We’ve seen them grow. We’ve seen them make hires. We’ve seen them raise a lot of money – over $150 million collectively as a group, which is a really big number, something we’re very proud of.
“We’ve seen companies come to Alabama, stay in Alabama, buy property in Alabama. In fact, some of the teams from this year’s class are living with founders from last year’s class who bought a house together here in Forest Park,” Schmidt said. “I’m really optimistic that we’re getting better as we go and this third class is going to be really something special.”
The Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator is supported by Alabama Power, the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA), the Alabama Department of Commerce, Altec, PowerSouth, the University of Alabama, Southern Research and Hardware Park. The supporters play a key role in the accelerator process, with the common goal of growing Alabama’s startup ecosystem.
All the startups are focused on energy technology, clean tech, climate tech or sustainability.
The Alabama accelerator is affiliated with Techstars, one of the world’s largest pre-seed investors and partners. All programs offer specific areas of focus, like the EnergyTech Accelerator.
“I think it’s been phenomenal in terms of the area that Alabama Power was very focused on,” said Techstars CEO Maëlle Gavet, who visited Birmingham for the start of the third EnergyTech Accelerator. “To me, it’s a sign that this is a very innovation-driven company.”
Gavet said Techstars evaluates a community before entering it with a program. And once a commitment is made, it is very intentional.
“We’re trying to be good partners. When we come to a state, when we come to a community, what we try to really do is understand how the community functions, what are the key challenges that the community is trying to solve, what are the things that excite the community the most,” she said. “Then, we combine our network of mentors, of alumni, of investors with our knowledge and we’re like, ‘OK, here is everything we have; what do you think would be most useful for you?’ I think everything that we’ve seen so far in Alabama has been very conducive of the type of partnership that we usually have.”
Gavet said the success achieved in Alabama, and elsewhere, hinges on the commitment from local partners.
“I think it has a lot to do with the partnership that we have with Alabama Power because of a lot of the startups, a lot of the entrepreneurs that we recruited for this class, were excited about the potential partnership with Alabama Power,” she said. “It looks like a very exciting class.”
Tony Smoke, senior vice president of Marketing and Economic Development at Alabama Power, said the company is committed to supporting sustainability and improving communities by adopting safe and reliable green technologies.
“Our work with our other partners in the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator has always been about not only supporting the startups themselves while fostering the Alabama innovation economy, but also in what it could ultimately mean for our customers as we are always looking to innovate as a company in the way we provide safe, reliable energy and services,” Smoke said. “This is one of the many ways Alabama Power wants to be on the cutting edge of what could be the future in energy and sustainable technologies.”
The current class of the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator is indicative of that, Schmidt said.
“We have a few companies that are right down the middle for Alabama Power that are working on improvements to the power grid and electrification” he said. “We have a company that is working on consumer products – something that you or I could go purchase to improve the efficiency of our home. And then a lot of companies in between. So it is a wide variety of companies and some really interesting ideas this year.”
The diversity extends to where the companies hail from.
“We’ve got one team from Mobile, Alabama, and then we start to head on out,” Schmidt said. “We’ve got teams … from Colorado, from Washington, D.C., from New York, from Seattle, which is where I went through Techstars. Then we have teams that traveled from overseas for the first time in our programs. We have a team that joined from Sweden; we have a founder that was living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. They’ve now converged here at Techstars Alabama.”
Over the next several weeks, Alabama NewsCenter will share information about all 10 startups in a series of profiles.
Gavet said she believes the third class of EnergyTech entrepreneurs are already finding that the focus is on helping them grow.
“We are entrepreneurs first. We care very, very much about the founders that we welcome in our program,” she said. “We give them three things: We give them capital. It’s important – you need money to build a business. That helps a lot. We give them programs like the accelerator program, as well as services that they receive after the program – anything from helping with fundraising, to helping them find new talent for their team, to supporting them in their go-to-market strategy trying to find new customers. The third bucket is the big network that we have. So, the community that we have opens for them, and boosts locally.
“That’s why having a partner like Alabama Power that is so deeply engrained in Alabama – I mean they have Alabama in their name – is very important,” Gavet added. “But, also the international network, with people who have built billion-dollar companies and people who have invested in billion-dollar companies. We’re trying to bring all of these three things together and be very, very entrepreneur-driven in making sure that they succeed. Because when they succeed, everybody succeeds. We succeed, the state succeeds, the partners succeed, so it’s a win-win-win-win for everyone.”