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Innovate Alabama board hears of continued progress, plans for future

The mission of Innovate Alabama is to build a more resilient, inclusive, and robust economy through retention, attraction, and development of talent and resources in entrepreneurship, technology and innovation.

On Feb. 28, the Innovate Alabama board of directors met at Troy University to hear a report on the organization’s activities and approve plans for 2023 and beyond.

“Today was very productive,” board member Britney Summerville said after the meeting. The founder of the tech-centric initiative Birmingham Bound, Summerville credited the leadership of Cynthia Crutchfield, who joined Innovate Alabama as CEO in December, for quickly moving the organization forward in several key areas that position it for future success.

“It has been only three months, but Cynthia has really gotten up to speed, rolled up her sleeves, and accomplished some things. That was quite evident in today’s agenda items and the actions the board took to continue the progress Innovate Alabama was created to lead,” Summerville said.

Innovate Alabama was established in 2020 by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, with support from key public and private entities. It is Alabama’s first statewide public-private partnership for implementing programs and policies that enhance the state’s ecosystem for innovation.

The Feb. 28 meeting highlighted key efforts and outlined a budget of just under $30 million in programmatic support for the coming year. The goals of fostering entrepreneurship, building a talented and diverse workforce, and helping to create economic development opportunities are focused on five key areas:

  • Entrepreneurship and access to capital. Identifying and supporting opportunities to encourage entrepreneurial development. In conjunction with various state and federal programs, Innovate Alabama loaned more than $4.5 million to 30 small businesses in 2022, with additional funding rounds slated for March and May of 2023. Meanwhile, the organization is working to substantially expand the pool of private capital available to businesses at all stages of startup and growth.
  • Talent attraction and retention. Recruiting and retaining a workforce with the skills, knowledge, and credentials to create and sustain innovation ecosystems in communities throughout Alabama, including optimizing the talent available through Alabama’s 14 historically Black colleges and universities. Efforts also include newly implemented programs such as FUEL Alabama — managed by the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA) — and Innovation Scholars, both aimed at increasing knowledge, skills, and best business practices for budding entrepreneurs. In the upcoming 2023 session of the Alabama Legislature, Innovate Alabama will support amending residency requirements that affect access to certain loans and other state-supported funding.
  • Increasing commercialization. Fostering an environment that increases research and development activities and commercialization efforts of Alabama founders and companies. These efforts support the growth and diversification of the state’s economy as a whole, identifying innovation clusters throughout Alabama and ensuring that the state is moving cohesively toward a more innovative economy.
  • Bridging digital and economic divides. Leveraging initiatives and resources to support growth throughout Alabama. That includes providing workshops and other opportunities for smaller communities to make connections and plug into networks that help accelerate economic growth tied to innovation. Innovate Alabama will ask state lawmakers to create a special designation for “Innovative Cities” leading the way in providing resources, connections, and collaboration that promote innovation-related growth. Also on the agenda is creating incentives for communities to participate.
  • Cultivating a knowledge economy. Developing a skilled workforce prepared to meet the demands of the future. Working with schools and training programs at all levels — including upskilling and reskilling — will help ensure the presence in Alabama of a talent base that aids recruitment of key business and industrial growth sectors for decades to come.

“Innovate Alabama is creating true impact for innovators across the state,” Crutchfield said. “I’m confident that we have a clear roadmap to guide us in accomplishing our goals and objectives this year and beyond.”

The meeting also devoted time to discussing outdoor recreation as a key component of development efforts. The potential for attracting entrepreneurs and various goods and services that support the outdoor recreation sector was a notable finding in a recent roundtable conducted by Innovate Alabama and will be a key focus area in coming years.

Innovation Alabama is also planning to launch a mapping application. The app will make information on all innovation-related assets — company locations, organizations, funders, educational institutions, training providers, and other resources — available at a single source. Compiling information for the app will also help Innovate Alabama identify current resource gaps, noted Summerville, who as a startup consultant and a former vice president for entrepreneurial success story Shipt has more than 20 years of experience with tech companies.

Innovate Alabama board members at Feb. 28 meeting. (l to r) Alabama Rep. Anthony Daniels, Britney Summerville, University of South Alabama Vice President Michael Chambers

“I’ve spent most of my career seeing tech startups grow into large companies,” Summerville said. “Coming from that background, I’m excited for what Innovate Alabama can mean for communities of all sizes. It’s about opportunities to employ people, develop their talents, and grow amazing companies. That builds strong communities and a stronger state for the future.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

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