5 months 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)

22 mins ago

Calhoun youth dove hunt draws largest crowd yet

Tucked in the foothills of the Appalachians in north Alabama was a sight to behold: More than 80 youngsters were gathered in one of the many fields carved into the rolling hills, and not a single eye was glued to a smartphone.

Other activities occupied their minds as the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division readied the crowd of young hunters, parents and mentors for the annual Calhoun County Youth Dove Hunt.

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Before the hunt started at noon, the young participants had their choice of shooting Daisy BB guns at the National Wild Turkey Federation-sponsored shooting range, learning to throw a hatchet, or testing their skills at the ever-popular cornhole toss. Those activities preceded a hamburger-hot dog lunch and safety instructions from WFF Conservation Enforcement Officer Ben Kiser, who along with WFF’s Ginger Howell went to great lengths to continue the hunt’s tradition as one of the top youth events in Alabama’s great outdoors.

Kiser and Howell engaged the nearby Calhoun County communities to support the event, and the response was sufficient to supply plenty of food and drink as well as an abundance of outdoors-related door prizes.

“Ever since I became a game warden, my goal has been to introduce youth to what Alabama has to offer in the outdoors, whether it’s hunting or fishing, getting them off of cellphones or the internet and putting them in a treestand or blind, in a dove field or fishing on the bank or in a boat,” Kiser said. “I want to show them there’s more to offer instead of sitting at home in front of a TV or computer screen.

“I remember growing up hunting with my dad. There may be a lot going on in these kids’ lives, and this is a way to get them away for a few hours.”

Kiser and Howell want to make the event sufficiently special that the youngsters will never forget the day.

“If we can bring kids out here and give them a door prize or present, we can help them make a memory,” Kiser said. “Then a few years down the road, when they get old enough to hunt and fish on their own, they will remember this and be more likely to buy that license and hunt or fish. Our Department (Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) depends on getting people out here and being involved in what we do for a living.”

Kiser and Howell started working on the youth dove hunt about three months ago, reaching out to the landowner to get the fields prepared for the hunt as well as local retailers who might be willing to support the event.

“We started going around to local businesses and vendors, people who had expressed interest in helping us put on one of these events,” Kiser said. “We ended up getting three shotguns donated, two of which were donated to us from Exile Armory, a Yeti cooler, several Moultrie game cameras and other items. We got a lot of help from the ACEOA (Alabama Conservation Enforcement Officers Association) and Superior GMC-Cadillac in Anniston. They were big in making this event bigger than last year. We got items that we thought the kids would be more apt to use instead of what the adults would use. Then we got out and hit the pavement. We put up signs everywhere – in store windows, Jack’s, gun shops, Academy. We posted the hunt on social media. I talked to several people who had been here before and got it out by word of mouth. There’s a lot that goes into an event like this.”

Howell added, “We made sure we had plenty of food, and we made sure every youth here got a door prize. This hunt allows families to spend some quality time together and bond.”

The local NWTF chapter brought its shooting sports trailer with a blow-up BB-gun range and a hatchet-throwing game. The BB-gun range introduces the young hunters to gun safety and keeps them engaged.

Obviously, the first step in holding a youth dove hunt is to secure a place to hunt, which is where Randy Martin of Calhoun County stepped forward.

“I love to see all these young’uns come out here,” Martin said. “I think we live in a culture where these kinds of events can help establish a moral foundation and bring them into God’s creation so they can get a little different perspective on life. We’re trying to use our farm in ways that not only benefit us but allow others to benefit. That’s why we’re holding this dove shoot. I feel like my part is the easy part. The organization and fundraising that Ben and Ginger take care of is what takes all the time. I’m very appreciative of these people. I think they have the same goals for the youth that we do.”

One of the adult hunters, WFF Enforcement Section Chief Matt Weathers, brought his son and his son’s friend to the youth hunt. Weathers relayed an interesting incident that occurred on the way to the hunt.

“We stopped at Jack’s for breakfast on the way up here,” Weathers said. “The two little boys with me were both wearing camouflage. We were sitting there eating. After they finished, they got up to go to the bathroom. One of the guys sitting in the booth behind us, an older gentleman, was getting up to leave, and he turned around and came back to me. He said, ‘You know, you don’t see little boys wearing camouflage anymore. Most daddies don’t take their kids hunting anymore.’ I told him that we were going to a youth dove hunt in Calhoun County, and this daddy takes kids hunting, some that are not mine.”

Weathers said the conversation progressed into a discussion about how priorities are changing as well as the role of the father in families.

“He was in his late 70s, and he talked about how he had taken his children hunting all their lives,” Weathers said. “From my standpoint, I talk about that a lot. I bring that subject up, but seldom does the public come to me with the subject that I’m so familiar with. The gentleman had no idea I was the Game Warden Chief. He just knew he and I shared the same views on passing our hunting heritage along. I thought that was an interesting conversation on my way to a youth dove hunt where the sole focus is to introduce the next generation to hunting.”

Each registered adult hunter was required to bring one or two youths 15 years old or younger. The adult, who was allowed to join in the hunt, had to remain within 30 feet of each youth at all times when the participants reached the dove field.

Although the weather was hot for a typical mid-September day in north Alabama, the young hunters spread around two fields, some near round hay bales, and watched the skies for any sign of doves.

Although the doves waited very late to fly because of the heat, the hunters were able to shoot enough to make the shotshell manufacturers happy, not to mention those 80-plus young hunters.

The youth dove hunt program has provided a continued opportunity for youngsters to enter the ranks of hunters. This hunt highlights only one of the 28 youth dove hunts hosted by the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries across the state. If you’re interested in attending one of them, visit https://publichunts.dcnr.alabama.gov/Public/AvailableHunts/6 for a list of youth dove hunts still available. But don’t hesitate because very few hunts remain.
David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

14 hours ago

Bradley Byrne campaign announces launch of ‘Farmers for Bradley’ coalition

Bradley Byrne’s campaign for United States Senate announced Friday that key leaders from Alabama’s agriculture community have launched a “Farmers for Bradley” coalition to support Byrne.

Agriculture remains the top industry in Alabama, and we need a Senator who will not only vote right, but who will actually fight tooth and nail to support our farmers, landowners, and agribusinesses,” Byrne said in a statement. “To have such a strong group of agriculture leaders backing our campaign is a real honor and a testament to the hard work we have done over the years to support our Alabama farmers.”

Both State Senator Andrew Jones (R-Centre) and Mark Kaiser from Baldwin County, who lead the coalition, believe Byrne will fight for farmers in the Senate.

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“When I first met Bradley, it was clear he is a fighter,” Jones said. “Agriculture is a very difficult industry with a wide range of challenges, so it is so important we have a U.S. Senator who will work with our farmers and leaders at the state level to make life a little easier.”

Kaiser echoed Jones’ comments and said, “Bradley just gets it when it comes to agriculture. He has taken the time to learn about the various issues impacting Alabama’s agriculture community, and he has used that knowledge to fight for us in Washington. Bradley doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk.”

“Bradley has an impressive record as a champion for Alabama’s farmers,” a press release stated. “From supporting the Farm Bill to cutting bureaucratic red tape, Bradley has always fought to ensure the farm economy remains stable and fair. Bradley plans to continue the fight for farmers by seeking a seat on the Senate Agriculture Committee.”

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

15 hours ago

Did a police officer go for his gun or not? This is not an appropriate resolution to the Alabama A&M/UNA issue

Last weekend, the Alabama A&M Bulldogs upset the University of North Alabama Lions in a football game that most of you didn’t know even took place by a 31-24 score.

After the game, a series of allegations were made that were pretty serious and require further investigation.

Here are the problems Bulldogs’ head coach Connell Maynor pointed out:

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  • “It ain’t 1959, we don’t have to put up with that type stuff.”
  • Alabama A&M received no free tickets or tickets to sell to the public
  • Alabama A&M player weren’t allowed access to the field prior to two hours before the game
  • Alabama A&M coaches were told to have their credentials hanging around their neck, UNA coaches had theirs around their waist
  • His assistant coaches were not able to use the elevator right away because of fans being given priority
  • “There was too much stuff that went on off the field, behind the scenes that was not professional on their part at all.”
  • “And we were very very disappointed in the way they treated us, in every aspect off the field.”
  • The teams will not play again

And most importantly, according to the Florence Times Daily:

Maynor also alleged an incident occurred in which a police officer put “his hand on his gun” and saying “Did you hear what he said?” during an argument between a coach and security.

Whoa… what?

A police officer put his hand on his weapon during an argument with staff?

Wait.

A police officer put his hand on his weapon during an argument with the staff of a Historically Black College and University at a football game?

Why don’t we know what agency this officer was with?

His name?

The name of the coach involved?

This is a serious allegation and is, no doubt, a racially tinged accusation.

There must be an investigation of this entire situation.

Only, there will not be an investigation. Alabama A&M has made it clear neither the coach nor the school will be commenting further, which is insane.

Alabama A&M’s head coach is alleging some pretty serious stuff, including a police officer going for his gun over a coach’s access to part of a football stadium.

Instead, we got a statement from the two schools that says the following:

“Alabama A&M University and the University of North Alabama are vital educational institutions that serve the North Alabama region and beyond. Both institutions are committed to working collaboratively to advance our respective missions. We are separated by 76 miles; however, we remain united in ensuring the viability of our institutions and the success of our students, faculty, staff, alumni, friends, and programs, both academically and athletically. As part of that collaborative commitment, both universities have been in communication since Monday about the recent UNA-AAMU football game at Braly Stadium to decide what, if any, next steps are necessary. Both institutions are committed to providing a safe, accommodating, friendly, and inclusive environment. We remain dedicated to furthering our relationship and enjoying a bright future, both on and off the field.”

The highlight is this (bold text added for emphasis):

As part of that collaborative commitment, both universities have been in communication since Monday about the recent UNA-AAMU football game at Braly Stadium to decide what, if any, next steps are necessary.

To put it bluntly, that statement is complete garbage.

Was there racism or not?

Was this just normal rivalry stuff?

Was there an effort by the University of North Alabama to behave in a way that Alabama A&M’s coach, staff, and players led to these words by a state employee about another state institution?

Is Coach Maynor lying?

If he is, why is he still employed?

If he is not, why don’t we know what actually happened?

Why is this police officer still on the job?

Shame on everyone involved in this situation, especially the leadership of these universities who have no interest in getting to the bottom of what actually happened.

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

15 hours ago

OIG report: ‘Serious issues,’ possible misuse of taxpayer dollars at Alabama Women’s Business Center locations

The U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) has released a report identifying “serious” material deficiencies with Women’s Business Center, Inc., an Alabama-based recipient of the SBA’s Women’s Business Center (WBC) grant program.

Women’s Business Center, Inc. is responsible for operating two WBCs, located in Mobile and Brewton.

In the course of the OIG’s audit of SBA’s oversight of the nationwide WBC program, Women’s Business Center, Inc. denied OIG auditors access to both coastal Alabama center’s offices and records.

After issuing an administrative subpoena, the SBA OIG uncovered that both WBCs had actually been permanently closed since the fall of 2018 yet were still collecting federal government funds.

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Further violations uncovered by the OIG included inadequately staffing centers, late and unpaid payroll, a major potential conflict of interest and failure to maintain an adequate financial management system and audited financial statements.

The OIG’s report concluded:

We determined that the Recipient has materially violated federal statutes, regulations, and the terms and conditions of its cooperative agreements. Its lack of required financial systems, records, and policies, and inability to pay its obligations, maintain open and available facilities and service hours, and staff its WBCs with full-time program directors indicates serious issues in the Recipient’s ability to operate and fulfill the WBC program requirements. We have deemed the documentation the Recipient has provided to us to be insufficient and incomplete. The Recipient denied access to OIG, an independent, authorized oversight entity, and disregarded governing federal regulations and terms and conditions of its cooperative agreements.

These findings impel SBA to take prompt corrective action to protect taxpayers’ dollars and help to ensure the integrity of the WBC program. SBA should pursue actions including, but not limited to, suspension, termination, and nonrenewal of the Recipient’s cooperative agreements, as well as suspension and debarment of the Recipient and its personnel.

In a statement reacting to the OIG report, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, said, “The gross lack of oversight uncovered in the SBA OIG’s most recent management advisory is incredibly troubling.”

“SBA must take action to remedy the numerous deficiencies identified and enact the Office of Inspector General’s recommendations immediately,” he added. “I appreciate the Office of the Inspector General’s diligence in this matter and look forward to its swift resolution.”

Read the OIG report here.

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

16 hours ago

Ivey back in Montgomery after outpatient procedure ‘went well and as planned’

Governor Kay Ivey on Friday underwent an initial outpatient procedure at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) for early-stage lung cancer.

This followed her Thursday announcement that disclosed the next day’s procedure and radiation treatments to follow.

In a statement, Ivey’s press secretary, Gina Maiola, said, “The governor’s outpatient procedure today at UAB went well and as planned.”

“She is back in Montgomery and looks forward to returning to her regular schedule next week,” Maiola concluded.

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