9 Birmingham Black-owned startups you need to know about now

Shegun Otulana won Entrepreneur of the year Southeast last year from Ernest & Young
A year ago, Shegun Otulana won the Entrepreneur of the Year Southeast award from Ernst & Young. Here he is with the TheraNest team. Photo via Paralect’s Facebook page

For years now, people have been working to make Birmingham a destination for minority and women-owned businesses. Today we’re featuring nine Black-owned startups, including one that’s partnering with the Charles Barkley Foundation on COVID and a partnership between Apple and Lawson State Community College to bring coding and creativity to new communities.

Making healthcare accessible

1. SynsorMed

SynsorMed is one of the Black-owned startups in Birmingham
Who knew Telehealth would become such a thing in 2020? Photo via SynsorMed’s Facebook page

If you could go back in time and imagine a healthcare company that needed to be invented before 2020, it would be SynsorMed. Back in 2014, long before COVID, Theo Harvey and co-founder Amin Holmes founded the company, believing there had to be a better way for family members who’d been diagnosed with COPD to receive healthcare.  

SynsorMed founder Theo Harvey + cofounder Amin Holmes
Theo Harvey and co-founder Amin Holmes of SynsorMed. Photos via LinkedIn

Together, they created a company that offers remote patient monitoring (RPM) and chronic care management (CCM).

Then COVID came and all of a sudden, the world needed telehealth (something they were already working on). AND, this new illness increased the need for at-home monitoring of things like oxygen levels, particularly among patients with underlying conditions.

2. S.O.S. Council

SynsorMed was uniquely positioned to help address these challenges. On Juneteenth, the company, which recently relocated to Birmingham from Tampa, Florida, partnered with The Charles Barkley Foundation to combat health disparities in the Black community due to the novel Coronavirus. 

They launched the Save Our Selves (S.O.S.) Council, comprised of Black influencers, technologists, healthcare professionals and policymakers concerned with the health of Black Americans. 

Here are their two key initiatives: 

  • A healthcare provider matching service for Black consumers who may want to visit with a doctor remotely. 
  • A nationwide online mobile survey to research information on the health and economic status of the Black community. Feel free to take + share the survey widely. 

In August, they plan to use this info to provide needed resources to Black communities across the country.

3. TheraNest

TheraNest is one of several wildly successful Birmingham Black-owned startups
TheraNest is one of the many companies under the umbrella of TherapyBrands. Graphic via TheraNest’s Facebook page

As I was learning about TheraNest, I kept thinking “this sounds a lot like Therapy Brands,” which we had written about in June. Turns out, Therapy Brands is the parent company of TheraNest. Shegun Otulana founded TheraNest and also served as the CEO of its parent company (Therapy Brands). In early 2020, he transitioned to a Board Member position for TherapyBrands while Kimberly O’Laughlin stepped into the CEO role. Like SynsorMed, TheraNest company was built to thrive during a global pandemic, with telehealth, managed billing and more baked right in.

TheraNest provides practice management and electronic health records software for mental and behavioral health organizations and practices. Both TheraNest and Therapy Brands are experiencing explosive growth during this time when these types of services are in sky-high demand.

Building real relationships

4. Mixtroz

Mixtroz has a simple tagline: “we help YOUR people find THEIR people.” How do they do it? By helping people find natural ways to connect at events that are designed for networking but all too often lead to awkward conversations or people standing around in corners looking at their phones. 

Mother-daughter power duo Kerry Schrader and Ashlee Ammons of Mixtroz
Kerry Schrader + Ashlee Ammons are the power duo behind Mixtroz. Photo via Mixtroz’ Facebook page

Mother-daughter power duo Kerry Schrader and Ashlee Ammons made history when they became the 37th and 38th Black Females to raise over $1m in pre-seed funding. You can read more about them here and here.

Lately, they’ve been using their platform to host “Imperfect Conversations: A Time for Collisions, Community and Connections.” The first one took place in Birmingham, bringing together people from across the city, and then they took the show on the road, hosting nationwide conversations. 

Fostering equitable entrepreneurial ecosystems

5. Elevators

Elevators is one of several Black-owned startups in Birmingham
Elevators is working creatively and strategically to build sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystems that reflect all kinds of talent. Graphic via Elevators on 4th’s Facebook page

Elevators has two key constituencies and two main offerings—both help to grow equitable entrepreneurial ecosystems. 

  • Creatives: recognizing that creatives are cultural custodians and innovators, Elevators provides an avenue for camaraderie and exchange. How? By curating specialized gatherings tailored to the needs of the creative entrepreneurial communities they serve.
  • Companies: they help organizations better serve and engage the creative BIPOC (Black, indigenous and people of color) entrepreneurs in their orbit. They provide custom solutions to companies that seek to do their part in building an equitable entrepreneurial ecosystem in their communities. 
Elevators founder Carmen Mays
Elevators’ founder Carmen Mays. Photo via LinkedIn

Founder Carmen Mays “started Elevators with the simple premise of ensuring creatives of color had the tools and opportunities they needed to make a living doing what they love.”

Now the organization partners with others to “create engagement and supply chain strategies that foster equitable entrepreneurial ecosystems.”

Creating community for 1st-time pregnant + new moms

6. Babypalooza

Babypalooza exists to connect new moms
Babypalooza is all about connecting + supporting new mamas. Photo via Babypalooza’s Facebook page

If you’re anywhere on the road to becoming a new mom, Babypalooza wants to hook you up with products, info and other mamas. 

Babypalooza founder Cecelia Pearson
Babypalooza’s founder Cecilia Pearson. Photo via LinkedIn

Founder Cecelia Pearson started with a baby magazine, which grew into a 2006 expo. From there, the venture kept growing. Now the network, which aspires to become the leading social network for new moms, is active in 12 cities across five states. 

Innovating storage solutions

7. Shippi

Shippi provides on-demand storage solutions
Here’s Bham Now’s Hannah Chambley modeling the latest Shippi fashion while checking out their app. Photo via Matthew Niblett for Bham Now

Here’s what we wrote about Shippi back in June 2020

Put a bunch of college kids with stuff they need part of the year, homeowners with unused attic, basement and storage shed space together with an entrepreneur and you get Shippi. Well, part of it.

Let’s say you have a mattress or a coffee table that you won’t be needing for 3 months of the year. You pay $10 per month to store your mattress in someone’s unused attic, say, or $6 per month to store your coffee table in their storage shed…

Currently, they serve the Birmingham and Tuscaloosa areas with peer-to-peer on-demand storage.

Shippi founder Reggie Murray and the Shippi truck
Shippi founder Reggie Murray behind the Shippi truck. Photo via Shippi’s Facebook page

Another cool thing they offer is large item delivery for all your Facebook Marketplace needs…

Founder Reggie Murray was onto something when he came up with this idea. 

Shippi recently secured funding and a second-place prize in The Edge Incubator and Accelerator’s business plan competition. 

Taking care of your car

8. S(w)ervice

swervice 9 Birmingham Black-owned startups you need to know about now

We wrote about S(w)ervice back in December 2019, and even then, we were impressed. 

Some people love taking care of their cars. Every trip to the shop is a chance to learn more about how the marvelous machines that get us from Point A to Point B work.

Others of us ignore the oil change light for more months than we care to admit. Or keep putting off going to get the tires rotated until the tread’s showing through on one side and we need a new set of tires.

If you’re in the first camp, rock on with your bad self. If you’re in the second, though, S(w)ervice has come up with a solution for you. You get on with the business of living while they pick up, drop off and return you car for maintenance. Or a car wash, even.

$25 will get you a one-time valet pass, whereas an $89 annual subscription will get your four trips in a year.

Thomas Walker, Jr. founder of S(w)service
Thomas Walker, Jr, founder of S(w)ervice. Photo via LinkedIn

I personally think founder Thomas Walker, Jr. was a genius to come up with this idea.

Helping to grow the next generation of startup owners

9. Apple + Lawson State

Lawson State Community College + Apple are teaming up to grow the next generation of startup owners
Big news for Lawson State. Graphic via Lawson State Community College’s Facebook page

Alright so technically this isn’t a startup, but we know it will help to grow the next generation of startup owners, so we’re including it here.

On July 16, Apple announced expanded partnerships with HBCUs to create community hubs for coding and creativity across the country. It’s part of their Community Education Initiative.

Lawson State will be their local partner, and we can’t wait to see what comes out of the partnership.

This announcement follows Apple’s new Racial Equity and Justice Initiative. The goal? To challengesystemic barriers to opportunity for communities of color by advancing education, economic equality, and criminal justice reform efforts.

Now tell us, Birmingham, which Black-owned startups did we miss? Email me at sharron@bhamnow.com and let me know!

Sharron Swain
Sharron Swain

Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference

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