TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The University of Alabama has partnered with two Alabama cities to create entrepreneurial hubs and spark tech business growth.
The Technology Villages program assists communities in constructing and operating storefront technology-focused incubators by fostering entrepreneurial culture, developing a resource ecosystem and linking University of Alabama resources with emerging tech companies across the state.
The program will soon launch centers in Cullman and Fairhope, where business leaders and city government officials are supporting the program through annual funding and business space. Both community centers are fully funded for the first year, and training will occur over the next six months.
“I’m excited about the University’s strategic partnerships with Cullman and Fairhope,” said UA President Stuart R. Bell. “One of our primary goals as Alabama’s flagship is to increase activities that drive economic development for our state. As we reach out to emerging tech businesses in these areas, we look forward to helping small businesses thrive and bolster their local economies.”
The program is unique in its structure, operating less as a traditional incubator and more as a start-up resource hub where entrepreneurs receive real-time distance learning with hands-on consulting support.
The program will also link Fairhope and Baldwin County to intellectual property resources, seed financing and corporate partnering relationships.
Additionally, The University of Alabama will provide research, preliminary patent searching, contract manufacturing strategy and a host of other business related development services in its multi-state network of collaborative programs. UA undergraduate and graduate students from the Office for Technology Transfer will participate in coordinating services, which are funded by participating communities.
“Small and rural communities can’t spend a lot of money, so this is a unique bend on economic development that will help roll in services and do it at a much lower cost,” said Dr. Rick Swatloski, director of UA’s Office for Technology Transfer. “I’m convinced every community has entrepreneurs, and the communities that can leverage and support them will move forward and grow their tax-base.”
The city of Cullman has renovated a 2,200 square-feet building for its Village in its downtown business district. In Fairhope, BBVA Compass has pledged space for “Hatch,” its Technology Village, in its downtown location.
“The program will help Cullman retain young professionals by diversifying jobs and sparking growth in the burgeoning tech fields,” said Peggy Smith, strategic plan coordinator for the Chamber. “It is exciting to be one of the first communities selected by The University of Alabama for the program. I am excited about the opportunity this partnership affords our citizens to showcase their great business ideas.”
The Technology Villages program is based on a five-year pilot conducted in five South Carolina cities by Clemson University under its Institute of Community and Economic Development. Programs in Bluffton and Rock Hill created more than a dozen companies in the first 18 months and close to 70 new jobs with an estimated payroll of $2.8 million.
“Most successful entrepreneurial development centers have a four-year university cemented in the community to help support their entrepreneurial centers,” Lawson said. “Having The University of Alabama as our partner gives us the resources, brainpower and support we have been looking for a successful entrepreneurial development center make-up to grow these types of companies in our community.”
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.