1 year ago

Venture for America brings its ‘matchmaking’ event back to Birmingham

For the second time in three years, Birmingham played host to the regional job fair that matches Venture for America (VFA) fellows with startup and innovation companies.

Innovation Depot was the site of the event April 5, which has more in common with speed dating than a job fair.

“We have 30 different Venture for America fellows from our incoming class of 2019 here today,” VFA CEO Amy Nelson said. “They’ve come from all across the country – Stanford, Princeton – but also Tuscaloosa, and they’re interviewing with companies who want to bring them on to help grow their teams.”

Companies looking to hire VFA fellows had only a few minutes to conduct interviews.

“Today they are ‘speed-dating,’” Nelson said. “We’ve got 20-minute interviews, eight interview slots, so they are going around trying to put their best foot forward.”

VFA fellows have been putting their best feet forward in Birmingham since the program brought its fellowships to the Magic City four years ago. Innovation Depot hosted the job fair in 2017 and has become a favorite spot on the New York-based organization’s rotation.

“We came here to Birmingham about four years ago and since then have more than doubled the size of the classes that we’ve brought to Birmingham,” said Abby Guerin, Birmingham director of VFA.

Although the talented fellows come for the fellowship, many decide to stay and continue to work in cities like Birmingham.

“We’ve brought about 50 fellows to Birmingham since 2015 and we’re really excited that some of those fellows in their very first class are still here building the companies where they started,” Nelson said. “Michael Harrison joined Fleetio – he’s still there. Landon Acriche joined the Innovation Team at Alabama Power – still there. Maggie Belshé is still working at Pack Health but also building her own business on the side that’s going through the Velocity Accelerator.”

Nelson said that’s how the fellowship program was meant to work.

“It’s exactly what we want to see,” she said. “We want to see fellows digging deeper into the cities – building careers here, building lives here, buying houses here, getting married here and then starting businesses and becoming those engines for job creation and growth and economic resiliency that we so deeply need across our country.”

Two of the VFA fellows from last year’s class are digging in to Birmingham’s innovation economy.

Reagan Cline is a product analyst at Fleetio and Daisy Homolka is a business analyst at the Alabama Capital Network. Both are 2018 VFA Fellows.

Cline is a Birmingham native and saw VFA as an opportunity to return to her hometown and get involved in the startup community.

“It was a great opportunity to connect with people who are just excited about what they’re doing,” she said.

Homolka found VFA and Birmingham by Googling cool places for a young person to work. She moved to Birmingham from New York for her VFA fellowship.

“It provided me that opportunity to move to a great city like Birmingham that I maybe wouldn’t have thought of otherwise and the opportunity to connect with some really awesome organizations and startups here,” Homolka said. “I was very sold on Birmingham after just two days here.”

Cline and Homolka said their fellowships with their companies give them a front-row seat to the growing innovation economy in Birmingham.

“I work at Fleetio and it’s been rapidly growing since I started about eight months ago,” Cline said. “We’re just one of the many companies in the city that’s just growing and rapidly expanding now.”

Homolka’s job puts her in direct contact with entrepreneurs.

“We work with startups and helping them with their investments, mentorships, customer acquisition, so I really get to see the whole range of the companies we have available,” she said. “We meet a new startup at least once a week, sometimes two or three a week. You might think, ‘How can there be that many new companies?’ but there are. It’s awesome to really see it growing.”

That energy is what brought Guerin back to Birmingham after being away for several years.

“Fellows are incredibly surprised and excited by the amount of innovation that we have here and the creative folks that we have here,” she said. “The opportunities are impressive.”

Nelson said she has certainly noticed that something special is happening in Birmingham’s innovation economy.

“One of the things that I’m always heartened by in Birmingham is that everyone here is rowing together – whether it’s the corporate, civic and government, nonprofit community and the for-profit business startup, large and small – you see that everyone is super-invested in the same set of priorities,” she said. “They want capital, they want talent, they want innovation and they want it to be home-grown right here in Birmingham because they know that in order to be competitive and resilient in the future, there has to be investment now.”

Guerin noted the buy-in is across the spectrum in Birmingham.

“I think for Birmingham we have so many companies like Alabama Power, Protective LifeRegions that are cornerstones and they have all come to the table and said, ‘We want to help grow this innovation economy here,’” Guerin said.

Charlotte, St. Louis, New Orleans and Birmingham companies were among those participating in the VFA job fair at Innovation Depot. The VFA gets more than 2,500 applications for the 200 fellowships each year.

Devon Laney, CEO of Innovation Depot, said it’s a feather in Birmingham’s cap to host the VFA event.

“Venture for America is such an important opportunity for Birmingham, for our community to bring in great, young talent – to have them come in and be immersed in our community of startups, work with our startups and some of our best companies,” he said. “It provides a real talent pipeline. I’m thrilled Birmingham can play host and that Innovation Depot can be a part of it.”

To have some of the best and brightest young people experience the best of Birmingham’s business community can open some eyes, Laney said.

“It’s a fantastic image enhancement for the city,” Laney said. “What it does is it really changes a lot of people’s perceptions about the city when they come to Innovation Depot, they come to see all of the young startups, the energy, the vibrancy.”

Like Nelson, Laney said he knows something special is happening in Birmingham and it’s helping lure young talent here.

“What we’ve realized is if we can change that perception to get those young people here, they will stay.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 hours ago

State Sen. Ward on Confederate monument controversy: ‘You can’t let mob rule dictate any of the policy, one way or another’

Given the subject matter related to the nationwide protests and demonstrations underway in the name George Floyd’s death while in the custody of Minneapolis police, it was inevitable that the controversial subject of Confederate monuments in Alabama was to be raised.

In 2017, the Alabama legislature passed a law requiring local governments to obtain permission from the state before moving or renaming buildings and monuments older than 40 years.

During an interview with Huntsville radio’s WVNN, State Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) weighed in on the law, which is under scrutiny as the city of Birmingham has acted in violation of the law and removed a monument dedicated to Confederate soldiers and sailors that was on display in the city’s Linn Park.


“It’s a civil penalty, not a criminal — so in other words, you can’t hold a city liable for a crime but you can penalize them for civil means,” he said. “My interpretation of the law sponsored by Sen. Gerald Allen, and was voted on pretty overwhelmingly by the House and the Senate, is that it is a $25,000 fine to remove historical monument — and I think there is a period of time back it had to be constructed. Anything before 1968 or 1970 … it is considered a historical monument. Therefore, in order to remove it, you had to appeal to this executive commission set up and appointed by the governor.”

“Birmingham can pay the $25,000 fine,” Ward explained. “They have the means to do that. I think a lot of your smaller cities that $25,000 penalty would be considered a pretty hefty fine for some of these local city budgets, smaller towns.”

Ward said there has been a movement in the past to strengthen the law by enhancing the penalties for violations, but maintains the law is still a civil statute and not a criminal statute.

“You can’t make it criminal, but you could look at civil penalties if you want to enhance the civil penalties,” he added. “I believe Senator Allen has said he wants to look at increasing somehow some of those penalties. If you’re going to change the law in order to strengthen it — that’s how you would do it. At the same time, before we get too bogged down in the whole debate on monuments, we also got a lot of other issues we need to deal with, as well.”

The Shelby County Republican lawmaker warned against the terms of the law being altered as a reaction to “mob rule,” which could threaten the system of government if allowed.

“You can’t let mob rule dictate any of the policy, one way or another,” Ward said. “You’re for or against the monuments, in my opinion. If you start doing that, you’re throwing your whole republican form of government out the window. I mean, the idea is we have laws. Change the laws if you don’t like the monument law, change the law. Make it stronger or make it weaker. But if we start saying, ‘Well, we got some people that are starting to riot. We’ve got to ignore or change some of the laws on the books to adapt to that. I think that’s a very dangerous precedent.”

What could happen going forward with the Alabama Monuments Preservation Act is uncertain, according to Ward. However, he said he expects there to be a continued debate between now and the lead-up to the 2021 legislative session.

“I don’t know there’s an appetite to do that,” he said. “There’s a couple on the Democratic side of the aisle who want it reversed. I know Senator Allen on the Republican side has spoken about increasing, making it stronger. We can’t go back into regular session until February 2021. I’m sure there will be a lot of debate between now and then as to what happens with this particular law.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly and host of Huntsville’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN.

3 hours ago

Attorney general backs Wednesday tear gas usage by law enforcement officers in Huntsville — ‘Crowd was found to have backpacks full of weapons’

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Thursday afternoon released a statement supporting the dispersal of a crowd in Huntsville the day previous by law enforcement officers.

Officers on Wednesday evening used tear gas and pepper spray to break up the crowd after they reportedly refused to comply with orders to disperse. At least one police officer was injured by the so-called protesters, and a reporter on the scene said objects were thrown at law enforcement vehicles. One local business was damaged.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle on Thursday morning released a statement about what occurred, noting that “people who were not part of our community” were responsible for the unpermitted gathering that led to the clash.

A release from the attorney general’s office said Marshall supports “law enforcement in their efforts to protect the public from violence spurred by anarchists attempting to hijack peaceful protests.”


Given the infrequency with which tear gas is employed, the attorney general’s office explained that Marshall believed it was his duty to examine what necessitated its use in Huntsville.

A review of the incident by Marshall resulted in him backing the law enforcement officers’ usage of the non-lethal tool.

“The appropriateness of police actions must always be judged by the circumstances in which they occur,” Marshall said in a statement. “After talking with the Huntsville Police Department and the Madison County Sheriff’s Department, I am well-satisfied that the actions taken by police were reasonable under the circumstances.”

“After a peaceful protest, hosted by the local chapter of the NAACP—which abided by the law and should not be blamed for what came after—hundreds of hostile demonstrators ignored multiple requests by law enforcement to leave the area. Rather than leaving, those demonstrators put on gear and readied for battle,” he outlined. “After an hour and a half of warnings and with daylight dwindling, law enforcement dispersed the crowd with the least amount of force possible and using no lethal weapons. This, despite the fact that the crowd was found to have backpacks full of weapons and spray paint, and which attacked officers with rocks and bottles full of frozen water.”

The attorney general’s office stressed that they have zero tolerance for aggressive acts against law enforcement.

“Alabama is fortunate in that most protests taking place in recent days have been conducted peacefully,” Marshall concluded. “At the same time, over the last 10 days—and even as we speak—law enforcement intelligence from around our state indicates the intent of some to infiltrate protests with violence, property damage, and targeting of law enforcement officers.”

RELATED: Huntsville mayor: ‘People who were not part of our community’ led Wednesday protest which resulted in tear gas usage, police officer injury

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

3 hours ago

Jerry Carl endorsed by Coastal Alabama business, civic leaders

Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl on Thursday announced that he has been endorsed for Congress by Coastal 150, a group of community leaders who work to further the mission of the Coastal Alabama Partnership to advance the interests of coastal Alabama.

In a statement, Coastal 150 executive director Wiley Blankenship said, “Our members believe that Jerry Carl is the right person to serve our region in Congress. He understands our unique needs and supports our shared vision for coastal Alabama.”

“We expect that Mr. Carl will represent coastal Alabama well and we look forward to working with him in Washington,” Blankenship continued. “The experience, character and leadership that he brings to the office is what we believe is necessary to solve the challenges facing our region and our nation.”


Carl is running against former State Sen. Bill Hightower (R-Mobile) in the Republican primary runoff to be held on July 14. They are vying for the congressional seat currently occupied by U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (AL-01).

“Coastal 150 represents many of the job creators in south Alabama, and I am thankful for their endorsement,” Carl commented. “I have worked closely with these business leaders to foster economic growth and a job-friendly environment. They understand the unique needs we have here in south Alabama and know what it will take to get our economy back on track. As a small businessman who has created jobs right here in our community, I am honored to have their support and will fight tirelessly alongside Trump to get our economy open again.”

This comes shortly after Carl received the endorsement of the Alabama Farmers Federation’s political arm, FarmPAC. He has also been endorsed by the third and fourth place finishers in the AL-01 GOP primary, State Rep. Chris Pringle (R-Mobile) and businessman Wes Lambert.

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

4 hours ago

Protests don’t have to end in tear gas

The latest contentious protest in Alabama took place in Huntsville Wednesday night as the city made it clear that it would not be tolerating lawlessness and open-hostility in the street.

How long can they hold this position? Time will tell.

Before we get started, let’s take a second to remember all of this is predicated on the unanimous agreement among citizens and politicians alike that an event that happened over 2,000+ miles away was horrendous, illegal and needs to be aggressively punished to the full extent of the law.

No one in Huntsville has expressed a different opinion or begrudged anyone for being outraged.


This was not a clear lie, much like the Michael Brown situation in Ferguson. This was clearly a situation where a man was killed at the hands of the police while in restraints and unarmed. Period.

But this is still a society where free speech is not only important — it is necessary.

That means that the government will not infringe on your right to assemble and voice your opinion. The value of that opinion is irrelevant. Klan members and Nazis have utilized it because unpopular speech is what needs to be protected.

Stating that George Floyd should be alive is not controversial in any way, and no one has pretended otherwise.

As protests across the country indicate, a multi-racial cross-section of America has taken to the streets to share this opinion.

But, and this is important, I can’t walk into a judge’s chambers or scream my opinion while running down the freeway expressing it as cars try to avoid me.

In Huntsville and everywhere else, you need a permit to close city streets, and the city appears to have even been lax on that in this matter.

Trust me, I know something about this:

Obviously, you can just walk in the road and force the authorities to stop you. Maybe they will give you “space to destroy,” maybe they won’t.

Much like Monday’s protest, Wednesday’s protest ended with most protesters going home. Both were followed with a standoff that ended in tear gas (quibble if you want, that’s what it was).

Why? Because after the protest, a portion of the protesters moved on while a remaining mob decided they were going to stand in the street until the cops made them move.

They wanted negative attention, and they got it.

Where does this end?

Huntsville’s downtown area was already shut down for two days this week. Is this to be expected every other day until those protesting declare we have racial equality? It’s unlikely we ever get there.

So at some point, the city will be required to open up the street and the protesters will have to move on.

The warning was given repeatedly. It was obvious that the crowd was not going to leave the road until a reaction from law enforcement was obtained.

So they got one. Tear gas was deployed, things were thrown, an officer was hurt and 24 non-protesters were arrested.

Did this advance the cause of the actual protests? No. It hurt them.

Was disruption the goal after the fact? Probably, so mission accomplished.

Citizens do not want this strife in their city, especially when they already agree with the cause.

Most Americans know we can always be better as a society.

Most Americans know we have come a long way from where we have been.

Most Americans want peace and fairness but they also want law and order in their communities.

Some in the media are sitting at home egging-on the protesters and hoping for more lawlessness.

But that is about them. Bad behavior at protests and after them emboldens the elected officials and law enforcement to give less leeway to actual protesters. It will also make citizens equate the actual protesters to the rioters and looters we see all day on cable news, and no one should want that.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN.

5 hours ago

Alabama Democratic Party chair calls on Jefferson Davis state holiday to be abolished

State Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa), the chair of the Alabama Democratic Party, on Thursday sent a letter to Governor Kay Ivey in support of ending the state holiday that recognizes Jefferson Davis’ birthday.

The holiday this year was on Monday, June 1; it is recognized on the first Monday in June of every year in accordance with state law (Section 1-3-8, Code of Alabama 1975).

In his letter, England requested that Ivey include amending this section of state law if she calls a special session this year. The 2020 regular session of the legislature ended last month.


A spokesperson for Ivey’s office told Yellowhammer News in response to England’s letter, “That is a conversation that would have to begin with the Legislature. However, Governor Ivey is certainly open to sitting down with lawmakers to discuss this proposal.”

England has been a member of the state legislature since November 2006.

Yellowhammer News’ search of online legislative archives found that no bill has been introduced during England’s tenure in the legislature to end Alabama’s state holiday recognizing Jefferson Davis’ birthday.

Before Republicans took control of the legislature in 2010, both the Alabama Senate and the House had been majority-Democrat since 1868.

State Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and State Sen. Shay Shelnutt (R-Trussville) brought a bill in 2015 that would have made both Jefferson Davis’ birthday holiday and Confederate Memorial Day unpaid state holidays, unless decided otherwise by the governor each year. The holidays are currently paid. That bill passed out of committee but never received a vote on the Senate floor.

Jefferson Davis, a member of the Democratic Party, served as president of the Confederacy from 1861-1865.

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