Last month, a Forbes contributor visited Birmingham during the jam-packed Innovation Week. The resulting article, “Inside Birmingham’s Bid to Become the Southern Silicon Valley,” hones in on the tech scene that has drawn comparisons to Silicon Valley. It became clear that the Birmingham of today is not the Birmingham of old, a summation that Mayor Randall Woodfin agreed with.
“People have an antiquated view of Birmingham and we have to change that,” he said. “We’re familiar with all the awesome stuff that’s going on, but the average person on the street probably has no idea.”
Here are some takeaways of the article:
- Birmingham’s cost of living makes the city competitive. In Silicon Valley, the median house price recently hit $1.2 million, and even tech hubs like Austin, Seattle and Boulder are becoming expensive. Birmingham’s low cost of living gives it an edge.
- Beyond the housing market, fundraising dollars go further in Birmingham than in a place like San Francisco. “I love San Francisco, but I’ve had companies move out here from there who say if they raise $3 million that’s a nine-month runway in San Francisco, [while] here that’s a two-year runway,” said Innovation Depot President and CEO Devon Laney. “And the Internet is just as good!”
- Companies housed at Innovation Depot, a backbone of the startup scene in the city, created 1,064 local jobs and $155 million in gross sales with $1.66 billion in regional impact over five years.
- Innovation Depot maintains a process to continue a pipeline of supporting good companies like Mixtroz, Wyndy, Fleetio and Planet Fundraiser, all mentioned in the piece: “Our job is to grow our companies to scale and for that, we identify things they need like workforce,” Laney said. “If they can’t find the workforce, they are going to go somewhere else.”
- Diversity matters in Birmingham. At Innovation Depot, around 20 percent of the startups there are run by women, compared to around 16 percent in Silicon Valley. “I couldn't help but notice the gender breakdown on the room; according to my rough calculations, around 40 percent of people here were women, and 50 percent were African American or Asian,” said Stone of an Innovation Week event she attended. “That’s huge and far better than the Valley. It’s proof that things can change, and the less entrenched they are, the more leeway there is to start out right.”
- At 36, Woodfin is the youngest mayor Birmingham has ever had. He puts a premium on diversity, too. “We want to give people who are outside of Birmingham, and outside of Alabama, a compelling reason to come down,” he said. “To set ourselves apart, we are really focusing on that inclusivity, and we have an opportunity not just for the traditional lenses, not just race and gender but also for LGBTQ, ageism, veterans and those with disabilities.”
- This year Birmingham was awarded the Smart Cities readiness grant and will be using it to create new infrastructure, better analytic data tools and work on economic development projects.
The Forbes piece is not the only recent accolade for Birmingham. Already this month Innovation Depot was profiled by Venture Beat, SmartAsset named Birmingham one of the most affordable big cities in America and Birmingham was named one of the most underrated cities in the Southeast by Global Traveler.