By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
Board members of the Alabama Innovation Corporation, the state’s public-private partnership focused on entrepreneurship and job creation, met this week with local leaders at Stillman College.
Part of a series of regional discussions, Thursday’s conversation in Tuscaloosa focused on identifying ways to support locally made technology and help underrepresented students and entrepreneurs.
Earlier this month Innovate Alabama leaders met in Athens, Alabama, for their first regional roundtable. Another is being planned in central Alabama and others will follow. The Alabama Innovation Corporation, known as Innovate Alabama, was created by the Legislature in 2021 to “create a more resilient, inclusive and robust economy.” The 11 members are appointed by the governor.
Innovate board member and Alabama Director of Finance Bill Poole said one of the goals of discussions is to inform communities that “on a state level, we believe that promoting and creating opportunity and highlighting innovation, entrepreneurship, research and technology efforts are important.”
Innovate Alabama members are also hearing about the opportunities and challenges in different areas of the state.
“There are some commonalities, but there are also a lot of differences,” Poole told Alabama Daily News.
According to a press release, regional leaders in Tuscaloosa discussed shared challenges they are currently facing, including talent retention to meet workforce demands and capital and resource expansion to support rural and underrepresented communities.
“At Stillman, we recognize the importance of developing our region’s tech ecosystem to better support our students as future leaders of our state,” Stillman President Cynthia Warrick said in a written statement. “We also realize that to truly move Alabama forward, we must accomplish this inclusively by giving everyone, including underrepresented communities, a seat at the table. Through cross-sector discussions, like this regional roundtable, we are well on our way to building a better Alabama, together.”
Highlighted in the discussion was BioGradMatch, a venture to help students at historically Black colleges and universities navigate mental and logistical hurdles in order to successfully apply for biomedical graduate programs. The tech startup is one of three Tuscaloosa businesses who were selected as recipients of the inaugural Innovate Alabama Supplemental Grant Program.
Poole said the regional conversations could lead to policy changes and more funding opportunities.
“We have some additional funding that we want to begin to prioritize for opportunities to highlight and leverage technology innovations efforts…” Poole said. “I think there’s space for substantially greater development of those investments and those policies, but they need to be informed by what is occurring on the local levels.”
Innovate Alabama vice chair and Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper, said the group hopes to bridge connections and foster collaboration between higher education leaders, lawmakers and entrepreneurs throughout west Alabama.
“Through this roundtable, we hope these leaders will learn more about similar challenges they are experiencing and identify synergies across sectors to help solve them,” Reed said.