Although 2020 has been a challenging year, Alabama startups are looking forward to what 2021 will bring. We spoke with the founders of four Alabama Launchpad-winning companies to learn more about their goals and visions for the New Year.
Winning Alabama Launchpad is a big deal
Each year, scores of Alabama startups enter to compete in the Alabama Launchpad startup competition. One of the programs of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, Alabama Launchpad is the most active early-stage seed fund investor in the entire state.
Each cycle, a handful of promising startups pitch their businesses to the specially-selected Alabama Launchpad judges in hopes of winning tens of thousands of dollars in non-dilutive funds.
But Alabama Launchpad doesn’t just invest in promising Alabama startups. Along the way, each participant receives invaluable coaching, feedback, and mentorship from brilliant entrepreneurial minds in the state. Past coaches have included Nate Schmidt from Techstars Alabama, Sonia Robinson from BIO Alabama, Michelle Parvinrouh from Innovation Portal, and Wayne Anderson from Smart Alto.
As we close out a truly challenging year, we are encouraged by entrepreneurs in the Launchpad family who are looking forward. Since their win, the tight-knit group of Alabama Launchpad participants have been hard at working making Alabama an even better place for innovation. Now, without further ado, let’s see what these four Alabama startups have to say about 2021.
1. Apex Pro—Seed Stage Winner, 2018 Cycle 2
Based out of the DEFT Venture Studio in downtown Birmingham, APEX Pro is a local startup that aims to improve the way racing data is displayed and communicated to racecar drivers. Founder Austin Gurley and his team, alongside racer Andrew Rains, has built an innovative, machine-learning technology to make logging drivers’ data easier and more effective.
To learn more, we spoke with racer, coach and business lead Andrew Rains.
How did you hear about Alabama Launchpad, and what inspired you to participate?
Andrew: “Since we work out of DEFT Venture Studio, we always have our ear to the ground when it comes to all things startup. We had friends, like the team at INFLCR, who really encouraged us to participate. After we did some digging, we realized we were a good fit for Alabama Launchpad and decided to enter.”
What were your biggest takeaways from Alabama Launchpad?
Andrew: “Going through the application process for Alabama Launchpad is an excellent experience for any startup. It forces you to quantify your market and explain your company with a strong elevator pitch. Then, when you get to the competition itself, you learn what investors are looking for and value in a business.
For us, Alabama Launchpad gave us a new perspective about our company and how to present APEX Pro more effectively to investors.”
What are you looking forward to in 2021?
Andrew: “Now that we’ve secured a patent for our product, we can structure our business with a long-term goal in mind. Secondly, we are working on a new product that we are extremely excited about. Since we have a very niche product, we have the opportunity to really know our customers and form relationships that last beyond the sale, so we are looking forward to what 2021 will bring.”
2. GeneCapture—Winner 2010, 2016
In 2020, the world became painfully aware of the need for rapid tests to detect pathogens. Luckily, Huntsville-based GeneCapture’s patented CAPTURE (Confirm Active Pathogens Through Unamplified RNA Expression) technology can help solve that problem. With GeneCapture’s unique approach, physicians can detect bacteria, viruses and other pathogens at the point of care—without having to send samples off to a lab.
GeneCapture is a two-time winner at Alabama Launchpad—first in 2010, and again in 2016 as an Alabama Launchpad alumni. We spoke with Co-Founder and CEO Peggy Sammon to learn more.
Looking back, what were your biggest takeaways from your experiences at Alabama Launchpad?
Peggy: “For small companies and startups, winning a competition like Alabama Launchpad is always fabulous. The first award had significant impact on our success—the funding helped us develop and build our very first prototype for our infection detection system. That prototype was instrumental in the development of our preliminary data.
The second award has allowed us to hire three recent graduates who then supported a set of clinical tests that we did in our local area. Truthfully, Alabama Launchpad was there for us in two highly critical moments in our company’s development.”
Would you recommend Alabama Launchpad to other startups in the state?
Peggy: “Absolutely. The value of Alabama Launchpad is so much more than the funding. Alabama Launchpad is a very well-run, disciplined competition that has a very impressive prize award. Very few states have something as organized and well-funded as Alabama Launchpad.”
What’s in store for GeneCapture in 2021?
Peggy: “We are refining our prototypes for field testing in 2021. We’ve upgraded our cartridge to include sample prep, which significantly cuts down on the time it takes to get results.”
3. Maho Shades—Winner 2017
In 2015, Alex Anderson and her husband Kris were traveling to the U.S. Virgin Islands when they both lost their expensive sunglasses in the water. Rather than spend another chunk of change on sunglasses, the pair put their brains together to develop premium sunglasses—without the premium cost.
Here’s what Alex Anderson and Maho Shades have planned for the New Year.
How has Alabama Launchpad benefited Maho Shades?
Alex: “My husband and I were living in Orange Beach when we first heard about Alabama Launchpad and decided to give it a shot. We ended up winning in 2017, and were given a great investment to help our company grow faster. In fact, we were able to hire a marketing director that revolutionized our branding, and she is still working with us to this day. We wouldn’t be where we are without Alabama Launchpad.”
What is in store for Maho Shades in 2021?
Alex: “Before COVID-19, we sold 75% of our business through local retailers. However, we were forced to re-strategize our sales and ended up moving the majority of our business to e-commerce. We have done extremely well this year, and we were able to buy an Airstream trailer that we could park on the beach and sell our product to socially-distant customers. Furthermore, we recently opened a brick & mortar store on the wharf.
While re-strategizing, we reached out to Alabama Launchpad for advice. The team there was extremely supportive and inspired us to work towards an even brighter future for Maho Shades in the New Year.”
4. GLOW, Seed Stage Winner, 2017 Cycle 4
In the early 2010s, Uber and Lyft took the world by storm with their rides on-demand. In 2015, Birmingham startup GLOW took the idea of on-demand access and applied it to beauty professionals.
Through the GLOW App, users are able to browse the “GlowPro” profile of local beauty professional and find which is best for them. With GLOW, users can schedule beauty services on their own time, view user reviews and a photo gallery of previous work and more, to really get a feel for each professional before booking an appointment.
We spoke with Founder Yazmin Cavale to learn more about her experience at Alabama Launchpad, and what GLOW has in store for 2021.
How did you first hear about Alabama Launchpad?
Yazmin: “At the time, my husband and I had just launched GLOW when we heard about Alabama Launchpad through the Birmingham startup community. We were new to the tech scene, and we wanted to make sure that we were ready to give it our best shot. We tried applying two times before, and realized that we just weren’t ready. Then, when we applied for the Seed Stage round in 2019, we knew we had a good shot—and we won.”
What were your biggest takeaways from the program?
Yazmin: “The application process really forces you to take a step back and look at their company in the big scheme of things. As entrepreneurs, we are working daily and don’t always have the time to see the big pictures. By the time we participated in Alabama Launchpad in 2019, GLOW was about 3 years old and the program allowed me to see how far we have come since our founding.
Additionally, the Alabama Launchpad staff gives each startup so much support—you don’t feel like you’re applying for a grant all by yourself. It really is an all-inclusive community.”
What are you (and GLOW) looking forward to in 2021?
Yazmin: “Since it’s impossible to predict what 2021 will be like, the team and I are really brainstorming new and innovative ways for GLOW to adapt and create even more value for our clients. Whether it’s beauty consulting, working with wedding vendors or finding new ways to utilize our new home in the Iron Age Building, we are so excited to think outside of the box in the New Year.”
Want to Learn More about Alabama Launchpad?
Although 2020 has been an interesting year, Alabama’s startups have risen to the challenge—especially with the support from Alabama Launchpad. If you’d like to turn your idea into one of Alabama’s next big startups, consider applying to the Launchpad competition. Competition dates will be released in the new year—head to their website to learn more in the meantime!