Birmingham’s booming startup scene attracts 23 Venture for America fellows + meet 6 of them

Screen Shot 2020 01 16 at 11.24.19 PM Birmingham's booming startup scene attracts 23 Venture for America fellows + meet 6 of them
Birmingham has become the fastest-growing market in the VFA network since 2015. Photo via @dyoungblood71 on Instagram

Birmingham is no stranger to startups and fresh job opportunities. Not to toot our own horn, but the Magic City is the fastest-growing market in the Venture for America network. That’s why Birmingham attracted twenty-three new Venture for America fellows from around the country to work at local startups. Keep reading to see why we’re kind of a big deal, and meet some of our future leaders.

What is Venture for America?

Venture for America is an organization that sees the power in startups. Recent college graduates become a fellow and are paired with one of the many startups in one of 14 cities around the country. For two years, the lucky fellows work in a full-time salaried position learning the ins and outs of growing a business.

Since 2011, Venture for America has served as a stepping stone for future leaders and entrepreneurs. It’s the perfect opportunity to introduce the next generation of leaders to different cities, including our own Magic City.

A whopping 50 fellows placed in Birmingham since 2015—here’s why

Birmingham, Railroad Park
Birmingham’s front lawn. Photo via Railroad Park on Facebook

You’re probably wondering how Birmingham made the cut. With cities like Baltimore, Miami, Philadelphia and Cleveland to name a few, how did a city with a fraction of those populations become involved?

Well, Birmingham may be smaller, but we pack just as big—if not bigger—a punch when it comes to startups.

The city has gained national attention for our growing tech scene. As a matter of fact, MarketWatch dubbed us as one of America’s new tech hot spots. I guess you could consider us the Silicon Valley of the Southeast.

Thanks to the Alabama Futures Fund (AFF), startups have even more incentive to make the move to the Magic City. It’s a seed-stage investment fund that helps encourage entrepreneurial and economic activity in Birmingham. That’s exactly how Silicon Valley’s Prepaid2Cash startup found its way here.

To sum things up, it’s kind of a no-brainer that Birmingham is included in Venture for America’s lineup of cities that fellows work in. Here’s why:

  • Low-to-moderate cost of living when compared to other US cities
  • Booming tech scene
  • Progressive business climate that encourages growth
  • More green space per capita than any other city our size
  • The food—DUH!
  • Upcoming events + opportunities like The World Games 2022

Meet our future leaders getting their start in The Magic City

Venture for America was launched in Birmingham in 2015. We have now had 50 fellows hired by 32 different companies. Let’s see what six of them have been up to, shall we?

Madeline Oliff

VFA Madeline Oliff Birmingham's booming startup scene attracts 23 Venture for America fellows + meet 6 of them
Meet Madeline. Photo submitted

Meet Madeline. She’s originally from the Windy City, recently graduated from Tufts University and is a Bollywood fusion dancer. How many people can brag about that?!

Through her fellowship, she was matched with Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA) as their Communications and Marketing Coordinator.

When she’s not too busy being a complete #BOSS, you can find her running at the Vulcan Trail or grabbing drinks at Atomic Lounge.

Why did you choose EDPA?

“I really connected with the EDPA’s mission to focus on both traditional and innovative economic development across the state. There was a lot of opportunity in my role to bring creativity and make it my own, while being positioned to connect to many different entrepreneurs and companies across the Alabama innovation ecosystem.”

What has surprised you most about Birmingham?

“I was not expecting it to be so hilly.  I brought my bike thinking I’d be able to bike to work, but unfortunately, that’s not the case.  I have learned, though, that it is because Alabama is one of, if not the most, biodiverse states in the country so that’s definitely worth it.”

Wondering what the connection between our hills and biodiversity is? Well did you know much of the state was once underwater? Sediments would settle into hills which represents millions of years throughout history. Also, due to our climate, we have the most species in the country. You can learn more here.

Kyle McKinley

VFA Kyle McKinley Birmingham's booming startup scene attracts 23 Venture for America fellows + meet 6 of them
Meet Kyle and his dog, Amber. Photo submitted

Meet Kyle. Did his name bring back flashbacks of that famous Vine video? No, just me? Okay, moving right along. Kyle is from outside of Philadelphia and went to Elon University to study entrepreneurship, finance and computer science. Now he’s made it even farther south to Birmingham and is working with Maestro Maintenance Management, a startup that is flipping the maintenance industry.

How did you learn about and get involved with Venture for America?

“My father read Andrew Yang’s book (VFA founder) called “Smart People Should Build Things.” Once I heard about the fellowship, I worked very hard in college to make myself a good candidate.”

How did you choose Maestro?

“The Maestro concept is incredible. There should be a one-stop-shop for any home or commercial maintenance need you have. Our time is too valuable to spend it vetting, negotiating and coordinating with maintenance and repair vendors.
Maestro takes any job you have and directs the entire process from beginning to end. It excites me to know that a Birmingham-founded company like this is building something that will someday benefit all building and homeowners everywhere.”

What has surprised you most about Birmingham?

“The connectivity of the people. Once I entered into the Birmingham startup community, I’ve found more and more connections. Everyone is willing to meet and help in any way possible. The collaborative nature of Birmingham is incredible.”

Kyle has always had a love for entrepreneurship and how it has a larger impact on the people around him. You can definitely feel a greater sense of accomplishment growing at a startup that you rarely experience at bigger corporations.

Abbey Greenberg

vfa abbey greenberg Birmingham's booming startup scene attracts 23 Venture for America fellows + meet 6 of them
Meet Abbey who is making the move to Bham very soon. Photo submitted

Let’s give a warm welcome to Abbey from the ATL. Well, she was born there, but technically she spent most of her life in Los Angeles. When she wanted a change of scenery, she decided that the University of Kansas was the best fit for her. Now she’s been matched with BuildPlane, a software startup in the commercial construction space and is making the move here at the end of October.

How did you learn about + get involved with Venture for America?

“I learned about VFA when one of my entrepreneurship professors mentioned it in class. Also, during a job interview, it was suggested I apply for the fellowship, I knew that was a sign that I needed to apply. I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur since I was in fifth grade when I started my first “business.” Venture for America felt like the perfect opportunity to engage, learn more about how to run a successful company from the inside and connect with a vast community of like-minded people.”

How did you choose BuildPlane in Birmingham?

“Working with BuildPlane felt like an incredible opportunity for me. Right now, the company is a small team and in the early stages, so this will be a great learning opportunity that will allow me to contribute and be hands on in its success. I am really excited to make the move to Birmingham, an amazing city with a really strong VFA community. I can’t wait to explore the beautiful nature of Bham and the incredible food scene I have heard so many great things about.”

Let’s all send good vibes to Abbey for her move to the Magic City. I may be a bit biased, but I’m sure she’ll love it here.

Jeffrey Liu

hams Birmingham's booming startup scene attracts 23 Venture for America fellows + meet 6 of them
Meet Jeffrey. I asked for a photo that shows personality and this is the content we’ve all been needing. Photo submitted

Meet Jeffrey. While he was born in Michigan, he spent most of his time growing up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., which naturally led to him studying political science in college.

He spent a summer interning in Detroit, where he met the founder of Quicken Loans and one of Venture for America’s first supporters Dan Gilbert. He wanted to find meaning in his work and figured that VFA was the perfect place to start post-grad.

Now, he’s working with Landing, a Birmingham startup that provides flexible lease terms and furnished apartments to customers.

What surprised you most about Birmingham?

“I know I should have read more about Birmingham before moving here, but seeing the effects of air pollution in North Birmingham is painful. I’d like to volunteer more and understand what’s going on before seeing what else I can do to help.”

Why did you choose to work with Landing?

“I’m really excited about the chance to learn from people smarter and more experienced than me. It’s also really exciting to be working on so many different skills at the same time; whenever there is something new I want to learn, there’s always a chance to learn and grow!”

When Jeffrey isn’t busy helping one of Birmingham’s newest startups, he’s most likely looking for ways to explore Birmingham. Oak Mountain is scratched off the bucket list, but the city has so much to offer.

Clare Ubersax

47813A41 0052 47EE A6C6 D1797E00C6E6 Birmingham's booming startup scene attracts 23 Venture for America fellows + meet 6 of them
Meet Clare and her adorable puppy. Photo submitted

Once you get done admiring the adorable puppy, meet Clare. She’s an Ohioan turned Southerner and attended Emory University in Atlanta. Venture for America introduced her to Birmingham after graduation and she’s called it home for a little over a year. Clare was matched with Shipt for her fellowship which is a company Birmingham knows very well.

How did you choose to work with Shipt?

I met my current manager at a job fair and fell in love with Shipt’s mission to build up Birmingham’s tech ecosystem and make a lasting impact on the city that helped their company grow during the early years. It’s a bonus that the office is such a fun place to work (IMY, Shipt office).”

What have you learned so far?

I am still learning so much every day. I had no experience working with startups or tech companies before this fellowship, and now, I’m immersed in it and believe that Birmingham has amazing potential to grow so much over the next 5-10 years.

What has surprised you most about Birmingham?

“Southern hospitality is real! People care about you in an authentic way that is rare to find.

While much of Shipt’s workforce is working remotely at the moment, you can catch Clare enjoying the tennis courts at Crestwood Park or hanging out at Mom’s Basement.

Sophanie Occean

Soph Birmingham's booming startup scene attracts 23 Venture for America fellows + meet 6 of them
Meet Sophanie. Photo submitted

Sophanie is a first-generation Haitian-American ready to pursue her passion for entrepreneurship. Born and raised in Brooklyn, she learned about Venture for America during her Junior year at Baruch College. To kick off her fellowship, she moved to Birmingham to work at Shipt as a Partner Programs Coordinator.

What have you learned from your fellowship?

“Your experience in a new city is what you make it. It is important to give back and connect with the individuals who have called this place home long before you arrived. You can make an impact and it is rewarding to do something that you are passionate about!”

What has surprised you most about Birmingham?

“I really love the work that is going on here especially within the startups, racial justice and education space. I’ve attended so many events and love the open conversations that people are having.”

In her free time, Sophanie has great taste in food with El Barrio and Trattoria Zaza being two of her fave spots in Birmingham.

Want to learn more about Venture For America? Check out their website and follow them on social.

Chaise Sanders
Chaise Sanders
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