Through Alabama Launchpad, a premier entrepreneur competition, the EDPA seeks to fund the next generation of Alabama innovators in hopes of launching the next great homegrown company.
Its most recent cycle of competition will conclude this Thursday in Birmingham. Similar to the television show “Shark Tank,” six startup finalists will take to the stage to pitch their finalized business plans in hopes of receiving a portion of the $250,000 available for milestone funding.
“If you think of Alabama’s success, you think of those original Alabama companies—like Protective Life in Birmingham and ADTRAN in Huntsville. Though they are big now, they started with an idea, with an entrepreneur,” said Greg Sheek, director of Launchpad Programs.
“We’re trying to build the next generation of companies that will build Alabama jobs.”
Alabama Launchpad operates with the purpose of launching or scaling Alabama-based small businesses to reach the program’s ultimate goal: to create jobs in Alabama and opportunities for follow-on funding. According to its 2014 Annual Report, the program is doing just that.
In 2014 alone, the program awarded a total of $385,387 in startup funds. This money translated into the creation of 305 knowledge-based jobs and $20,400,000 in follow-on funding.
BLOX’S SUCCESS STORY
For companies like BLOX LLC, Alabama Launchpad has provided a boost to efforts to gain private equity following the competition.
Chris Giattina, president of BLOX, and his team participated in Alabama Launchpad in 2013. After his final pitch, the judges awarded them $50,000.
Created by a team of architects, BLOX is a manufacturing company that produces time-saving medical modules for patient rooms, including modular headwalls, restrooms and exam rooms.
Prior to Alabama Launchpad, Giattina and his team had been developing the company for more than three years.
“For our group, $50,000 represented an external validation of our business model. As we were going to market to raise private equity, the fact that a panel of judges at Launchpad had run us through the gauntlet of tests — and we came out as one that passed — was a helpful tool for us,” Giattina said.
At the same time, BLOX was working on a pilot program for Nashville-based Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), one of the largest hospital companies in the world. “The fact that HCA was talking to a startup was almost comical,” Giattina said.
But they landed the project, and Giattina credits Launchpad for helping them prepare.
“Launchpad forced us through a regimen that allowed us to document our business plan, to codify all components and to hone our message so it was laser-like,” Giattina said. “It may have been something that we could have succeeded without Launchpad, but it certainly helped us to get where we are faster.”
BLOX began with 12 employees. Today, the company employs 125 people and is currently working on projects in 15 states with companies such as HealthSouth Corp. and Cardiovascular Associates. Its medical modules are manufactured in their plant in Bessemer.
A PREMIER ENTREPRENEUR COMPETITION
Alabama Launchpad began in 2006, and initially, participating teams had to be connected to one of its six partnering Alabama universities. In 2011, though, EDPA’s directors decided they wanted to expand the program’s reach. “We opened it up to any type of company that is considered high growth,” Sheek said
The program also expanded to include more than one cycle of competition in a year. Today, Alabama Launchpad offers three cycles of competition each year. Thursday’s finale will conclude this year’s second cycle.
The competition brings out a diverse set of innovators and entrepreneur with even more diverse products and services. For example, in the current round of competition, the six finalists range from a web-based marketplace for scientists to a robotic tennis ball collector, medical emergency technologies to an online collaborative writing platform.
“We typically have about 20 or so small businesses apply at each cycle,” Sheek said. “Our judges are a panel of five who serve for the entire cycle. They get to know the participants, their products and the company’s financials.”
Teams participate in multiple rounds of judging and a First Pitch event, which is similar to the finale. When team pitch, they have 10 minutes to present their business plan followed by a round of questions from the judges.
“My best advice is to have a message that is clear. A simple, clear message requires an enormous amount of self-discipline and self-editing, but if you can do it, you will stand above the crowd,” Giattina said.
The next opportunity to apply for Alabama Launchpad will be in early 2016. The third competition cycle for 2015 is already under way.