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Helping Innovators Grow Roots

July 9, 2024 · Entrepreneurs, Innovation, Stories, Talent

Innovate Alabama Elevates Talent at Sloss Tech 

Through Sloss Tech’s “Next in Tech” initiative, Innovate Alabama is empowering the next generation of tech innovators and entrepreneurs in Alabama. 

As a proud sponsor of the Next In Tech program, Innovate Alabama enabled college and university students from all regions of the state to attend the Sloss Tech conference and engage in specialized student programming at no cost. This initiative ignited a vibrant tech energy throughout downtown Birmingham’s two-block event area. 

“We came to Sloss Tech to create content to engage young talent and to really explain to them three things – why Alabama, why tech and why entrepreneurship. We knew that this was the best space to do that,” said Shannon Allen, who leads talent development at Innovate Alabama.  

“Today’s young people are innovators, and they are builders. The idea of just punching a clock from 8 to 5 for the rest of their life – they’re not interested in that. A lot of them are interested in entrepreneurship in fields that are moving and advancing so quickly in technology, biotech and artificial intelligence,” she said. 

Four Programs, One Vision 

Innovate Alabama’s four talent development initiatives sprang into action during Sloss Tech.  

At the conference, Innovate Alabama hosted a mix of programming focused on entrepreneurship, community building, skill development and networking.  

In addition, the organization held Sloss Tech’s first-ever Student Pitch Competition, engaging students from across the state, including two current HBCU Innovation Experience participants, Alabama A&M student Georgianna Wright and Talladega College student Jevon Tatum, and one Emerging Innovation Scholars (BIG Ideas) participant Julian Woods, a student at University of Alabama. 

Julian Woods, winner of the competition and co-founder of TappedIn, said, “Sloss Tech was really important for me. Getting more informed about people connected in this technology world, meeting mentors, working on startups themselves and winning this competition were thrilling to me. I want to thank Innovate Alabama and Sloss Tech 2024 for the opportunity that I have here today.” The TappedIn team took home $5,000 to support the startup.

Other students attended Sloss Tech as part of FuelAL, a statewide program of Innovate Alabama and the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA). The summer program offers college students professional development, service opportunities and social events to show off everything Alabama has to offer outside the workplace. 

The QuantHub Alabama Data Scholars Internship Program places high school juniors and seniors from around the state into learning experiences to grow their competitive data literacy skills and engage them with careers in data science.  

QuantHub scholar Fernando Acevedo, a Sloss Tech attendee interning at the Hispanic and Immigrant Center of Alabama this summer, said this program “gives me an opportunity to have experience in a field similar to what I want to enter after college.” 

College entrepreneur Hunter Stepanovich attended Sloss Tech as part the Emerging Innovation Scholars (BIG Ideas) program. Launched by The University of Alabama Honors College in collaboration with Innovate Alabama, the program helps students develop their entrepreneurial ideas and put them into action. 

“I started working with my friend on some technology around hydrofoils, which is like a wing underwater that lifts a surfboard. We saw it could become a business, and the BIG Ideas program is helping us develop it and make it competitive. I’m originally from Michigan, but now I love Alabama,” he said.  

Looking for “5-Stars” 

At the Next In Tech Ice Cream Social, recruiters took an opportunity to scout for talent. Free of charge, Innovate Alabama invited the area’s top companies to connect with student attendees.

Protective Life Director of Talent Acquisition Eric Hess said, “It’s wonderful to see companies from all over country come and attend this event and be a part of something special. Sloss Tech is one of a kind, and we’re fortunate and grateful to be out here to showcase and support the overall community of Birmingham as well as share what we’re looking for from a talent perspective.” 

NASCAR’s Brandon Thompson said, “NASCAR is becoming increasingly more driven by technology and sustainability, so the great part about Sloss Tech is that we have direct access to this emerging talent.”  

Bade Schnurr of tech recruiting firm Result Group said, “The more that we can retain tech talent or bring them back, the more we can grow our ecosystem and continue to build Birmingham and Alabama as a tech hub.” 

Words of Wisdom from Shegun Otulana 

A final highlight from the Next In Tech program was the keynote given by Shegun Otulana, a visionary Alabama entrepreneur, founder of Harmony Venture Labs and Innovate Alabama commission member. With an incredibly successful exit, selling his prior company Therapy Brands for $1.2 billion, Otulana shared invaluable insights with young talent in the audience on taking risks, finding your passion and surrounding yourself with a network of mentors.  

He also discussed why he chose to build his business in Alabama specifically. 

“This was home, this is a place where you’re one degree of separation from the person you need to talk to. This is a place where each dollar can go very, very far,” Otulana said. 

Otulana’s journey and wisdom served as a powerful reminder of the potential within Alabama and the limitless opportunities awaiting the next generation of tech leaders and innovators.

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