A Birmingham hospitality startup and an Auburn medical company came away the winners Thursday in the Launchpad Alabama Cycle 2.
CROUX and VivoSphere were among 11 companies in the finale at Auburn. There were two categories: the early seed stage competition and the concept stage competition.
CROUX, created by Jennifer Ryan and four others, won the early seed stage competition and its $50,000 cash prize. The Birmingham company is a former Alabama Launchpad concept stage winner. CROUX connects high-quality talent with flexible work opportunities in the hospitality industry.
“Hospitality was born here in the south,” Ryan said. “We want Alabama to be a place where it’s revitalized. Alabama Launchpad has allowed us to build CROUX to, in-turn, rebuild the hospitality industry. We’ve filled nearly 6,000 shifts in the last 12 months and put about three quarters of a million dollars into the hands of hourly workers.
“Tourism and hospitality drive a big chunk of our economy, and we have to get it right. We bring the war stories and the understanding; it’s personal for us to get this right.”
The winner of the concept stage category was VivoSphere, co-founded by Dr. Yuan Tian and Dr. Elizabeth Lipke of Auburn University. The company creates more human-like tissue for more human-like drug response, reducing false positive drug candidates at early stages to avoid costly failure during clinical stage. VivoSphere took home $25,000 in non-dilutive funding.
“It took a lot of hard work to get to this day,” Tian said. “It’s certainly an encouragement for us to go forward, especially in the state we call home.”
The three judges for the seed stage contest were: Ellen Holladay, Independent Board Director and former CIO for Motion Industries; Richard Nelli, Executive in Residence at ATDC; and Isaac M. Cooper, CDAA, CEO/Managing Partner at IMC Financial Consulting, LLC.
“Judging the seed stage competition for Alabama Launchpad has been an incredible experience,” said Holladay. “The quality of presentations reflected the thoughtful approach that each founder has taken to develop a marketable solution to address a real problem, while providing a positive impact to our local economy.”
The judges of the concept stage companies were: Dr. C. Vivek Lal, founder, Executive Chairman & CSO of Alveolus Bio; John Walker, co-founder of The Osprey Group; and Avanti Paul, former COO of Southern Research.
“The pitch competition unveiled an extraordinary reservoir of talent, offering a glimpse into the immensely promising entrepreneurial future of Alabama,” Lal said.
Alabama Launchpad has now funded 115 Alabama startups since its inception in 2006. Over the past 16 years it has awarded more than $6 million in non-dilutive funding to winning companies.
Austen Shipley is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News.