By Mark Kelly
Alabama NewsCenter

Bronze Valley has been awarded a grant by the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), a bureau of the United States Department of Commerce. Announcement of the $284,500 grant, which will support Bronze Valley’s strategy for making startup funding more accessible to entrepreneurs from underrepresented ethnic, gender and income groups, came on July 23.

Bronze Valley President Neill S. Wright

“We are extremely pleased and excited with our success in this competitive grant process,” said Bronze Valley President Neill Wright. “Minority and female entrepreneurs are changing the face of business and technology with every success, and the EDA grant will further our mission of making more and greater success possible for groups that historically have been underfunded and often underestimated.”

Bronze Valley is one of 18 entities nationwide — and only three in the Southeast — to receive funding through the EDA’s Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) Seed Fund Support grant competition for 2019. The grants provide funding for capacity-building programs that assist innovators and entrepreneurs and organizations that support startups with early-stage funding. According to EDA, the competition is part of its commitment to “fostering connected, innovation-centric economic sectors that support the conversion of research into products and services, businesses and ultimately jobs through entrepreneurship.”

Specifically, the EDA grant to Bronze Valley will support the Empower Alabama Fund. Created to recruit and deploy seed-stage capital and otherwise ensure the presence of funding opportunities that will help scale a diverse innovation ecosystem, the fund is also focused on maximizing the impact of federally-designated Opportunity Zones on economic growth in Birmingham. To aid in that process, Bronze Valley is partnered with Opportunity Alabama, a nonprofit initiative created to bring economic development to low-income communities throughout the state.

Opportunity Alabama will provide “on-the-ground” expertise to assist Bronze Valley in fulfilling the goals of the grant from EDA. Opportunity Alabama founder and CEO Alex Flachsbart says the partnership is in keeping with his organization’s mission of connecting investors with investable assets in Alabama’s 158 Opportunity Zones, 24 of which are in Birmingham.

Opportunity Alabama founder and CEO Alex Flachsbart

“This a great opportunity to marry our knowledge of Opportunity Zones with Bronze Valley’s investment expertise,” says Flachsbart. “We’re looking to nurture an ecosystem that provides transformative capital to people and places who need it most. That aligns with Bronze Valley’s efforts to generate long-term value by creating new jobs through growing new companies.”

Grant writing support for the EDA grant was provided as an in-kind service through a partnership of the Alabama Workforce Council (AWC) Public-Private Partnership Committee and the Alabama Power Foundation. Seeking to increase out-of-state investment in workforce-focused Alabama nonprofits, the partnership provides technical assistance, including grant writing services and outcomes tracking, to more than 30 nonprofits. Thus far in 2019, the effort has attracted more than $6 million in new resources to Alabama.

“By bringing new resources to the state, we are helping our partners grow their ability to meet the needs of their communities,” says Myla Calhoun, president of the Alabama Power Foundation and chair of the AWC PPP Committee. “Together we are helping connect people to jobs and economic opportunity.”

Myla Calhoun, President, Alabama Power Foundation, Chair, AWC PPP Committee

Launched late in 2017, Bronze Valley is working to create an education-to-opportunity-to-outcome pipeline for ethnic minorities and women in technology careers, the entrepreneurial ranks and other fields in which innovators will lead the way in creating the jobs of the future. In addition to providing access to capital, Bronze Valley’s efforts are concentrated on workforce development and providing value-added services to entrepreneurs.

Bronze Valley’s goal over the next three years is to invest in 20 startups with an average investment of $50,000, and to educate 150 startups and 300 private investors through its Startup & Investor Education Program. The longer-term goal is to expand the Empower Alabama Fund beyond the Birmingham region.

“We have tremendous opportunities,” declares Bronze Valley’s Wright. “We are bringing innovation and ideas and thought together with capital and mentorship to create change. Through those efforts, we can help improve the lives of not only individual entrepreneurs, but of our community, our state, our region and the nation as a whole.

“Winning this grant is part of that process, and another step that we can continue to build on.”

This story originally appeared on the Alabama NewsCenter website.