At the Tipping Point of Magic Again

Birmingham’s tech presence is gaining momentum at SXSW

Loading our rental car after a long day of networking and public speaking in Austin, a young man on a scooter stopped and asked if we were in town for South by Southwest (SXSW), the biggest tech conference in the country. We said we’d just wrapped up some sessions and that we were in from Birmingham, Alabama to recruit companies to the Magic City. His face lit up — “I’m from Birmingham, too!” His girlfriend rode up on a scooter right as we made the connection. We all stood there, in the middle of downtown Austin, exchanging stories. Before they scooted off, we made them promise to move back home.

Birmingham’s tech scene has been on the rise over the past few decades, largely thanks to entrepreneurs like Matt Jaeh, Shegun Otulana, Dave Gray and Bill Smith, who have been successful in Birmingham and intentionally stayed to reinvest in the city. But something feels different lately. Birmingham is at the tipping point of becoming the next major tech hub, and we felt that energy in Austin.

Birmingham Bound is a nonprofit on a mission to recruit tech startups to Birmingham and to help companies who are already here stay and grow. We help these businesses meet who they need in the tech ecosystem and connect them with Realtors, investors, HR companies – whomever and whatever they need to flourish. We want these individuals to feel at home in our city. We know that on top of Birmingham being a great financial choice for a startup, it’s a phenomenal place to live. 

Last year, when I went to SXSW for the first time, I went as a solo female entrepreneur for my social impact company, Fundrage. I spent the weekend connecting with founders and investors but also having to explain the appeal of Birmingham. Most people I met hadn’t been to Birmingham in decades; they certainly didn’t think of it as a tech hub. I was already up against the odds as a female founder but having to explain what I was doing in Birmingham wasn’t something I was expecting. 

I knew then that we weren’t being loud enough about all the incredible companies and founders coming out of our city. Months later, I found myself in my current role as President of Birmingham Bound. This year’s return to SXSW was about loudly claiming our place on the national stage, and we did it with a whole coalition of local organizations by our side.

While we ran into some skepticism, by the end of our time at SXSW, the mention of Birmingham elicited “Birmingham . . . I’ve been hearing that there are good things going on there,” – which was our goal all along.

We talk a lot about Birmingham being the Magic City. While that phrase originated back in the late 1800s to describe how quickly the city grew after the discovery of the three key ingredients for making steel, I think we are at that tipping point of magic again.

The current leadership, camaraderie, and talent within our tech and business ecosystem combine to create a potent recipe for quick and sustainable growth. Stories throughout this magazine affirm that Birmingham is the place to be in this moment. Now – just like we did with that young man on the scooter in Austin – we just need to call our people home. 

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