Homegrown: Alabama tech company is changing the game with innovative apps and safety programs
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — When it comes to technological innovation, Birmingham is not the first American city that comes to mind. Silicon Valley dominates the common perception as the top tech town in the USA, but one Alabama company is doing its best to improve the Yellowhammer state’s reputation within the tech world.
With its top-of-the-line mobile applications and stand-alone products, tep.io is earning a seat at the tech development table. Based out of Birmingham, tep.io is a mobile-first software development company founded by Alabamians Wes Thompson and Drew Binkley. Although it originated as a company focused on web-design and e-commerce in 2007, it transitioned into its current niche around 2011.
According to Thompson, tep.io shifted gears because the local market lacked companies specializing in mobile development. “Everyone and their mother is making websites,” Thompson said. “We were able to create mobile apps at a fraction of the cost of our competitors, so that really helped us gain an advantage in the new market.”
One reason that tep.io is so cost-efficient is because of its work with offshore developers. The company has global partners across Eastern Europe that employ a total of 25 people. After hiring a programmer from Poland in 2008, Thompson was encouraged to hire other programmers from across the globe. The company has had a positive experience ever since, and Thompson noted that the people of Eastern Europe are hard workers, good communicators and allow their app development operation to run nearly around the clock.
In the states, tep.io is headquartered in a Birmingham office that employs nine people. The company’s technical expertise coupled with Birmingham’s narrow market of tech developers has played in its favor and opened up tremendous business opportunities. “There’s a growing tech scene here that’s been kind of slow, and it’s starting to pick up now,” Thompson said. “We’re really appreciative of the city’s dedication to highlighting and growing the tech community and the innovators who live and work here.”
tep.io finds most of its clients through agencies that connect it with companies in need of tech development. Their primary service, app creation, can take varying amounts of time depending on the complexity of the client’s needs. For a fairly simple app, development could only take two to three months. However, for more complicated designs, development could take from six months to a year.
On top of developing products for others, tep.io has now branched into developing programs of its own, such as Hatch Safety. Hatch Safety Management System is an enterprise mobile and web application software solution capable of managing digital safety inspections, audits, checklists and incidents in real time. Specifically, it helps companies more efficiently comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, inspections, and audits.
“Safety is an untapped market, but it has a huge impact on people’s lives,” Thompson said. “A big mission of ours is to make work forces safer, and we’re not just saying that; we have the technology to do it.”
Companies are required to comply with OSHA guidelines designed to protect workplace safety and health. Oftentimes, compliance requires filling out an abundance of forms that can be difficult to keep up with. “Primarily, a lot of companies right now are using paper to do this,” Thompson said. “It’s amazing; still using paper.”
Being headquartered in Birmingham puts the Hatch team in a unique position to capitalize on the safety needs of a large number of national and international construction companies that call the city home.
But one local energy company made the shift with Hatch Safety and now no longer needs stacks of paper to ensure the safety of its employees. Instead, supervisors use the Hatch Safety app on company-issued iPad Minis to take care of all the OSHA requirements.
Hatch’s capabilities have allowed the company to expand into the utility and energy sector, expanding the company’s reach as far as central South America.
While the present is treating tep.io well, the future appears to be even brighter. In addition to the work with agencies Thompson said he hopes to one day offer more development directly to customers. The company also plans to focus more on its own products, like Hatch Safety.