Innovation Dept is ushering in 2021 with a new look on several fronts – a brand refresh, two entrepreneurial programs, a mobile app and revamping of its Birmingham campus.
That’s after one of the most challenging years of its existence, and a further cementing of Birmingham’s status as one of the country’s rising startup ecosystems.
“We’re really at the tipping point of building a tech community,” CEO Drew Honeycutt said. “There’s enough startups being led by entrepreneurs with experience operating now. We can share and collaborate and really grow and expedite the process of taking things to the next level.”
Honeycutt took over last May just as the severe COVID-19 lockdown was ending. It was a stark contrast from the Innovation Depot experience he remembered – a building teeming with ideas and activity. But the unique experience of the pandemic gave the Depot’s leadership time to gel and look to the needs of the startup community.
In some ways, the changes the Depot is announcing were always on the horizon, he said. The pandemic may have just speeded them up.
“For us, nothing has really changed as far as the direction we were going,” Honeycutt said. “It’s about widening the funnel, giving more people access to what we’re doing, being a catalyst for our community. These new programs were going to happen. We recognized there was a need in the community.”
The new programs are Vision ID and Voltage, which will exist in addition to Velocity, The Depot’s existing 13-week tech accelerator.
Visions ID is described as a free, 7-day series of informative and interactive emails that demystify the terminology and processes around launching a startup.
Participants will learn the difference between a startup and a small business, as well as the basic terminology utilized in tech startup and entrepreneurial spaces. They’ll also receive information about other local resources if they are interested in taking the next steps towards becoming a founder.
Vision ID will launch this spring, and participants will be able to join via The Depot’s website at any time.
Voltage is an “idea incubator” which will require no previous tech or entrepreneur experience to operate outside standard working hours. That way a founder can explore their idea’s potential outside a regular 9 to 5 job.
It will take place over a 9-week period and is designed to support entrepreneurs who have an idea for a tech or tech-enabled business as they translate that idea into a prototype. The first cohort of Voltage founders has been selected and will be announced in early February. The program will officially begin on Feb. 9.
Kellie Clark, director of programs, said Voltage will allow founders to assess how feasible their startup idea is and see what the next step should be.
“At The Depot, we believe that every person has the potential to be an entrepreneur, so we want to provide folks with the language necessary to explore that future through Vision ID,” Clark said. “With Voltage, we’re excited to step in and offer guidance before founders spend a large amount of their personal time and money to build a minimum viable product.”
The Depot has also launched a new member portal and mobile app through a software platform called OfficeRnD. The Innovation Depot app, which can be found in both the Apple and Android app stores, provides a streamlined experience for the employees of companies based in The Depot. They can use the app to book conference rooms, pay bills, check for building updates and much more.
But in addition to the new programs, the Depot was due for a new look. It recently partnered with Birmingham-based Telegraph Creative to give its branding a bolder color palette and a tech-inspired, sleek design, as well as a tagline: “Where startups start up.”
Additionally, the refreshed brand is informing an ongoing website redesign that is scheduled to go live in mid to late February in partnership with Kinetic Communications.
And over the last six months, The Depot added a new look to elements of its 140,000 square foot working space. As Honeycutt noted, Innovation Depot’s look had remained somewhat constant over the last 15 years.
“It was time for some new energy, new color and paint,” he said. “We want this place to be a beacon of opportunity, so that when any entrepreneur walks through the door, they feel the energy and acceptance.”
Plants were added in the communal areas as well as three interconnected murals throughout the building created by local artists bendy knees design.
The large office area previously occupied by Knight Eady was also overhauled to create the Ignite Coworking space. Memberships are available for $200 per month and offer various perks.
Over the coming months, the building will undergo further renovations to the interior, roof, and an overhauled landscaping design for enhanced outside working space. The Depot is also one of the anchor tenants in the new Ramsay McCormack Building in Ensley.
Honeycutt said Birmingham’s startup eco-system has undergone many changes just over the last five years. Where the Depot once saw an assortment of everything from service companies to whiz-bang tech offerings, the trend now is moving toward more high-growth, tech-enabled, science-enabled products, whether in software or life science products.
“Back in 2017, I think we had 67 startups in town,” he said. “By our count, there are well over 200 in Birmingham now. A lot of those you probably haven’t heard of, but they’re plugging along, building product. So we’re at an interesting time.”