9 highlights from a productive year in tech in Birmingham, including Ed Farm

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Tim Cook meeting with Odessa Woolfolk, founding board chair of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Photo by Pat Byington

Despite ups and downs, 2020 has been a magical year for tech news in The Magic City. We took a look back to see some of the biggest tech events in Birmingham in 2020—including the announcement of Ed Farm.

Startup Accelerators & Competitions

1. Alabama Launchpad awarded $600K to 10 startups

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The teams from Conserv and Lucid Living Solutions, the two winners from the Alabama Launchpad Virtual Finale. Photo via Bruce Nix for Alabama Launchpad

In 2020, 10 new startups joined the ever-growing family of Alabama Launchpad winners. In case you didn’t know, Alabama Launchpad is the most active early-stage seed fund investor in the entire state—providing startups with invaluable coaching, feedback, and mentorship from brilliant entrepreneurial minds. Additionally, each participating startup has a chance to win tens of thousands of dollars in non-dilutive funding.

These are the previous winners of Alabama Launchpad in 2020:

2. Techstars launches inaugural Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator

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

Techstars is a worldwide seed accelerator and platform for investment in innovation, which aims to find promising startups around the country, provide them with world-class advice and investments, and entice them to tech-friendly cities. This year, 10 startups from across the country participated in the inaugural Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator held right here in Birmingham:

  • Ashipa Electric (Birmingham, AL) — An energy company focused on developing power-generating assets and delivering reliable and resilient power to their clients, especially in underserved communities in Africa.
  • EnergyHawk (Boston, MA) — A mapping platform that uses satellite imagery to find the best energy facilities for their clients. 
  • Project Canary (Denver, CO) — Using custom-built sensors, Project Canary aims to reduce the release of methane into the atmosphere by continuously monitoring thousands of remote sites. 
  • Resilient Power Systems (Atlanta, GA) — Focused on addressing the upcoming power grid upgrades needed for the mass transition to electric vehicles. 
  • con.doit (Birmingham, AL) — An electrical system mapping and circuit analysis software that walks each user through the careful collection and analysis of electrical system data. 
  • Sync Energy (New York, NY) — Creating a user-friendly artificial intelligence-based predictive software for energy analytics. 
  • Elektrik (Salt Lake City, UT) — Developing an app and online marketplace to help users in the electrical equipment industry easily find compatible cable parts, brands and accessories. 
  • TruSpin (Birmingham, AL) — Aiming to commercialize a new, efficient electro-spinning method to mass-produce nanomaterials. 
  • ShipShape AI (Austin, TX) — A “check engine light” for your home, ShipeShape AI sensor kits scan for irregularities in a home’s systems. 
  • Virimodo (New York, NY) — Offering a clean energy subscription service to help building owners power households with renewable energy.

3. Birmingham’ Bronze Valley Accelerator teams up with gener8tor to offer free startup program

Two Black women participants in a gener8tor program with a man in a business setting
Soaring Independent Cooperative. Photo via gener8tor’s Facebook page

The new Bronze Valley Accelerator in Birmingham is a non-profit, free seven-week accelerator for early-stage companies led by minority and female entrepreneurs. Supported by Alabama Power and the Alabama Department of Commerce, the Bronze Valley Accelerator aims to help startups gain traction in their field AND enhance the growing tech ecosystem in the Southeast.

In October, Bronze Valley announced their inaugural cohort of participants:

Learn more about the Bronze Valley Accelerator.

Big News for Startups

4. Birmingham tech firm Help Lightning lands $8M in funding + feature in Forbes 

Birmingham, Help Lightning
Help Lightning gives customers the ability to consult with the experts through merged reality. Photo via Help Lighting on Facebook

Early this year, Birmingham startup Help Lighting secured $8M in Series A Funding—as well as a shoutout in Forbes. Help Lighting’s “merged reality” software was greatly accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, seeing an extraordinary rise in demand.

So how does it work? Help Lighting’s software uses video interactions to assist with issues and solve problems. Imagine your TV connection goes bad, and you can’t figure out the problem. Instead of calling a repairman out to your home, Help Lighting allows customers to video call with the experts to figure out the issue. It’s no wonder that Help Lighting came in clutch this year!

Learn more about Help Lightning.

5. Landing, new venture by Shipt’s Bill Smith, raises $30M in funding

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Landing members have access to a network of cute apartments, just like this, in cities across the country. Photo via Landing

In 2019, we learned that Shipt founder Bill Smith was up to something new when he announced his latest project. The project, called Landing, offers short-term homes to traveling professionals who may be in a new city every couple of months. Rather than staying in a hotel or getting locked into an apartment lease, Landing members have access to a network of fully-furnished apartments that are ready for move-in at any time.

Bill Smith backed Landing with $15M from his own pocket, but was on the lookout for new investors. Then, in February, Landing acquired an additional $30M to help expand to cities like Washington, Chicago, Boston and more.

Learn more about Landing.

6. University Fancards raises over $4M in funding

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Can I get a Roll Tide? Photo via University Fancards

Local fintech company University Fancards recently raised over $4M in a Series A investment round. University Fancards offers prepaid, reloadable cards that feature your favorite football team and can be found in national chains like Walmart and Target.

According to Executive Vice president of Operations Greg Boggs, University Fancards will use the funding to expand marketing, product enhancement and add new schools to the roster. And that means new job openings right here in The Magic City.

Learn more about University Fancards.

7. Birmingham-based Fleetio raises $21 million in funding

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Companies like Eikenhout, a building products distributor, use Fleetio’s mobile inspections to ensure safety and compliance throughout their fleet. Photo via Fleetio on Facebook

Birmingham-based Fleetio started off as a startup working out of Innovation Depot in Birmingham’s Innovation District—The Switch. Now, they have their own building in downtown Birmingham. So what do they do? Fleetio has developed software to help companies easily manage their fleet of vehicles—anything from cars, trucks, vans, semis, heavy equipment and more. 

Back in November, Fleetio raised $21M in Series B funding—which will help this growing company hire new team members, invest in product development and offer new services to customers.

Birmingham in National News

8. Ed Farm launches in Birmingham

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Apple CEO Tim Cook in Birmingham at the announcement of Ed Farm. Photo via Nathan Watson for Bham Now

In February of 2020, Apple CEO Tim Cook took to the stage alongside Mayor Randall Woodfin and Birmingham City Schools Superintendent Lisa Herring to launch Ed Farm—a ground-breaking education initiative focused on innovative learning strategies right here in Birmingham.

Ed Farm partners with educators in Alabama to increase educational equity, improve learning outcomes through technology and prepare the future workforce. Apple itself is providing Ed Farm with hardware, software, funding and professional learning support—in fact, Apple granted more than 400 new devices to Birmingham City Schools.

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Innovation Depot is a big part of the reason why Birmingham is experiencing a tech renaissance. Photo via Innovation Depot Facebook

In early 2020, Entrepreneur columnist Jeff Barrett described Birmingham as the most interesting place he visited in 2019 in his article titled, “How Startups Helped Birmingham Bounce Back“.

According to Barrett, Birmingham is a welcoming place for newcomers in the tech scene. He mentions Birmingham’s home-grown superstar, Shipt, and how Innovation Depot laid the groundwork for a startup-centric scene in The Magic City. Birmingham’s compelling environment is a hit for startups like Mixtroz, who struggled to get off the ground in Nashville but have thrived at Innovation Depot in Birmingham.

Barrett’s endorsement of Birmingham goes a long way. The Silicon Valley of the South, anyone?

Looking forward to another productive and exciting year in tech in Birmingham? Follow Bham Now on FacebookInstagramTwitterLinkedIn and sign up for our FREE Newsletter to get news like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Nathan Watson
Nathan Watson

Senior Content Producer + Photographer

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