In 2010 my brother Mike and I took our e-gift card startup, Instagift, through Techstars Seattle. The experience changed my life. We were guided by incredible mentors, worked in an amazing space, and ultimately raised money for the first time in our entrepreneurial careers. My favorite part of my Techstars experience was spending every day, for three straight months, surrounded by other founders fighting for their early stage companies. Those long days and late nights as a group were magical. Back then the thought of Techstars launching an accelerator in Birmingham would have seemed like a pipe dream. A decade later not only is Techstars coming to town, but I have the great honor of announcing that I’m joining as Managing Director of the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator!
While going through Techstars, we were lucky enough to land Brad Feld as our lead mentor. Brad literally wrote the book on Startup Communities. His message, that startup communities need to be led by startup founders, and that they can exist outside of Silicon Valley, really resonated with me. It drove me to take a leadership role in the Birmingham startup ecosystem where I’ve been one of its most active startup mentors since returning from Seattle in 2011. I’m especially proud to have played a key role in launching the Velocity Accelerator at Innovation Depot, serving as its first Managing Director in 2017.
Over the last decade I’ve been involved in a handful of startups. I’ve experienced the rollercoaster of co-founding and operating Instagift, the failure of Deal Co-op, a group-buying software platform, and the excitement of selling Preptix, an e-ticketing solution for high school sports. A year and a half ago, a seemingly random morning meeting led to one of my most interesting projects to date. An executive from Southern Company took me out for coffee to tell me about an idea for a transactional energy company, where he asked me to help lead a well-funded internal “startup”. At first I was skeptical. What does a big company like Southern know about startups? I was reassured they were more innovative than I might suspect, and that they were also willing to learn, which is why they wanted an outsider involved with the project. I was blown away by their corporate attitude towards innovation. I signed up on the spot, quickly put together a staff, and several months later we successfully launched and began to scale Cloverly, an API for carbon offsets and renewable energy credits. It was my introduction to energy startups, and to corporate innovation done right. Little did I know that while I was working to help launch Cloverly, a team at Alabama Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, was busy working to bring Techstars to Birmingham. When I heard about the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator, I knew my dream job had arrived.
Companies that are building the future of energy, like Cloverly, are the type of EnergyTech startups we’re looking for. We’ll be recruiting both consumer and B2B companies, from those directly reshaping utilities, to IoT companies rethinking energy in the home, and a host of startups in between.
Teams that come through the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator can expect to work extremely hard, have fun, and be inspired. My team and I will aim to create the perfect environment for you to grow your company. If you put in the work, we’ll create unfair advantages for you to get ahead. We’ll strive to never waste your time and each decision we make will be through the lens of what will help your company grow the fastest. And you’ll join the Techstars network – for life.
One area I look forward to focusing on in our program is wellness. Being a startup founder is stressful, and one of my core values is that you are doing your company’s work when you are taking care of yourself. If you come out of Techstars feeling like the best, healthiest, and most productive person you’ve ever been, then I’ve done my job as Managing Director.
I grew up in Kansas, and met a girl from Birmingham during law school. When I moved to the South I didn’t know what to expect. After having lived here for 20 years I now know there is something special about this place: the Southern hospitality, world class food, incredible livability, and much more. Tech companies have taken notice – over the last five years our startup scene has exploded. Startups are sprouting up left and right, big exits are happening, young people are moving here, and the business community, led by companies like Alabama Power, is supporting our growth. Birmingham is my home, and it’s an amazing place to grow a company. I could not be more excited to lead this program as Managing Director, and can’t wait to meet the entrepreneurs that will join me on this great adventure.
Applications for the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator are now open. The program kicks off on July 13th and runs for 13 weeks, culminating in a demo day on October 8th. Feel free to start your application today or sign up for one-on-one office hours to meet me in person – and stay tuned for more information about where I’ll be traveling to meet companies to join me for the inaugural class of the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator.