2020 in the rearview: 7 pivotal events in Birmingham’s tech scene

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Data Instructor Robin Hunt at an Innovate Birmingham Demo Day. Photo via Innovate Birmingham

For one reason or another, 2020 seems to have flown by. But one thing is for certain: 2020 was a very successful year for the Birmingham startup tech scene. Whether it’s local companies receiving millions in funding, tech accelerators fostering startups in the state or new companies moving to The Magic City, 2020 has been a year to remember. Here are a few highlights from the past year!

1. Ed Farm launches in Birmingham

Ed Farm in Birmingham
Apple CEO Tim Cook helps launch Ed Farm in Birmingham on February 27, 2020. Photo via Nathan Watson for Bham Now

Earlier this year, I saw Apple CEO Tim Cook for the very first time. And no, I didn’t fly all the way out to Silicon Valley. In February, Tim Cook joined several Birmingham leaders to officially launch Ed Farm, a new ground-breaking initiative aimed at promoting innovation in education.

In order to accomplish their goals, Ed Farm partners with several local institutions to gather the best talent available. I spoke with Adrian Jones, a local graduate of Innovate Birmingham, to see how his experience in the Bootcamp helps him every day at Ed Farm.

“The education and overall experience allowed me to gain the confidence and skill set needed to pursue a job in my current field. Innovate Birmingham and my current employer, Ed Farm, had an established partnership that played a pivotal role in helping me to take the next step in my career. Innovate Birmingham has great partnerships and I’m glad that Ed Farm is a part of that network. I sincerely believe with organizations like Innovate Birmingham and Ed Farm, Birmingham will continue to grow into a major tech hub nationally.”

Adrian Jones, Business Systems Manager, Ed Farm

2. Techstars EnergyTech Accelerator comes to Alabama

TechStars in Birmingham
This year, Techstars brought their tech talent to Birmingham. Photo via Techstars on Facebook

This year, Techstars, a worldwide seed accelerator and platform for investment in innovation, brought its program to Birmingham for the very first time. Not familiar with Techstars? Its mission is to find promising startups around the country, provide them with world-class advice and investments, and entice them to tech-friendly cities like Birmingham.

Ten startups participated in the inaugural Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator, 13 weeks of mentorship and coaching from some of Alabama’s best business minds. In fact, the program was led by Nate Schmidt, CEO of Instagift here in Birmingham. And on December 8th, the ten startups showed off their hard work on Demo Day!

3. Conserv wins $100K in funding & moves to Hardware Park

Conserv in Birmingham
Part of the Conserv team after winning 100K at Alabama Launchpad. Photo via Bruce Nix for Alabama Launchpad

In November, Birmingham-based startup Conserv took home $100K in prize money from the Alabama Launchpad Virtual Finale. And that’s not the first time Conserv has won big—last year, they won $50K as the Concept Stage winner for imerge2019.

Now, they’ll be using part of that funding to move their hardware operations into Hardware Park and hire a new marketing team. Here’s what CTO Nathan McMinn had to say.

“I am a big fan of the Innovate Birmingham program. I’ve been really impressed with how well they treat their employer partners, like us. In fact, we’ve hired two employees from recent cohorts at Innovate Birmingham.

I would encourage anyone with a startup or establish company to look into partnering with Innovate Birmingham. At the end of the day, computer code is a tool—and Innovate Birmingham helps teach students how to use it. Now, let’s see what they can build.”

Nathan McMinn, Founder and CTO, Conserv

4. Shipt founder Bill Smith secures $30M for Landing

Landing
Landing makes a cute apartment like this just clicks away. Photo via Landing

In late 2019, Shipt founder Bill Smith announced his latest project: Landing. Landing aims to simplify the rental market for traveling professionals who need to find a temporary residence, but don’t want to get locked into a lease. With Landing, members get access to a network of fully-furnished, one- or two-bedroom apartments that are ready for move-in at any time.

After backing his new venture with $15M out of his own pocket, Bill Smith found new backers earlier in 2020. According to Bloomberg, Landing raised an additional $30M in funding back in February. Now, that money will help Landing expand to cities like Washington, Chicago, Boston and more.

5. Fleetio raises $21M in funding

Fleetio in Bham
Fleetio’s headquarters in Downtown Birmingham. Photo via Chaise Sanders for Bham Now

Birmingham-based Fleetio started off as a startup working out of Innovation Depot in downtown Birmingham. Their goal? To use software to help companies manage a fleet of vehicles—anything from cars, trucks, vans, semis, heavy equipment and more.

Since their days at Innovation Depot, Fleetio has taken off. In fact, they just raised $21M in Series B funding back in November. They’ll be using that dough to hire new team members, invest in their development and offer new services.

6. Therapy Brands sees 4300% increase in 2020

Therapy Brands
Less-stressed therapist = better therapy. Photo via Therapy Brands

Since the start of COVID-19, Birmingham-based Therapy Brands has seen a 4300% increase in use. Sounds like a typo, right? Well, it’s not. As social distancing came into play, therapists and their patients began switching to other options—namely, telehealth.

Thanks to Therapy Brands’ telehealth and practice management platform, therapists can easily transition to online services while waiting for things to get back to normal.

Fun fact: Analytics Insight recently named Therapy Brands CEO Kimberly O’Loughlin among the “10 Most Influential Women in Technology”!

7. Birmingham’s innovation district rebranded as “The Switch”

The Switch in Birmingham
The pink grid is the area now classified as “The Switch.” Map courtesy of REV Birmingham

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that Birmingham is a true hub of innovation. And nowhere is that more true than The Switch. The Switch is the rebranded innovation district in downtown Birmingham, roughly bounded by the blocks around Innovation Depot.

The Switch is part of the new Birmingham Master Plan, and aims to encourage and foster the startup energy of Birmingham’s innovation-based economy to help build a better future for the Magic City.

Birmingham’s Future is Bright

Birmingham
Innovate Birmingham teaches its students valuable skills to fulfill the demand for tech talent here in Birmingham. Photo via Innovate Birmingham

Although 2020 has been a tough year, Birmingham’s tech scene has made the most of the hand they were given. 2021 is looking to be just as productive. If you are looking to get in on the ground floor, Innovate Birmingham is the place to start.

Innovate Birmingham, based out of Innovation Depot in The Switch, offers two “bootcamp” style programs to help train the next generation of aspiring tech professionals: Software Development and Data Analytics. For 14-weeks, these fast-track bootcamps help local talent attain the necessary skills they need to thrive in Birmingham’s tech scene.

Want to learn more about Innovate Birmingham? Check out their website or email haleyh@innovatebham.com to find out how to apply or hire an upcoming graduate. All Innovate Birmingham Boot Camps will be virtual for the foreseeable future.

What was your favorite tech milestone in 2020? Tag us @bhamnow to let us know!

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  • Tennessee native who fell in love with Birmingham during college. Graduated from Birmingham-Southern College in 2019. Passionate about Birmingham and its continued growth.