Governor Kay Ivey on Thursday announced the formation of Alabama’s first statewide commission on entrepreneurship and innovation.
A release from the governor’s office outlined that the Alabama Innovation Commission, known as Innovate Alabama, was officially created by her Executive Order 720 and will serve as a platform for innovators to engage policymakers, exchange ideas and identify policies that promote innovation in the state.
“Through the establishment of the Alabama Innovation Commission, I look forward to collaborating with our state’s leading innovators to develop a long-term strategy to create a more resilient, inclusive and robust economy,” Ivey said in a statement.
“Alabama has always had a rich tradition of developing technologies to move our state forward. Now more than ever, we must capitalize on future opportunities by engaging our state’s trailblazers to discuss new ideas and policies that support entrepreneurship, economic development and jobs,” she added.
State Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) will serve as chair of the newly formed commission and Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) will serve as vice chair. The two legislators sponsored the Alabama Incentives Modernization (AIM) Act, which was signed into law last year.
In a statement, Poole said, “I’m inspired by the potential for future growth in our state’s innovation community and look forward to continued momentum and growth in this sector. The Alabama Incentives Modernization Act set into motion a new set of incentives that will help grow, attract and retain startups and technology companies in the state.”
“Forming the Alabama Innovation Commission is a critical step to further create policies that will ensure Alabama’s competitiveness in the technology and startup sector,” he continued.
Reed, who has also been a champion of expanding high-speed broadband service to all Alabamians, lauded the public-private partnerships making the new commission possible.
“Through this commission, we hope to tap into the potential for the state to become a hub for startups and technology-based companies,” Reed remarked. “I look forward to working with the Alabama Innovation Commission to encourage collaboration, public-private partnerships and smart policies that promote access to opportunity and create a pipeline for success in all corners of the state.”
The bipartisan commission will examine policies to increase entrepreneurship, spur innovation and enhance technology accelerators, in addition to addressing the challenges and red tape that startup companies often face. They also will produce and present a comprehensive innovation policy agenda to the Office of the Governor and the Alabama legislature.
Greg Barker, president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, is among the commission’s membership, which is diverse demographically and geographically.
“The Alabama Innovation Commission will provide a tremendous opportunity to partner with leaders from the public and private sectors to grow our great state,” Barker commented. “The focus on innovation to deliver sustainable growth will benefit our entire state through new solutions and more job opportunities. I am excited to play an important role in building Alabama’s future.”
Commission members are as follows:
• Rep. Bill Poole – State Representative (Chair) Representative Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) serves in the Alabama House of Representatives. A native of Marengo County, Poole was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2010 and serves as chairman of the House Ways and Means Education Budget Committee and the Tuscaloosa County Legislation Committee. Poole was the sponsor of the Alabama Incentives Modernization Act, a critical law focused upon making the state more attractive to tech-based companies and entrepreneurs.
• Sen. Greg Reed – State Senator (Vice Chair) Senator Greg Reed (R-Jasper) was first elected to the Alabama State Senate in 2010 and serves as the Senate Majority Leader. Reed is a native of Jasper and is a member of the Rules, Jefferson County Legislation, Confirmations, Transportation and Energy, Healthcare and Local Legislation committees. Reed served as the senate sponsor of the Alabama Incentives Modernization Act.
• Scott Adams – Executive Vice President and Chief Digital & Innovation Officer, Protective Life Corporation Scott Adams leads Protective’s community engagement and Corporate Social Responsibility activities as well as oversees several corporate functions, including the Protective Life Foundation, brand and social engagement and corporate communications. In addition, he works with executive leadership on the development of strategy and innovation in support of our growth initiatives.
• Greg Barker – President, Economic Development Partnership of Alabama In his role at EDPA, Barker supports business recruitment and expansion efforts in Alabama and promotes innovative and emerging startup companies through its Alabama Launchpad program. A veteran in economic development, he has more than 35 years of experience leading recruitment, expansion and innovation efforts in the Southeast. Prior to joining EDPA, served in various leadership roles at Alabama Power in economic development, most recently serving as executive vice president of customer services. Barker serves on the board of directors for numerous business and economic development organizations, including the Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Opportunity Alabama and Innovation Depot.
• Lindsay Rane Carter – Associate General Counsel, Great Southern Wood Preserving Lindsay Rane Carter is an associate general counsel at Great Southern Wood Preserving, makers of YellaWood®. An alumna of Auburn University and Jones School of Law, Carter now represents one of the most profitable businesses to come out of Alabama.
• Rick Clementz – General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, Mercedes-Benz US International, Inc. Trained as an engineer, Clementz manages employment, liability defense, patent defense, all contracts and international law for Mercedes-Benz International in Vance, Alabama. MBUSI exports more than $1 billion in finished product. Located in Tuscaloosa County, MBUSI employees 3,800 Alabamians and is the sole distribution site for the GLE, GLS, GLE Coupe models, sold in 135 countries.
• Rep. Jeremy Gray – State Representative Jeremy Gray has served in the Alabama House of Representatives since 2018 representing District 83. A native of Opelika, Ala., Gray serves on the Commerce and Small Business, Health, Lee County, and Public Safety and Homeland Security committees.
• Miller Girvin – CEO, Alabama Capital Network Miller Girvin is the CEO of the Alabama Capital Network (ACN), a community economic development organization whose mission is to facilitate the growth of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Alabama. Girvin connects Alabama-based companies with valuable resources and connections and facilitates relationships with venture capital to continue upward trajectory.
• Abe Harper – CEO, Harper Technologies Abe Harper is the president and CEO of Harper Technologies, a comprehensive IT support and consulting firm based in Mobile. Harper has been working in the IT industry since he was a teenager and has expanded his business from serving residential clients to now serving small-to medium-sized businesses, nonprofits and local government entities throughout Mobile and Baldwin counties, as well as surrounding counties in neighboring states.
• Shegun Otulana – Founder, TheraNest Shegun Otulana is the Founder of TheraNest and its parent company Therapy Brands, the leading provider of software technology solutions for mental, behavioral, and rehab health providers and organizations. In 2020, he stepped down as CEO and currently serves as vice chairman of the board. Prior to Therapy Brands, Shegun founded Zertis Technologies, a computer software consultancy company. He currently serves as founder/CEO of HVL, an idea and growth studio that owns and operates a family of technology companies.
• Peggy Sammon – CEO, GeneCapture, Inc. Peggy Sammon is an experienced entrepreneur with a background in multiple high-tech start-ups in environmental monitoring, wireless, and biotech. Sammon serves as CEO of GeneCapture, a start-up medical device company at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.
• Sen. Malika Sanders-Fortier – State Senator Sanders-Fortier is a Selma, Ala. native and has served in the Alabama State Senate since 2018. She is a member of the Finance and Taxation Education, Judiciary, Governmental Affairs, Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development, Children Youth and Human Services and Veterans and Military Affairs committees.
• Arndt Siepmann – Deputy Director of Economic Development, City of Auburn Arndt Siepmann is the deputy director of Economic Development at the City of Auburn. In his career, has worked in various economic development corporations, including on a regional and state level. He started the Entrepreneurship and Technology Program for the City of Auburn and leads the Auburn Regional Launchpad competition. Siepmmann also works with the Auburn University Harbert College of Business to support student entrepreneurship efforts.
• Charisse Stokes – Executive Director, TechMGM Charisse Stokes serves as executive director of TechMGM, the collaboration of local, industry, educational and governmental entities working to leverage Montgomery’s technology assets to focus on economic, workforce and community development. Over the past 20 years, Stokes has held numerous IT and programming positions across the Department of Defense, industry and nonprofit organizations.
• Neill Wright – President, Bronze Valley Neill Wright is a co-founder and executive director of Bronze Valley, a non-profit, early stage venture investment platform that supports high growth, innovation and technology-enabled companies created by diverse, underrepresented and underestimated founders. He has more than 25 years of experience as an investor, entrepreneur and operating executive.
The commission’s unique model will also include a world-class, six-member advisory council of innovation leaders with Alabama ties. The commission will be able to leverage the talent of these true national experts who want to see their home state flourish now and in the future.
Alabama Power Company executive vice president Zeke Smith will serve as president of the advisory council. The company has been at the forefront of various, comprehensive efforts to position the state for success in the 21st century economy.
“It is an honor to serve on the Alabama Innovation Commission – alongside diverse leadership from the public and private sector – to help foster growth in technology and entrepreneurship with the ultimate goal of elevating Alabama,” Smith said in a statement to Yellowhammer News.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is another of the six impressive advisory council members; Dr. Rice is the incoming director of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.
“Alabama is home to me, and I am honored to serve on the advisory council for the Alabama Innovation Commission,” Rice stated. “While our country currently faces many challenges, this is an opportunity to create forward-thinking ideas and policies that will inspire the next generation of innovators. By focusing on knowledge-based skills and education, technology growth and entrepreneurship, we unlock the potential for future success across the state.
Advisory council members are as follows:
• Zeke Smith – Executive Vice President, Alabama Power (President) With more than 35 years of service with the utility, Zeke Smith is responsible for the company’s Environmental Affairs, Charitable Giving, Corporate Affairs, Governmental Relations, Public Relations and Regulatory Affairs functions. Smith also serves as chairman of the Alabama Power Foundation’s Board of Directors, in addition to serving on the boards of numerous external organizations.
• Greg Canfield – Secretary, Alabama Department of Commerce As secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, Greg Canfield works closely with the governor’s office to organize economic development efforts that shape sustainable growth strategies and drive dynamic job creation across the state. His primary responsibilities include increasing business recruitment and expansion activity, expanding export opportunities for Alabama companies, improving workforce development initiatives, enhancing small business growth, and providing avenues for job creation in the film and entertainment industry.
• Chris Moody – Partner, Foundry Group Chris Moody is a partner at the venture capital firm, Foundry Group, focusing on investments in technology companies. He has worked closely with some of Silicon Valley’s fastest growing technology companies to help them formulate and execute their platform strategies. Prior to joining Foundry Group, Moody was GM & VP of Twitter’s Data & Enterprise Solutions business.
• Dr. Condoleezza Rice – Incoming Director of the Hoover Institution Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has vast experience in the technology sector and is the incoming Tad and Dianne Taube director of the Hoover Institution. The Hoover Institution at Stanford University is the nation’s preeminent research center dedicated to generating policy ideas that promote economic prosperity, national security and democratic governance. Dr. Rice is also a founding partner at Rice|Hadley|Gates, LLC, an international strategic consulting firm based in Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C.
• Bill Smith – Founder, Smith Ventures Bill Smith is CEO of Smith Ventures and the founder and former CEO of Shipt, a membership-based marketplace, enabling same-day delivery of fresh foods and household essentials across the U.S. Shipt was acquired by Target in December 2017 for $550 million and operates as an independent subsidiary serving multiple retailers. He recently launched Landing, a startup offering flexible leasing memberships for long-term living.
• Jared Weinstein – General Partner, Thrive Capital Jared Weinstein is a native of Birmingham and is currently a partner at Thrive Capital, a New Yorkbased venture capital firm. In 2013, he founded the Overton Project, a social investment platform that has focused on scaling national best-in-class impact organizations to Birmingham – specifically Breakthrough Collaborative, Venture for America, and Microsoft’s TEALS computer science program. Prior to Thrive, Weinstein spent seven years at the White House in various roles.
The Alabama Innovation Commission will first convene virtually on August 13.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn