Two federal grants recently awarded to Birmingham organizations will help boost startups from the very beginning stages of an idea for a business all the way to seeking funding and rapid growth.
U.S. Department of Commerce announced this week that 42 organizations in 28 states were getting grants to aid entrepreneurs. Mobile won one and Birmingham won two – $170,925 for the Innovation Depot and $498,216 for UAB.
The two grants will help establish tools to help startups, but at two very different stages – UAB’s as early as a simple idea, Innovation Depot’s as they’re ready to grow and sell.
UAB will match the $498,216 grant with the same amount to help establish the Commercialization Accelerator which launched during Innovation Week. Kathy Nugent, Associate Vice President and Executive Director for the UAB’s Harbert Institute for Innovation, called the accelerator a “pre-incubation” program. It’s basically for ideas or concepts that aren’t yet ready to go somewhere like the Innovation Depot.
“The proposal is to have funding to put programmatic things in place to allow our faculty, our staff and our students to really move discoveries to the market,” Nugent said. “I think about it as pre-incubation – companies are going to be incubated in the Innovation Depot. But once a faculty member or an investigator or a student brings an idea to the table, we’re going to vet those ideas, create business plans, help support those ideas with real infrastructure.”
The Commercialization Accelerator is open to all employees, professors and students of UAB, both graduate and undergraduate. The grant will go toward continuing implementation of the program.
Innovation Depot’s $170,925 grant, which the nonprofit will also match, goes toward a program for companies further along in the startup process: the Velocity Accelerator program, which is currently accepting applications for its second class through the end of October.
Innovation Depot’s CEO Devon Laney said the two projects are totally complementary.
“It’s just a great win for the community, because it validates that we are doing things right. I think it’s recognition that we’re doing things correctly and not doing them in isolation,” Laney said. “We are very much aligned and working together very well and trying to create a new pipeline. What we don’t want to happen is a reseracher at UAB has an idea for a new decice or technology and they take that technology to market without having gone through any diligence or real planning. That’s what the UAB Commercialization Accelerator is for.”
Velocity Acelerator’s first class graduated nine companies, including three that have transitioned into the incubation program. Several, like Planet Fundraiser and Glow, have closed on Series A funding. Innovation Depot estimates that the nine companies support 48 full-time positions.
The grant will be used for facility, supplies, operations costs, marketing and recruiting of companies locally and nationally. None of the grant’s dollars will go toward seed funding for the selected companies.
“An accelerator is really about establishing the structure of your company, to the product getting your first couple customers, and positioning yourself to raise capital,” Laney said. “We see it as a way to really strengthen the pipeline.”