As the Huntsville area expands resources for entrepreneurs across the Tennessee Valley, the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) is leading the charge through multiple initiatives designed to jumpstart and sustain new businesses in the community.
Completion of the Dorothy S. Davidson Invention to Innovation Center (I²C) at UAH is reaching the finishing line with an estimated opening of April 2019. The regional on-campus resource will offer leadership and support to emerging startups seeking collaboration and assistance in launching technology businesses.
Through programming, mentorship, venture acceleration, and incubation, I²C Director Rigved Joshi hopes the facility will become a go-to place where entrepreneurs at all levels can generate new ideas, work together, and build companies that are scalable and primed for investment.
“In terms of programming, mentorship, and the facility, it’s all coming together,” Joshi said. “And I couldn’t be happier that we are within a few months from opening doors.”
Joshi, who most recently managed new ventures, strategy, and innovation at Vanderbilt University, was named director of I²C because of his extensive background in venture capital, private equity, startup incubation, and intellectual property monetization.
Since early 2017, the MBA holder and engineer has worked to establish new policies, network in the community, develop processes for I²C, and recruit tenants to the facility. He was instrumental in opening the proof of concept (POC) facility in Suite 1040 of Executive Plaza across Sparkman Drive.
The POC facility, which serves as an interim incubation space for young companies, is filled to capacity. Joshi said the goal is for those startups to eventually migrate to I²C when the facility opens this year.
The I²C will provide a range of services to startups at UAH and throughout the 15-county region. Companies will work closely with mentors at the facility for 3-5 years before branching out on their own.
On and off campus
At the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce, UAH is also helping small businesses thrive through the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC). Led by Director and Senior Adviser Foster Perry, both programs serve entrepreneurs in Limestone, Madison, Morgan, Cullman, Jackson, Marshall, and DeKalb counties at no cost.
Perry, who came to UAH in 2012 after a 30-year career with Teledyne Technologies, said major growth occurred within both programs after moving in late 2015 to the Chamber, which fosters economic development, recruits businesses, and helps build the local workforce.
“All of a sudden, our numbers really spiked,” he said. “We were meeting all of our goals – exceeding them really in new business startups, long-term clients, and especially access to capital for small businesses.”
UAH’s SBDC is a member of the Alabama SBDC Network and is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. Perry said the initiative specializes in one-on-one business counseling and training for small businesses of all types, from lawn care or car detailing to high-tech software engineering or 3D printing.
Counselors are available to assist startups in all stages of the process, including developing a business plan, marketing, accounting, human resources, feasibility studies, and more. Perry said they also advise companies that aren’t quite ready to launch by tackling issues such as cash flow, poor credit, and lack of focus or vision.
PTAC, a member of the Alabama Procurement Technical Assistance Program, is a specialty program through UAH that provides professional assistance to small businesses seeking partnerships with state, federal, and local governments. From procurement research to understanding federal regulations, PTAC services help startups across the Valley become contract-ready.
Perry said more people were looking to start businesses five years ago because the economy left them with few alternatives. Although the economy has improved, SBDC and PTAC continue to see healthy new business growth and receive inquiries from government contractors about subcontracting opportunities.
As I²C nears completion, Perry is optimistic SBDC and PTAC will collaborate with the center by providing mutual referrals when it makes sense. Joshi said I²C will welcome any opportunity to work with SBDC and PTAC as the facility gains footing.
“Any chance we can plug into their resources and be able to leverage their experience, we will be doing that on a case-by-case basis,” he said.
For more in City Blog’s four-part series on Huntsville’s growing ecosystem of entrepreneurship, read: