7 winners & judges weigh in on updates to the Alabama Launchpad program

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We spoke with Will Bryant (right) and six other former winners & judges of the Alabama Launchpad Startup Competition. Photo via Alabama Launchpad

Over its 15-year history, the Alabama Launchpad Startup Competition has helped promising Alabama startups launch their vision with their best foot forward. In fact, Alabama Launchpad is the most active early-stage seed fund investor in the entire state—awarding $5.6 million to 100 Alabama startups throughout the years.

This year, Alabama Launchpad announced several changes to the program, in order to place a greater focus on personalized care for each participating company—regardless of whether or not they win the competition.

  • Each participant will work with several Launch Advisors (Alabama Launchpad Business Consultants) and presentation coaches, in preparation for their final presentation in front of the panel of Alabama Launchpad judges.
  • Concept-Stage winners will take home $25,000, while Seed-Stage winners will be awarded $50,000.

To learn more about what these changes mean to Alabama Launchpad and to future participants, we spoke with several previous winners and judges from years past.

Hear from 7 past winners & judges.

Brooke Battle

Brooke Battle, Alabama Launchpad
Swell Fundraising CEO Brooke Battle at an Alabama Launchpad competition in 2014. Photo via Swell Fundraising on Facebook

In 2014, Brooke Battle took her fledgling startup Swell Fundraising through its paces at Alabama Launchpad—and won. As a successful entrepreneur, Brooke knows what local startups go through on their journey.

What do you see as the value of Alabama Launchpad?

Brooke: “In my mind, there is no doubt that any company that participates in Alabama Launchpad is better off afterwards. Even if a company doesn’t make it to the finale, the competition strengthens each participant’s business model. Alabama Launchpad truly fuels the entrepreneur community here in the state.

How do you see these changes affecting the future of Alabama Launchpad?

Brooke: “I think that these changes to Alabama Launchpad will allow the program to help more fledgling companies succeed by providing that support. While capital is always helpful, it is equally as valuable to educate the leaders on ways to avoid costly mistakes going forward. I always tell people, Swell Fundraising wouldn’t be where it is today without Alabama Launchpad.”

Wayne Anderson

Wayne Anderson
Wayne Anderson, Founder and CRO of Smart Alto. Photo via Alabama Launchpad

Wayne Anderson, founder and CRO of Smart Alto, knows how important proper mentorship is for startups in the state. During his experience as a judge for Alabama Launchpad’s Cycle 3 of 2019, Wayne was able to offer his insights to the participating startups.

How do the changes to Alabama Launchpad affect future participants?

Wayne: “I’m a huge fan of Alabama Launchpad. I think a more personalized approach is an important next step in Launchpad’s evolution. Startups need mentorship and access to capital. I’m excited to participate in the next phase of Alabama Launchpad.”

Amanda Raney

Amanda Raney, Alabama Launchpad
Amanda Raney has years of experience with local startups. Photo via Amanda Raney

Meet Amanda Raney. With 14+ years of experience as a financial advisor to individuals and startups, Amanda is extremely knowledgeable when it comes to getting a fledgling company off the ground. In 2019, Amanda served as a judge for Cycle 4 of Alabama Launchpad—and she’s been invested in the success of the program ever since.

Tell us about your experience as an Alabama Launchpad judge.

Amanda: “I was invited to sit as a judge for Alabama Launchpad in 2019, and I’ve also sat in for pitch practice with some of the contestants throughout the years. I think diversity in judges is critical. As a female executive, I was excited to foster an inclusive atmosphere to the process. I see a lot of female-led companies struggle to get off the ground, largely because the people they pitch their business to are men. I loved the opportunity to share my unique perspective and hear from these female-led companies.

What are your thoughts on the changes to the Alabama Launchpad platform in 2021?

Amanda: “I love the increased focus on individual attention with the new changes to Alabama Launchpad. This new approach will give all participants greater access to coaching. It really is a team experience—even though the judges are there to judge, we want to help and support these budding entrepreneurs. I think these changes will help more companies in Alabama reach success, regardless of whether they win the finale competition or not.”

Will Bryant

Will Bryant, co-founder of Quantalytix. Photo via Alabama Launchpad

As a co-founder of Quantalytix, Will Bryant has seen Alabama Launchpad from both sides. First as a participant and winner, and second as a judge for Alabama Launchpad in 2020.

In what ways does Alabama Launchpad provide value to participating startups?

Will: “As an entrepreneur, you’re always in the weeds of your day-to-day life. It’s hard to step back and look at your business from a wide angle, but the Alabama Launchpad process forces startups to think about aspects like your go to market strategy and how to reach customers.”

How do you see the changes to Alabama Launchpad affecting future participants?

Will: “In my opinion, the new changes to Alabama Launchpad will be very advantageous to newcomers in the Alabama startup scene. The one-on-one, hands-on coaching from the experts selected by Alabama Launchpad will help these new entrepreneurs familiarize themselves with the day-to-day operations of a business.”

Holly Meadows

Holly Meadows, Alabama Launchpad
Holly Meadows, a lawyer at Warding, LLC in Birmingham and a former Alabama Launchpad judge. Photo via Warding, LLC

During her 14-year career at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Holly Meadows worked with dozens of local startups on Intellectual Property law. Although she’s now practicing law with Walding, LLC, Holly remains invested in the success of startups throughout the state.

When did you judge for Alabama Launchpad?

Holly: “I served as a judge for Alabama Launchpad in Cycle 2 of 2019. Since I had worked with several local startups on IP Licensing, I knew a lot about the business side of the startup world. The panel of judges I worked alongside with was wonderful—I had a great experience meeting the participants and connecting them with businesspeople around town.”

To you, what is the most valuable aspect of Alabama Launchpad?

Holly: “While money is crucial to any startup, simply participating in Alabama Launchpad brings tremulous value to the table. These programatic changes to Alabama Launchpad spread the wealth, so to speak, of experience and mentorship to a wider group of participants. In my opinion, that is worth more to a startup than any check.”

Michael Lynch

Michael Lynch and the Chonex team
The CHONEX team, including Michael Lynch (third from the right). Photo via CHONEX

Michael Lynch is a local entrepreneur, serving as Co-Founder and CEO of CHONEX. CHONEX previously participated in and won Alabama Launchpad in February of 2018.

What are your thoughts on the changes to the program?

Michael: “I think the changes to Alabama Launchpad is going to bring even more exposure and expertise to the participating startups. For startups like us, access to experts is really difficult to find. CHONEX requires a lot of expertise in biotech, biochem and more, so it’s hard to find high-level consultants on a startup’s budget. With these new changes, Alabama Launchpad offers these connections to leaders and specialists in the industry to each participating startup. In my opinion, that is much more valuable than any monetary award.”

Chris Winslett

Chris Winslett of BuildPlane
Chris Winslett, founder of BuildPlane. Photo via BuildPlane

As a former judge at Alabama Launchpad and a Birmingham-based entrepreneur, Chris Winslett knows what it’s like to be a young startup in unfamiliar territory. Now, he’s invested in a new startup in town—BuildPlane.

What was your experience like as a judge for Alabama Launchpad?

Chris: “When I was serving as a judge, I could easily tell the difference between people who had startup experience and those who were new to the environment. Those without prior experience had great ideas, and a ton of raw talent, but how do you refine that into a fool-proof business model? That’s where Alabama Launchpad shines.”

How do the changes to Alabama Launchpad affect future participants?

Chris: “When I first started BuildPlane, I had no one to go to—no one to help me take that first step. It took me a long time to find that startup community, to get plugged in and to find people dealing with the same issues I was. Since Alabama Launchpad connects startups with experts and community leaders, the program is invaluable to entrepreneurs just like me.”

Want to Learn More about Alabama Launchpad?

Two former winners of Alabama Launchpad
Alex Thompson and Matthew Nesbitt of Field Culture Compost, winners of Alabama Launchpad in 2020. Photo via Alabama Launchpad

From my experience talking to these six former winners and judges, one thing is clear. For startups looking to get a leg up on the competition, Alabama Launchpad is invaluable.

If you’re looking to take your startups’ skills to the next level, consider applying to the first Alabama Launchpad competition of 2021. Applications open February 1st—head to their website to learn more in the meantime!

What do you think about the new changes to Alabama Launchpad? Tag us @bhamnow on social media to let us know! Sign up for Bham Now’s informative, funny + free newsletter to get updates like this delivered straight to your inbox every day. 

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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.