3 years ago

Funding wave boosts Birmingham tech startup scene


Entrepreneurs and innovators are getting noticed for their work in Birmingham, attracting millions of dollars in new investment for their technology-based startups.

In recent months, there have been at least three major funding announcements involving local firms:

    • On-demand grocery delivery service Shipt announced this summer that it had secured $20.1 million in Series A funding.

    Fleetio raised $750,000 from private investors, the fleet management software firm said earlier this month.

    Swell Fundraising, a software company that serves nonprofits, in August announced $500,000 in angel investor funding.

Meanwhile, Daxko, a veteran of Birmingham’s tech scene, this month announced that San Francisco-based private equity firm GI Partners has acquired a majority stake in the company that will further accelerate its growth. Daxko provides software for health and wellness organizations.

Kathleen Hamrick is director of the UAB iLab at Innovation Depot.
Kathleen Hamrick is director of the UAB iLab at Innovation Depot.

All the funding activity shows Birmingham has the right ingredients to fuel a thriving technology landscape and more growth is on the horizon, said Kathleen Hamrick, director of the UAB iLab at the downtown business incubator Innovation Depot.

“The components people need to live, work, play and collaborate are here, in Birmingham,” she said. “That said, it’s exciting, but not all that surprising that we’re now seeing increased support for startups — evidenced by activity such as that of the recent funding rounds seen with Fleetio, Swell Fundraising, Shipt and Daxko.”


In addition, new programs designed to accelerate development of idea stage companies will magnify support in the region, Hamrick said.

One of those is Innovation Depot’s recently-launched Velocity Accelerator, which is supported by an economic development venture philanthropy fund, made possible by local community and corporate sponsors.

“In January 2017, the first cohort of Velocity Accelerator companies, up to 10 high-growth technology companies, will be accepted into the program,” Hamrick said. “Through the Velocity Accelerator, idea-stage companies in the South have the seed support they need to develop and scale.

“Velocity Accelerator companies will receive $50,000 in seed investment, over $800,000 in perks, heavy industry-specific mentorship, and access to an incredible space to build their companies alongside other top tech entrepreneurs over a twelve-week period.”

The $750,000 announcement from Fleetio is the firm’s first round of outside funding, raised from local, private investors who have been successful in their own right, said founder and CEO Tony Summerville. They’re also people he has known for some time who will serve as trusted advisers.

“We’ve grown the company this far without any outside investors, and we wanted to be picky on how we added more fuel to the fire,” he said.


Tony Summerville is founder and CEO of Birmingham startup Fleetio.
Tony Summerville is founder and CEO of Birmingham startup Fleetio.

Fleetio, which is based in Innovation Depot and has 16 employees, provides software that helps companies, organizations, nonprofits and governments manage their fleets and fleet-related assets. The company has customers in 40 different countries; about 60 percent are in the U.S.

These customers have various kinds of fleets, including cars, construction equipment and boats, and they use the software to manage things like maintenance, fuel costs, license renewals and driver qualifications.

The majority of the new funding will be used to hire more people, Summerville said.

“Like most businesses, we’ve had to grow to be able to afford to hire the next person,” he said. “We need more people to accelerate growth, and getting this additional capital allows us to hire in advance the next four or five people we need for key positions. We can get them on the team now, and they can help us do more to grow faster.”

The funding also will be spent on marketing to help generate new business leads.

Summerville said he is excited to be part of Birmingham’s growing tech startup community.

“There is a small but very strong tech startup community here, with talented people and great companies, a good mix of folks who are helping each other out,” he said. “Being in Birmingham now is exciting. It’s a great place to live and raise a family, but it’s also exciting from a downtown and city perspective. It’s fun to be a part of it.”


Shipt said its new funding also will be used to fuel more growth. Since its 2014 launch, the firm has grown to deliver groceries in 27 cities across 10 states with more than 5,000 shoppers who place orders via an app.

“Over the past year, we have laid a strong foundation for our business and scaled our service across the country. This funding is the catalyst that will propel us to the next level,” Shipt founder and CEO Bill Smith said.

“We are ready to put this funding to work strategically, so we can cultivate new partnerships and continue building the best way to buy groceries.”

Participants in the $20.1 million funding round included Greycroft Partners, Harbert Growth Partners and e.ventures.


Hamrick cites research from the Brookings Institution that shows new urban models called “Innovation Districts” are emerging.

According to Brookings’ Bruce Katz, these are geographic areas where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators and accelerators. They offer a blend of housing, retail and office space, they’re walkable and people interacting within them are connected by a strong technology infrastructure.

In these places, “open innovation” thrives, and entrepreneurs share resources, meet, mingle and collaborate.

Innovation Depot stands at the center of Birmingham’s ‘Innovation District.’ (Image: Jerry Underwood)
Innovation Depot stands at the center of Birmingham’s ‘Innovation District.’ (Image: Jerry Underwood)

“Birmingham has the ingredients which Katz has identified as essential for an innovation and entrepreneurship hub,” Hamrick said. “Its Entrepreneurial District was recently re-named the Innovation District. Innovation Depot is the hub of this District, and is home to over 100 member companies, Depot/U, the UAB iLab and the Velocity Accelerator.

“Beside Innovation Depot, the Pizitz building is being renovated and will be home to a mixture of retail, housing, a food hall, and REV Birmingham is working to bring a food incubator to the space. The bottom floor will be home to the Sidewalk Film Festival.”

Fleetio’s Summerville said one of the biggest advantages to being in Birmingham is entrepreneurs can be more connected to the city and see their impact on it.

“It’s a really exciting time to be in Birmingham. There’s a strong energy here, and the people here are great,” he said. “The biggest thing we’ve got ahead of us is continuing to recruit and retain technologists in Birmingham, and I think the momentum is swinging in the right direction on that one.”

60 mins ago

State Rep. Easterbrook: No significant highway improvements from ALDOT in rural SW Alabama since 1983 — Calls for U.S. Hwy 45 widening

If you ever make a trip to Millry, Silas, Coffeeville, Grove Hill, or any of the other small towns that dot the map in rural southwestern Alabama, you’ll discover places that have gone largely unchanged for the past several decades.

While some may think that is a good thing, it is, in part, a product of being isolated from the rest of Alabama. That has come at the cost of a decline in various quality of life factors, including health care and education.

Those areas to the north of Mobile include Choctaw, Washington and Clarke Counties, which are cut off from the rest of the state except for three U.S. Highways, only one of which has seen a significant improvement in the last 50 years. U.S. Highways 43, 45 and 84 serve as the main thoroughfares for that region of the state and have all existed in some form or another since the 1930s.

However, State Rep. Brett Easterbrook (R-Fruitdale) contends if rural economic development is a priority for Alabama’s policymakers, improvements must be made. During an appearance on Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” Easterbrook made that case and noted the last significant highway improvement for this region came in the 1980s under then-House Speaker Joe McCorquodale (D-Jackson) with the widening of U.S. Highway 43 from Mobile County to Thomasville in northern Clarke County.


“My district, as you said, covers Choctaw, Clarke and Washington County,” Easterbrook said. “The only real state improvement — the last real state improvement in that district was when Joe McCorquodale was Speaker of the House in 1983. They four-laned Highway 43 — four-laned to Thomasville. It stopped there. So you really only have access headed south.”

Easterbrook explained the struggles of recruiting industry to his House district, which includes all of Washington County, most of Choctaw and Clarke Counties, and a portion of Marengo County, all adjacent to the Alabama-Mississippi state line.

“Industry follows infrastructure,” he added. “They like transportation. It’s a huge part of operating expenses. It’s killing rural Alabama — specifically Southwest Alabama. If you look at the map, there is no four-lane access from the Washington County — from I-65 in Mobile, all the way to I-20.”

According to Easterbrook, U.S. Highway 45 would be an ideal improvement for his district. U.S Highway 45 is four-laned from the Alabama-Mississippi state line north to Meridian, Miss., where it connects to Interstates 20 and 59, and then continues north as a major four-lane north-south thoroughfare in Mississippi.

“Highway 45 is one of those I’m highly interested in,” he said. “It’s the deadliest highway in the state. It’s four-laned from Chicago, Illinois all the way to the Washington County line. In 1992, when they passed the gas bill then, it was written into the law that Highway 45 would be four-laned. The next session, they opened it up and took it out. Highway 45, we had five deaths in December alone. Most of the accidents on Highway 45 were head-on collisions. It is a deadly highway … I think it is because of the highway conditions. If you bottleneck everything down from the four-lane coming all the way in, then the highway is hills and hollows and bad curves everywhere.”

Alabama Department of Transportation highway map, 2019

Easterbrook lamented the lack of encouragement he has received from the Ivey administration, noting that he had met with both Alabama Department of Transportation director John Cooper and Gov. Kay Ivey personally, but was informed that despite the public safety elements, those projects did not meet the criteria to be a priority.

“I have met with both,” he explained. “I have not seen the encouragement yet. I met with Mr. Cooper, they talk about a formula they use to choose which road comes first, and obviously, they rank congestion number one. Safety is not a high priority nor rural economic development. If it was, you’d see the money coming out to go to those sites. We don’t see it.”

Choctaw County is one of 12 counties in Alabama without four-lane highway access to the Interstate highway system. Clarke and the far eastern portion of Washington are served by U.S. Highway 43. Easterbrook noted that beyond U.S. Highway 43, West Alabama was grossly underserved.

“Just get a state map and look at it — there is not any four-lane access all the way from I-65 to I-20 in Tuscaloosa,” Easterbrook said. “It’s hard for me to imagine how one-fourth of the state does not have four-lane access. To me, it has to come down to votes. In that area, the population is not that high. So, it gets overlooked. And if we are really serious about rural economic development, then we have to have the four-lane access.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

3 hours ago

Jalen Hurts missed grandfather’s funeral for Senior Bowl practice — ‘Incredibly difficult’

Publicly this past week, it appeared that former University of Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts was enjoying his return to the state as he prepared for Saturday’s Senior Bowl game.

However, under the surface, Hurts has also been hurting.

According to a report by NFL.com, Hurts’ maternal grandfather passed away on January 13. His funeral was Wednesday during a daily Senior Bowl Week practice.

Since Hurts had committed to play in the Senior Bowl before the funeral was scheduled and the week’s practices are integral to NFL scouts evaluating Hurts ahead of April’s NFL Draft, he missed the funeral to stay in Mobile this week.


“He’s a team player,” Hurts’ mother told NFL.com on Friday. “Even though that was family, he’s worked all his life to get here and this is a critical time. He’s very, very family-oriented.”

Nicole Lynn, Hurts’ agent, reportedly described the two as very close.

“Jalen had an incredibly difficult decision to make after finding out his grandpa’s funeral would be during the Wednesday practice of the Senior Bowl,” Lynn said in a statement to NFL.com. “With a heavy heart, Jalen ultimately felt his grandpa would want him to keep his commitment and play in the game — so Jalen decided to play. I would be lying if I said this week has not been extremely difficult for Jalen considering the circumstance, but I admire his strength through it all.”

Incredibly, playing through the pain, Hurts shown bright during the Senior Bowl Week practices.

Teammates voted Hurts as the South Team Offensive Practice Player of the Week among the quarterbacks over the likes of Oregon’s Justin Herbert.

Hurts’ mother, citing his maturity and compassion, said “it’s hard for me to put into words” how proud she is of the former Tide star. Her comments came after the Senior Bowl Experience’s Meet the Players event, in which Hurts drew a huge crowd of fans trying to get his autograph and visit with the player.

“I’m in awe of the lives that he impacts, but just his character alone,” Hurts’ mother added. “It almost doesn’t feel real to me. Even today, all these people in line to see him with their Alabama gear on.”

In Saturday’s Senior Bowl game, Hurts went 6/13 passing for 58 yards and one touchdown. He also threw an interception.

The 2020 NFL Draft will be held April 23-25 in Las Vegas, NV.

RELATED: Hurts on Saban: ‘He’s been nothing but supportive’ — ‘It was great to see him’

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

Auburn basketball to host ESPN’s College GameDay for first time

The basketball version of ESPN’s College GameDay is coming to Auburn for the first time ever on Saturday, February 1.

The national show is set to broadcast prior to Auburn’s upcoming top-20 matchup with Kentucky.

Host Rece Davis (an alumnus of the University of Alabama) and analysts Jay Bilas, LaPhonso Ellis and Seth Greenberg will be live from Auburn Arena, beginning at 10:00 a.m. CT on ESPN.

According to the university, this marks the first time Auburn has been featured on the show as a host or visiting team. Head coach Bruce Pearl has made four previous appearances on the show when he was coaching at Tennessee.


The Tigers have split the last six meetings with the Wildcats, including winning two of the last three inside Auburn Arena.

Additionally, Countdown to GameDay Live will serve as the pregame show to the pregame show. Each week, ESPN’s Rece Davis, Jason Fitz and Christine Williamson will join a wide array of ESPN college basketball analysts and reporters. The show will premiere this Saturday across Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and the ESPN App.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

5 hours ago

Interview Day brings Alabama high schoolers together with employers

More than 250 high school seniors met with representatives from almost 30 companies at the Bessemer Civic Center for an Interview Day event designed to link those entering the workforce with those looking to hire.

The students were from 14 high schools across a six-county area (Blount, Chilton, Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Walker).

Interview Day was the culmination of preparations the students made during the first semester of their senior year of school. From developing soft skills to working on resumes, the students came into the event prepared to put their best foot forward.


Interview Day pairs Alabama high school seniors with companies from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The event was presented by Central Six AlabamaWorks and the Onin Group in cooperation with the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce58 Inc. and Central Alabama Partnership for Training and Employment.

Companies were from a wide range of industries, including automotive, distribution, construction and skills trades, health care and hospitality.

“The reason why this program is so successful is that we’re addressing a gap,” said Tiffany Bishop, regional workforce development manager with Onin Group. “We have students who are going into unemployment and then we have employers that are looking for good talent, and all we’re doing is trying to bridge the gap to help them find each other.”

The effort comes as Alabama announces it ended 2019 with record low unemployment of 2.7% in December.

“I’m so proud to be able to close out this decade with record-breaking economic measures,” said Gov. Kay Ivey. “All year long, we’ve had good news to share, and to be able to end the year, and the decade, on such a positive note is wonderful. Earlier this year, Alabama had never reported an unemployment rate lower than 3%, and now we’ve had one for the last three months! Nearly 84,000 more people have jobs now than last year. I’m excited about the path that Alabama is on, and the positive impacts this news has on our people.”

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

7 hours ago

Rep. Mike Rogers: Donald Trump is the ‘most pro-life president ever’

Congressman Mike Rogers (R-AL) strongly commended President Donald Trump and the thousands of pro-life Americans who gathered in Washington, D.C., on Friday for the March for Life event.

“This week marked the 47th anniversary of the disastrous Roe v. Wade decision that cast a dark pall over the soul of our nation,” Rogers said in a statement. “Every person who has gathered in Washington for the march today is joined in spirit with millions of Americans across our land who staunchly believe in the sanctity of life.”


Rogers then went on to discuss President Trump and his strong support for a pro-life agenda:

I am especially proud President Trump will address the march and be the first sitting president to do so. President Trump is the most pro-life president ever to sit in the White House.  Last year, 58 pro-life laws were passed across the nation. It just shows how important and precious the lives of these unborn babies are to so many. Momentum is on our side. We must keep fighting

“As a Christian and the father of three beautiful children, I will always stand up for the rights of these precious lives and be a voice for them,” Rogers concluded.

The 47th annual March for Life was attended by thousands who celebrate the sanctity of life from conception to death and advocate for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court that legalized abortion and has resulted in an estimated 60 million deaths of unborn children.

Kyle Morris also contributes daily to Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter