How 5 Birmingham startups + startup communities are working now—why it matters

Birmingham, Mixtroz, seed funding
Kerry Schraeder, co-founder of Mixtroz. Photo via Mixtroz

What happens when Birmingham startups are told to slow down? They don’t—at least not this crew. Over two months after the state shut down, here’s how Magic City startups are navigating the decision to return to work, hosting pre-pandemic events and sustaining company culture (A.K.A killin’ the game).

1. Mixtroz

Like Bham Now, as a tech company, the Mixtroz team is able to more or less work remotely 24/7. Their biggest business shift, however, was to accelerate the development and launch of Virtual Mixtroz. The badass company did just that and now the new feature is already being used and available in the Apple and Google Play app stores, as well as online.

“In a nutshell going forward at Mixtroz, we will be very flexible in work locations. We’ll do it where it, and for roles that, makes sense. We will ensure that money is spent on client acquisition, marketing and technology—not on rented space that is not driving money to the bottom line. 

I do believe we will return to an office within the next 6-8 months, when it becomes obvious we need to do so, to conduct business that drives revenue. It will be a much smaller space than I imagined a year ago.”

Kerry Schrader, CEO and Co-founder of Mixtroz

What about the fun, dynamic culture that makes up Mixtroz? Luckily big ideas don’t take up a lot of space, and Mixtroz is able to foster creativity and ingenuity through the pandemic.

“Because we are a small team, it’s easier for us to develop and strengthen our culture remotely. It would be much harder for a larger company. Even as we work the majority of the time remotely, I can pull the team together at my house one or two times a week for a few hours.”

Kerry Schrader

2. Alabama Launchpad

The startup competition, which awards a total of $600K to several promising startups to encourage entrepreneurship in Alabama, is partly so successful because of the genuine connections formed throughout the process. While having to create that fellowship virtually this year threw a COVID-sized wrench in their plans, it didn’t stop Alabama Launchpad from maintaining their goals.

“One of the things we take great pride in is the quality of judging cohorts and how close they become. We have worked extra hard to create camaraderie.

We’re missing human interaction, but we’re going to provide a product and finale show that people will find appealing and get the same advantages that we’ve provided in the past with Alabama Launchpad.”

Dennis Leonard, Innovation Consultant for the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama

Under the original circumstance, the finalists present at publicly held events around the state. This year, it’ll be live-streamed much like a TV show, June 11 at 5PM. The team at Alabama Launchpad spent a tremendous amount of time just planning the safety aspects. Read more about the competition and its finalists.

Facemasks, gloves, hand sanitizers and additional safety precautions are available and mandatory. Also, if one of the seven finalists has concerns about being in a space with people, they have the option of using virtual tools to alleviate that uneasiness.

“We’re very excited that this will open up Alabama Launchpad to a larger audience. We’ve moved Launchpad across the state, so we’re looking forward to further exposure.”

Dennis Leonard

But wait—there’s more! Stay tuned for an announcement concerning the 3rd Cycle for Alabama Launchpad that they believe “will be very exciting.”

3. CerFlux

As an innovative cancer research and treatment facility, it hasn’t been possible for CerFlux to work remotely 100% of the time. And you wouldn’t want them too, either.

“Because we are a biotech firm, there are certain functions that cannot, and absolutely should NOT, be performed anywhere but on designated premises under established protocols. These are non-negotiable.

However, these are generally conducted under strict aseptic and sterile conditions (in fact, they go much further than COVID-19 guidelines.) simply because of the nature of work. So masks, gloves, 10% bleach and 70% ethanol disinfection, and more are all part of the protocol.”

Dr. Karim I. Budhwani, CEO of CerFlux

However, aside from these operations, the team has always worked remotely for other functions such as writing and submitting grants and manuscripts, processing invoices, preparing financial documents and other work of similar nature.

One exciting aspect of CerFlux’s new way of work is how it’s opening up more research to not just cancer treatments, but also COVID-19 relief. Working closely with their colleagues at the mighty UAB, collaborative efforts resulted in an adaptation of the elastomeric half-mask respirator to make it compatible with hospital-grade inline N1000 filters.

“The idea here was to design emergency use personal protective equipment that uses available respirators, but modifies them to eliminate dependency on cartridges that cannot be readily decontaminated or disinfected for reuse.

We called these the Pierce-Arora-Budhwani Respirators (PABR) and it was independently reviewed as, ‘This is a simple and brilliant design! … It’s a very elegant solution for doctors!'”

Dr. Budhwani

4. Innovation Depot

Oh yeah, you can bet the epicenter of Birmingham’s inventiveness has been busy throughout the pandemic. As companies stayed busy while doors were closed, Innovation Depot is now welcoming its members back into the collaborative space.

You can read a full list of safety measures the team is taking, which include anti-microbial film installed on high touchpoints like door handles and roped off community furniture.

5. Sweeple

If you’re unfamiliar, Sweeple sends vetted college students into your home when it’s in need of a deep clean. So, while the Sweeple team has always worked remotely, the closing of universities set a hurdle in their path.

“The biggest shift in daily operations happened when colleges closed.  We were affected on the supply side, but are slowly coming back from that. Another shift has been the use of PPE with an emphasis on the use of face masks and the ability to obtain them.

 It was a challenge at first. Communicating with customers to understand their needs whether it be to pause service or to increase their number of cleanings has also been a focus during this time.”

Adam Bassett, Co-Founder of Sweeple

Luckily, the team is fully functional again and continuing operations per usual. Well, with heavy safety precautions in place for their employees and clients.

What other protocols are Birmingham startups taking while returning to work? Give us a shout on social @bhamnow!

Irene Richardson
Irene Richardson
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