Tech shows promise as Birmingham, Alabama’s new economic engine

This year’s Sloss Tech Conference in Birmingham, Alabama brought together city leaders with the best in technology and innovation today. It was the culmination of Innovation Week (a celebration of the disruptive ideas and ventures evolving in the city) for Birmingham’s tech scene, who got to participate in discussions with Shipt’s CEO Bill Smith, Endeavor’s chief marketing officer, Bozoma Saint John, and Foundry Group partner, Chris Moody.

Mayor Randall Woodfin kicked off the day stressing the city’s mission in cultivating a strong tech ecosystem and becoming a major player in the tech world, stating, “We, us…this is our moment, our time. We need to work together, to be laser-focused on talent development, retention and attraction, and we need leadership to support that talent.”

Shipt is adding 881 jobs to its Birmingham headquarters. (file)

This past week alone, the city released two major announcements – Shipt’s expansion of their headquarters and DC BLOX’s new data center – to back up that mission statement. Smith shared with the audience why he chose to keep his company in Birmingham, “We made the conscious decision to build in Birmingham, and it was easier than I thought it would be.”

Josh Carpenter, the city’s Director of Innovation and Economic Opportunity, expressed how Birmingham is perfect for startups like Shipt, “We’re small enough to do it with speed, but large enough to take it to a large scale.”

Mixtroz co-founder and COO, Ashlee Ammons, added to that sentiment when describing her experience in the Magic City. “It took us in Nashville a year-and-a-half to make the same progress it took us 13 weeks to make in Birmingham. Civic works with corporate who works with the tech ecosytem. Birmingham just knows how to do it better.” She also went on to say, “You go where the people feel you, and it’s here.”

A Smart Cities grant winner, Birmingham is also dedicated to looking for ways to improve public safety, energy, transportation, and closing the opportunity gap. Carpenter spoke to how Birmingham is working on the latter initiative, “Birmingham has a putting people first strategy. We need to think hard on how we construct pathways to jobs for equal opportunity.” That involves programs like Birmingham Can Code and Bronze Valley.

Bozoma Saint John speaks to Sloss Tech audience about her experience in the tech industry.

In an interview with Bozoma Saint John, conducted by Alabama Power’s John Hudson, Bozoma shared with the audience of entrepreneurs her experiences as a young woman of color in the tech world and how important it is to be true to yourself.

“Come as yourself to the table. It’s important that I am able to enter a space and be wholly who I am, and still be a senior executive who is setting pace, who is creating process.”

Other key notes of advice from Saint John were do not get comfortable in your success and be relentless. This followed suit and brought the conference full circle with thoughts shared by Chris Moody earlier in the day. He said, “If you are looking to start a company, do it for the right reasons. Be obsessed about being the solution to the problem or opportunity. Be insanely customer-centric and focused.”

All of which Birmingham is doing now when it comes to investing in its tech scene. As Bozoma stated, “Birmingham is known for progress, change and people who refuse to sit down. Use those qualities to catalyze what’s happening for the future.”