The quest for entrepreneurial ecosystem builders in unexpected places officially begins September 28 – 29, 2017!

The e.Builders Forum brings together regional entrepreneurial ecosystem leaders for two days of dialogue surrounding advanced critical topics around building entrepreneurial ecosystems in underserved communities.

Designed to celebrate the Appalachian region with Birmingham’s ecosystem as the focal point, InBIA’s e.Builders Forum provides a platform for advanced ecosystem builders to engage in a deep peer-driven dialogue surrounding advanced regionally-focused topics. The agenda consists of rich programming that addresses critical challenges and strategies for building entrepreneurial ecosystems in rural communities, and we hope you’ll consider joining us! The first day will feature four half-day workshops that will be led by industry leaders from throughout the Southeastern U.S. region and beyond. The next day, various industry-specific networks will convene in smaller break-out roundtable discussions to discuss critical infrastructure needs, advanced strategies and regional hot topics relevant to the Appalachian region and other rural communities. 

InBIA’s ecosystem builders (e.Builders) consists of incubation managers, job cultivators, innovators & business model kings & queens. These fearless e.Builders will stop at nothing to equip entrepreneurs in their regions with the necessary tools to build a successful business. We’d like to challenge the notion that entrepreneurial meccas – like Silicon Valley and Boston – are the only regions capable of supporting innovative companies that drive job creation and economic growth.

Meet a few of our most passionate e.Builder presenters & hear from Devon Laney, the President & CEO of Innovation Depot, to learn about what you can expect from this event.

Featured e.Builders Forum Speakers

Robin Hunt loves to inspire people to ‘think something new’ and has a passion for children, adults and data. She loves to volunteer to support any efforts that support Birmingham, Alabama and loves being an active part of the Innovation Depot.

Robin has been thankful to have followed her entrepreneurial spirit and founded ThinkData Solutions Inc., her second start-up. As President and CEO, Robin has found a way to combine both her love for teaching and her technical skills as a developer. It’s rare to find a developer who is also passionate about teaching or vice versa, but Robin seamlessly blends the two and gives her clients and students the best of both worlds. As a developer, she specializes in process development, data management, and customized solutions.

Robin is an active author for lynda.com, and LinkedIn Learning providing her training all over the world. Robin also serves on the Board of Moss Rock Festival and Delect. Her former board seats include the Birmingham International Center and TechBirmingham. Robin is actively involved with State of Alabama as a member of the State of Alabama Office of Education & Workforce Statistics Advisory Board.

Robin’s proudest accomplishment is as a single mother of two beautiful children and future employees – Gary & Julia.

What were some advantages and disadvantages you faced as a female entrepreneur in Birmingham, Alabama?

I truly never considered that I was not surrounded by women because I was always around people. What others might see as disadvantages I have always seen as challenges, and not in a negative light. There are moments when I have felt a little disappointment when others would be funded for ideas and systems that I built years ago. I have always written it off as my job was work and not to seek funding. The job of seeking funding is a full-time effort for most and especially women. As to advantages, I can’t say that I felt any real advantages either due to being a woman. I did however wait years before getting a WOSB certification because I wanted no one to believe that I had not built the company on my own power – so I guess you could say I put myself at a disadvantage. Every state is different and the policies and contracts they supply to women are different. It’s the one thing I think I might change if I could go back, but I doubt it.

What problems currently plague your ecosystem and that you hope to bring to e.Builders Forum to work out with other experts like you?

I would say even though I made a different choice as a small business not seeking funding, I think the largest overall problem with our ecosystem is a lack of funding. I have always thought that it isn’t where you are but who you know. I have had a great career but because of my “pre” business ownership career, I met hundreds of people. Not everyone has that advantage, so I think we need more programs like the Velocity Accelerator overall, and it wouldn’t hurt to see one dedicated for women.

How do you think entrepreneurial ecosystems in underserved and/or rural communities could learn from your business model and apply it to their region to drive job creation and economic growth?

Understanding at this day and age that technology exists that allow you to startup and have the same tools as the enterprise businesses that are in our country is a game changer. Making sure that our children know that the entry point for starting a business can begin anywhere. I came from North Alabama with a population of 3000 – I just didn’t even realize it. I would encourage people to think big even if your surroundings seem small.

What advice would you give to women entrepreneurs & small business owners?

Be prepared to be told anything you would never imagine you’d hear. For as much praise as I have received, I have also heard things that I won’t repeat. I never let it get me down, I only let it drive me. My mother and father have told me I could do anything that I put my mind too. I love to solve problems, and lots of them. I could never just be happy with 1 product, so I have developed many. With that being said, I am focused. Our business solves problems with data and education. Early on decide what it is you will solve and how you will solve it, and then for some of us – its rinse repeat.

Jonathan Geisen, shareholder in the Birmingham office of Baker Donelson, concentrates his practice in the general areas of mergers and acquisitions, business planning and general business and corporate matters.

His practice has historically focused on representation of closely-held businesses and emerging companies, but he has also been counsel to public companies, venture capitalists and private equity groups.

Mr. Geisen has extensive experience in capital fundraising, structured lending and finance transactions, and technology law.

Why your ecosystem is unique?

As a lifelong resident, I’ve never seen the Birmingham ecosystem as poised to take the next step as it is right now. There is incredible cooperation among business and political leaders, UAB and so many other interested parties who are finally rowing in the same direction with a common goal to grow our innovation district and larger entrepreneurial ecosystem.

What program or resource are you most proud of delivering to your ecosystem that fosters building out the community for entrepreneurs?

I am most proud of my involvement with Innovation Depot, which is integral to the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Birmingham.

What problems currently plague your ecosystem and that you hope to bring to e.Builders Forum to work out with other experts like you?

As with many smaller cities, we suffer from lack of funding sources and lack of developer talent depth.

How do you think entrepreneurial ecosystems in underserved and/or rural communities could learn from your model and apply it to their region to drive job creation and economic growth?

I do think there is lack of legal expertise available to underserved and/or rural communities with regard to high-growth emerging companies, especially technology based companies.

As CEO for Alignment Simple Solutions, LLC, Tess Winningham oversees the company’s growth strategy, spanning a diverse set of industry and audiences with an established global footprint for QuickTrick™ Alignment Products.

Prior to Alignment Simple Solutions, Ms. Winningham was an executive in business development and sales for several Fortune 500’s for over 25 years. Winningham’s has excelled across industries such as publishing, movie distribution, finance, 5S manufacturing  & supply chain management.

As a company, we focus on quality and growth potential to reach our end goal of giving back to fellow enthusiasts and making sure we are able to provide opportunity for others. I have a personal commitment to “paying it forward”.  My life is complete when I can help other women, minorities and auto enthusiasts to reach their full potential.

What were some advantages and disadvantages you faced as a female entrepreneur in Birmingham, Alabama?

It is a challenge to be taken seriously as a female CEO in the automotive industry. I have found the best way to overcome perception is knowledge.  My greatest weapon against pre-conceived notions is to have utmost confidence in my product and myself.  I believe the same can be said of many industries, but I do believe perception is changing for the better.

Access to capital investment is a challenge for most women, and I am no stranger to bias. I had a major identity theft 8 years ago and I still struggle to gain access to capital and investment.  Being female on top of the identity theft has forced us to find creative ways to finance equipment and inventory.

What problems currently plague your ecosystem and that you hope to bring to e.Builders Forum to work out with other experts like you?

Our access to capital is still a challenge, but there are many hidden resources. Without these resources, we would not be where we are today.  It is always first and foremost in our minds to share our knowledge of these resources with others as a means of paying it forward with the goal of making positive changes for the future of all.

Finding international distributors can be a major challenge. When small businesses look to expand their customer base abroad, it can be challenging.  We have sold product in over 100 countries yet still struggle to find distributors.  I believe, together, we can all come up with ways to reach a broader global audience.  We have several ways we are currently working to overcome the challenges and we want to share with others.  United we can do anything.

Access to government contracts is a great boost to business. You have to set yourself up with the right places, people and plan.  You must have a trusted partner to help you wade through the mire of paperwork and regulations.  With the right partner and plan, all of us should be able to take advantage of the wealth of government contracts.  We are currently in the final stages of getting on the GSA.  Sharing that journey could be beneficial to all.

How do you think entrepreneurial ecosystems in underserved and/or rural communities could learn from your business model and apply it to their region to drive job creation and economic growth?

The challenges we have faced and overcome will be useful to everyone. From bootstrapping our way to our first manufacturing facility, to offering our structure to other startups and relying on coaches and mentors.  The tools we have used can be applied to any hopeful business startups and those who are struggling

What advice would you give to women entrepreneurs, small business owners & those within the automotive industry?

Use technology to help you be more efficient.

Gather mentors and advisors who have success in your industry.

Identify your strengths and weaknesses and rely on others to coach you in the weak areas or delegate those to others.

Never be afraid to say “I do not know, but I will find out!”

Never overcommit yourself, but always give back. If you need help, offer help.

Learn from your mistakes. They will happen, but they can be an investment in your future.

Use your resources. PTAC, SBA, AITC, Chambers, BBA, local Universities and Colleges, and many more.

Always negotiate pricing with suppliers.

Start with a CPA, access to legal help and an efficient accounting system like Quickbooks.

Always be learning, always be growing, always have non work related hobby.

Dr. Anthony J. Margida, CEO of TechGrit AMX2, leads the Akron Accelerator, architecting the organization’s visionary transformation into Northeast Ohio’s entrepreneurial ecosystem super-hub.

Since 2013, he’s helped Accelerator companies create 450 new jobs and secure $70M in investment. As Company Formation Advisor for Battelle, Margida designed its Emergent™ Services NASA Company Formation process and was instrumental in launching the global footwear adhesive business at H.B.Fuller and Lord Corporation’s magnetorheological (MR) fluid division.

Why your ecosystem is unique?

The Akron Accelerator, founded in 1983, is the longest running business incubator in the nation, providing a holistic entrepreneurial ecosystem with programming in incubation, software acceleration, boot camps, arts inclusion, and collaboration events balanced by a diversity of free service organizations. Our 2018 expansion will provide an additional 25,000 sq. ft. of affordable, accessible resources including an innovation (co-working) space, makerspace, public meeting rooms and café, acting as THE hub for entrepreneurial activity … all under one roof.

What program or resource are you most proud of delivering to your ecosystem that fosters building out the community for entrepreneurs?

I am most proud of our signature incubation program – TCA – Technology Company Acceleration. It supports 30-35 resident startups in a broad array of technology sectors. Each startup company has an assigned Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR,) who serves as the company’s point person for free services in business planning/modeling, strategic relationships, and capital raises. TCA has helped create 450 new jobs for our client companies during the past four years.

What problems currently plague your ecosystem and that you hope to bring to e.Builders Forum to work out with other experts like you?

Community building and public relations. How can we convey our tremendous amenities, achievements, and success stories to stakeholders in Akron and outside our region in order to make the Akron Accelerator an entrepreneurial destination like no other?

Birmingham was recently voted number 1 for millennial founders. Have you noticed a trend in millennial founders growing their startups in tier – two cities? Why do you believe it is crucial for communities to learn how to engage with millennials, also known as the “Founders Generation?

Millennials have become the “founder’s generation” largely due to the economic, technological, and cultural evolution of current times. This is nurture and not nature. The Internet, technology advances, and changing corporate views on research and development have created explosive growth in achievable pathways where individuals can create their own businesses. As a result, any city willing to alter its environment with founder-friendly programs and amenities popular to the age group has the potential to draw this demographic to their cities. The challenge, however, is that so many cities have shifted their focus to millennials and their potential impact to economic development that attracting them is becoming fiercely competitive, while other groups are being discarded as potential economic drivers. I believe in an abundance society, however. Success breeds success. As more young companies launch, it has seemed that others have the guts to follow. And I believe there are enough founders for many cities to enjoy the benefits of this growth.

This year’s e.Builders Forum will be held at Innovation Depot, one of the nation’s largest and most successful incubators located in Birmingham, Alabama. As the epicenter for technology, startups and entrepreneurs in the Appalachian region, Innovation Depot has given entrepreneurs the incredible competitive advantage in attracting customers, talent, mentors, press and funding to grow their businesses.

If you haven’t already registered, click here to join us in Birmingham, Alabama!