HudsonAlpha Launches Biotech Mentoring Program for Entrepreneurs

The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology has launched a mentoring program to help strengthen biotech and life sciences entrepreneurs as business leaders in North Alabama, capitalizing on the wealth of business talent in the region.

The program, called Navigate, was established last fall and is modeled after MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service program which has been mentoring entrepreneurs for more than 20 years.

Through careful, thoughtful and deliberate selection, Navigate matches growing entrepreneurs with teams of c-suite executives, experienced entrepreneurs and subject matter experts from North Alabama to provide them a group of confidential and conflict-free advisors.

“HudsonAlpha founders Jim Hudson and Lonnie McMillian were both serial entrepreneurs and mentors to countless entrepreneurs, including some of the Navigate mentors,” said Carter Wells, vice president for economic development at HudsonAlpha and director of Navigate. “Navigate is a way for us to bring the entrepreneurial and mentor spirit that created HudsonAlpha to entrepreneurs looking to grow in the life sciences community.”

Navigate’s first class of mentors includes a who’s-who of business executives, serial entrepreneurs and civic leaders. The current mentors are:

  • Paul Gierow, Founder, GATR Technologies
  • Matthew Parker, PhD, Associate, Maynard Cooper
  • Kevin Gold, Operating Partner, Integrated Openings Solutions
  • Steve Hettinger, Former engineer, manager and public servant
  • Irma Tuder, Founder and CEO, Analytical Services, Inc.
  • Pat Shields, Senior Financial Advisor, Morgan Stanley
  • Gary Bolton, Vice President Global Marketing, Adtran
  • Barry Derrick, Product Manager, Adtran
  • Danny Windham, COO, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology
  • Peggy Sammon, CEO, GeneCapture
  • Rex Vaughn, President, Madison County Farmers Federation
  • Michelle Stark, Marketing Director, Red Sage Communications
  • Brian Pollock, CEO and Founder, Kailos Genetics
  • Tom Young, CEO Kord Technologies
  • Richard Marsden, Shareholder, Maynard Cooper

“I’ve been involved with HudsonAlpha for a number of years as a board member and ambassador, and I’m excited for the opportunity to bring my experience as an entrepreneur and business leader to the innovative companies at the Institute,” said Irma Tuder, founder of Analytical Services Inc.

After completing its pilot phase, the program will be available to companies across North Alabama. Companies must be involved in biotech or life sciences for consideration. For information, email mentor@hudsonalpha.org.

Flourish: An Entrepreneurial Venture on the Front Line of Marketing and Public Relations

Businesses tend to equate marketing with “koozies, pens and assorted trade show swag.”

“I can’t tell you how many companies we’ve worked with who believe that the only role of a marketing department is to order t-shirts and set up the next tradeshow booth,” said Megan Nivens-Tannett, founder and CEO of Flourish, a marketing and public relations firm based in Huntsville.

“Marketing needs to be very thoughtful, very intentional and very strategic. It needs to be measured. It needs to be validated,” said Nivens-Tannett. “You also need to understand your market – and your competitors – to ensure your tactics will resonate.”

Flourish, founded in March 2018, represents a variety of clients across the Tennessee Valley, providing strategic marketing, public relations and digital media support.

In less than two years, the growth trajectory has skyrocketed for the small business startup.

Last year, Flourish was nominated as an Emerging Business of the Year for the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce Small Business Awards.

Today, the four-person firm has more than 15 clients across North Alabama – serving industries such as aerospace and defense, public safety, healthcare, finance, telecommunications, entertainment and music, and health and wellness. Flourish also provides volunteer support for nonprofits in the military and entrepreneur communities.

Nivens-Tannett and her team make it look effortless, but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, life’s biggest setbacks can often challenge one to forge a new path.

After being laid off from her job, Nivens-Tannett was at a loss. As a single mother striking out on her own following a divorce, Nivens-Tannett knew she had to do something.

Her 11-year-old daughter, Madison, suggested, “Why don’t you start your own business?”

Not wanting to let her daughter down, that’s exactly what she did.

“Madison came up with the name and designed the logo,” said Nivens-Tannett. “After getting that first taste of entrepreneurship, it opened my eyes; I never wanted to work for anyone else again.”

And now there are four.

In April 2019, Nivens-Tannett hired account manager Logan Moore; by November, account manager Alex Hendrix and account coordinator Presley Price were added to meet the growth surge. All four are self-professed “Doer of All Things,” which complements their “Work hard, play hard” office culture.

The synergy among the team is dynamic and allows for an opportunity to shine; showcasing each woman’s skills and talents.

“The work culture aligns with our personalities,” said Nivens-Tannett. “Every day is a new adventure and, so far, it’s been a really fun ride.”

 

Sitdown with Success: Louis Breland: An Old-School Developer Leading New-school Developments

This month’s installment of the Huntsville Business Journal’s series “Sitdown with Success” features developer Louis Breland. “Sitdown with Success” spotlights local entrepreneurs who describe their successes and failures.

Tell us about your very first touch with Town Madison and how you got involved.

We had developed a lot of property on Madison Boulevard that we still own, and we used to have offices out there.

Louis Breland (Photo/Steve Babin)

I was looking out the back window one day at a gorgeous tract of land I had my eyes on for a while. I knew Intergraph founder Jim Meadlock owned it and he didn’t need to sell it. But this day there was a tractor clearing trees! I’m thinking, “Holy smokes! I should have been calling on this property!’’

I knew Mr. Meadlock was a really nice man and I had his phone number, so I called him up and said, “Mr. Meadlock, did you sell that property because I see a tractor over there?”

He said, “No Louis, it’s just some farmers clearing trees for me. Do you want to buy it?”

I said absolutely, and negotiations started there.

It looks like such a huge and complex development. Did you know that going in?

Town Madison is actually a relatively simple development. Except for having to put in interstate ramps and things like that are complicated and takes a long time, but Breland has always done fairly large residential communities. My first Huntsville development, Autumn Ridge, is probably 800 homes.

I’ve watched cattle farms turn into major cities, so I recognized that Town Madison is in an incredible location – 2½ miles of interstate frontage and a gateway to the city. It had everything you could want in terms of a location. Town Madison started out as just a great piece of real estate at a great price.

Jim Meadlock and Intergraph owned most of the property and the rest was smaller parcels owned by four or five individuals, so we had to arsemble all of it.

You mentioned Autumn Ridge as your first Huntsville development. You came to Huntsville from Mobile?

I started a homebuilding company in Mobile in 1976 and we were building throughout Mobile, Gulf Shores and Baldwin County on the eastern shore.

A friend invited me to come to Huntsville around 1982 or 1983, to see all the activity. President Reagan had poured money into the Huntsville and Madison County market to support the military buildup for Star Wars.

The market was just exploding! The market is really good now; it was better then. There was very limited competition and there was room to put in subdivisions and build houses. And buyers were lined up.

Within the week, I decided to move here, and we closed our Gulf Coast operation. By comparison, the coast was a very tough market: in Baldwin County, you could barely sell a house.

From the day we started in Huntsville it was on fire – successful from day one. You had a tough market nationally but here there was a shortage of housing and lots of land available for development.

To get started in the development and home building business, do you just start buying land?

Correct. Within just a few months we bought a 400-acre tract of land on South Parkway (Autumn Ridge) and a big tract of land at Zierdt Road where the Edgewater community is now.

You have been involved in this part of town for a long time.

Wayne Bonner of Bonner Development developed Edgewater, but I was one of the first to buy land from him to build houses. Lady Anne Lake was just a bunch of trees back then.

Mountainbrook was one of the first developments at Edgewater. I bought 100 lots that became Mountainbrook and Heritage Woods.

What has it been like being in the homebuilding and commercial development business and still come out on top, with all the volatility over the years?

Louis Breland with Toyota Field in the background. (Photo/Steve Babin)

You have to remember, back then, interest rates and energy were not predictable. Oil goes from $50 a barrel to $150 a barrel; inflation starts in, the Feds raise interest rates and you go from 8 percent to 10 percent to 12 percent, 14 percent and then back to 10 percent. There’s nothing in the real estate business – nothing – predictable. It is always changing. But the difference between then and now, I believe, is that 100 percent of energy came from the Middle East and we had no real energy policy in place.

It was just crazy what fluctuations in energy and interest rates would do. It was always a roller coaster.

And interest rates are like oxygen for a homebuilder and interest rate volatility is very hard on us. It cuts off your oxygen and the higher the rates go – it starts choking you and you have no control over it – period.

But despite this, we thrived here in the Huntsville market. We probably had 30 to 35 percent of the homebuilding market here – 30 to 35 percent of all homes sold were Breland Homes. We were by far the largest builder here.

Has the business changed much?

Extremely different.

Back then there was no one to buy lots from. We bought 100 acres, built the lots, developed all of the infrastructure like roads and utilities; built the homes, sold homes, and we financed them. So we were very integrated – from raw dirt to turning on your stove for the first time at move in.

Now, if you just want to be a homebuilder and not get into development, you can just go buy lots from someone.

How did you survive the financial and real estate collapse back in 2006 through 2008?

I’m old school.

That housing boom was not real world. In the world I grew up in, you had to have real credibility. You had to have real equity and real money which meant you had to put 30 sometimes as much as 50 percent in cash down to get a deal to make a development happen.

I did not participate in that because I could never understand how somebody who couldn’t qualify to borrow $100,000 could borrow $100 million.

We saw some of it coming.

We owned one of the largest privately held self-storage companies in Alabama, Mississippi and South Florida.

In 2006, we sold it for almost $100 million, so we were very liquid. When it collapsed, we had a lot of inventory, but we were liquid, so we bought over 100 communities in great land locations out of bankruptcy at giveaway prices. And we did not go back into the market.

I told everybody here, “This is either the most incredible buying opportunity in real estate, or the largest sucker hole we’ll ever go through – but we’re going to go for it!”

Mixed-use Development Planned for Former Governors Drive Motel Site

A mixed-use development, including a 100-room hotel, is planned for the site of a former motel and small businesses on Governors Drive in Huntsville’s growing Westside.

The property, some 13 acres of land on Governors Drive near the intersections with 13th and 14th streets, will be developed by The Beach Company. Construction is planned to start this summer.

According to an announcement from The Beach Company, the community will feature multiple buildings totaling approximately 26,000 square feet of office, retail and dining space in addition to 260 multifamily units, 14 townhomes and a 100-key hotel.

Residential amenities will include a pool, a fitness area, a clubhouse and ample green space with a dog park.

The planned project will complement the nearby Stovehouse development and will feature pedestrian walkways between them.

“This community addition will help continue the momentum of growth along Governors Drive through increased walkability and connectivity,” said Ned Miller, development manager with The Beach Company. “The project was thoughtfully designed to enhance the experience of the growing number of residents and businesses expanding to Huntsville’s flourishing Westside.”

To accommodate for the new community, approximately 620 parking spaces will be made available to residents and visitors in addition to garage storage available for apartment and townhome residents.

The Beach Company has developed the Sixth South mixed-use community in Nashville and Chattanooga’s River Rock community.

 

Rocket City Trash Pandas are Hiring

MADISON – If you’ve wanted to work for a professional sports team, here is your chance.

The Rocket City Trash Pandas, the Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels, are holding a job fair Saturday, Jan. 25, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Bob Jones High School cafeteria. The school is at 650 Hughes Road in Madison.

“We are building a team of passionate, energetic, and driven individuals to deliver the best experience in Minor League Baseball,” the team said in a statement.

The Trash Pandas will be hiring for more than 100 positions in more than 30 game-day roles. Positions include ticket takers, ushers, servers, bartenders, vendors/hawkers, concessionaires, warehouse, cooks, housekeeping, production room, camera operator, concessions stocker, parking lot attendants, promo team member, game-day runner and more.

Candidates are urged to bring a completed application to the job fair. Applications can be found at www.trashpandasbaseball.com.

Anyone looking for an internship can also interview at the job fair and are encouraged to bring resumes.

Representatives of the Trash Pandas will be on hand to provide information and answer questions.

The Trash Pandas’ home Opening Day is April 15 against the Mississippi Braves at Toyota Field. Season tickets, mini plans and group outings are on sale now. Visit www.trashpandasbaseball.com or call 256-325-1403.

Nominations Open for Fifth Annual Entrepreneur Awards

The Catalyst Center for Business & Entrepreneurship is accepting nominations for the fifth annual Entrepreneur Awards – a culmination of the 2020 Innovate Huntsville Week events. The Entrepreneur Awards recognize and honor the skill and courage of entrepreneurs to develop a business from an idea.
“The Catalyst is excited to host the fifth annual Entrepreneur Awards as culmination of Innovate Huntsville Week,” said Tracy Junkins, Women’s Business Center Project Coordinator for The Catalyst. “This event honors and recognizes the talented entrepreneurs within the community. The Entrepreneur Awards is where entrepreneurs come together to celebrate one another’s successes in building up the unique community of North Alabama.”
Award categories include: Entrepreneur of the Year, Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year, Creative Entrepreneur of the Year, Female Entrepreneur of the Year, Veteran Entrepreneur of the Year,  Youth Entrepreneur of the Year, People’s Choice, and Entrepreneur Champion of the Year.
Nominations close Jan. 21 and may be made at www.innovateHSV.com. The winners will be announced at the Entrepreneur Awards ceremony Feb. 28.
For information, visit www.innovateHSV.com or www.catalystcenter.org.

South Huntsville Businesses Receive Facade Improvement Grants

There will soon be a new look to some South Huntsville businesses.

Nearly a dozen small businesses will be able to improve their storefronts, facades and even landscaping thanks to Façade Improvement Grants, the South Huntsville Main Business Association announced.

Business owners applied for the grants, sponsored by Redstone Federal Credit Union. The businesses demonstrated how the improvements to their storefronts would affect the overall appearance, quality, growth and vitality of the South Huntsville district.

The grants provide up to two-to-one in matching funds for 11 projects ranging from $800 to $4,000. The total economic impact is $184,000 in the South Huntsville community.

“The Façade Improvement Grants are contributing to a positive business environment in South Huntsville,” said Bekah Schmidt, executive director for the South Huntsville Main Business Association. “Through the grant, we are encouraging the revitalization of buildings and supporting business improvement. We look forward to seeing these projects completed over the next six months, and greatly appreciate our presenting sponsor, Redstone Federal Credit Union for making this all possible.”

The grant program is part of South Huntsville’s participation in the Main Street Alabama, a statewide effort to build stronger communities through effective downtown and neighborhood commercial district revitalization. South Huntsville was designated a Main Street Alabama community in June 2018.

The following businesses and or shopping centers will be utilizing the matching grant funds to complete façade renovations, building enhancements, or landscape improvements.

  • Angel’s Island Coffee Shop
  • Apollo Animal Hospital
  • Bubby’s Diner
  • Das Stahl Bierhaus
  • Earth Touch Garden Center
  • Eleanor Murphy Library
  • 8200 Memorial Parkway
  • Off the Rack Boutique
  • Main Street South
  • Sabghi’s Jewelers
  • Village Center

For information, call 256-701-2290, email bekah@shba.biz or visit southhuntsvillemain.org/façade.

The Catalyst Receives Grant for Small Business Training Program

As Huntsville and Madison County continue to grow, there’s been an exponential surge in small business development over the past several years.

Drake State President Dr. Patricia Sims: “More qualified workers increase the quality of life in our community.” (Photo/Lori Connors)

Here in North Alabama, small businesses and entrepreneurial ventures have been welcomed with open arms.

Economic development is essential for community growth and stability. To that end, the U.S. Small Business Administration recently awarded The Catalyst Center for Business and Entrepreneurship a $350,000 Management & Technical Assistance Program grant.

“I’m delighted to come here and participate,” said SBA Deputy District Director L.D. Ralph at the announcement hosted at Drake State Community and Technical College.

“We are excited about this endeavor,” said Drake State President Dr. Patricia Sims. “The overall, overarching goal is to meet the workforce needs and those needs are growing. We are part of the workforce solution.

“More qualified workers increase the quality of life in our community.”

Over the past 21 years, Ralph has enjoyed a strong affiliation with the Catalyst Center, then known as the Women’s Business Center of North Alabama.

“It’s been a long-term, beneficial relationship,” he said.

The program’s assistance encompasses a wide spectrum of services to include one-to-one customized coaching, business training, and networking/matchmaking opportunities. A key goal of the program is to help firms compete for federal, state and local contracts as a prime contractor or subcontractor.

To participate in the free training program, small businesses must be:

  • Owned and managed by economically and/or socially disadvantaged individuals
  • Located in areas of high unemployment or low-income
  • Certified 8(a) participant or HUBZone small business
  • Economically disadvantaged and woman-owned

Resources are provided through SBA’s network of strategic partners, including The Catalyst, Drake State Community and Technical College, Neighborhood Concepts, Regions Bank, Redstone Federal Credit Union, and Live Oak Bank.

Drake State will provide a certificate program in Entrepreneurship. Neighborhood Concepts and Redstone Federal Credit Union are partnered to provide loans through the Business Assistance Microloan Program.

Live Oak Bank will provide support to 7(j) companies relative to mergers and acquisitions and growth through contract mobilization. Regions Bank will provide facilities, coaches and assistance designed to reach low-to-moderate income entrepreneurs within North Alabama.

For information, visit catalystcenter.org

Huntsville Business Journal Sitdown with Success: Bill Roark

Sitdown with Success is a feature of the Huntsville Business Journal spotlighting local entrepreneurs and their path to success and advice for future entrepreneurs.

It’s easy to see why employees on Torch’s campus, that is home to Torch Technologies and Freedom Real Estate and Capital, LLC, are so happy.

We sat down and spoke with Bill Roark, Torch’s co-founder and Freedom Real Estate’s CEO, and it was clear to see that employees are a top priority of the 100 percent employee-owned companies.

Bill Roark on his key to success: Good people. I’ve been able to surround myself with really good people. (Photo/Steve Babin)

And it is because of the employees and management’s vision and direction that Torch Technologies was one of the Top 100 Fastest Growing Companies in America, according to Entrepreneur Magazine, and on multiple selections on the Inc. 5000 list recognizing the Fastest Growing Private Companies in the U.S.

How did you get started in the business?

Torch Technologies was founded in 2002 and I stepped down as CEO from Torch at the end of 2018. Torch and Freedom are sister companies and under the umbrella of Starfish Holdings for which I am chairman of the board. Freedom Real Estate was started, mostly in the beginning to be an alternative investment for the profits Torch Technologies was making. It was a way to diversify a little bit and it’s been very successful.

What obstacles did you face/how did you overcome them?

Early challenges were cash flow.  The company grew very quickly and started to hire people.  We had to have cash to pay them.  We initially used my home equity line of credit, but as the company continued to grow, we took on some angel investors.  We were fortunate to get good investors who were supportive of the company and were not invasive into the operations.

How are you able to keep your business relevant?

We are constantly updating and changing things to respond to a changing market.  Every year assess exactly where the company is.  We also look at where we want to be two years from now.  We then develop a detailed plan to make the changes to make that happen.

To what do you attribute your success?

Good people. I’ve been able to surround myself with really good people.

Early on, I reached out to a lot of folks I had worked with in the past that I knew who were good and those people knew others who were good. We generally get people who fit our culture that want to be here; that want to be doing what we are doing. The people and the culture are really what have driven us.

One of the key things is that everyone has a stake in the outcome.

Everybody is an owner. If the company does well, then they do well. There’s motivation for them to have the company do well.

When the employees are the owners, they benefit from the success of the company.

What is important to your company culture?

Being good stewards of the community.

That has been with us since the early days. We try to always give something back to the community and grow that as we grow. Some of the big projects that the company will take on are decided on the executive level, but we have created a community within the company that decides how to spend the company money.

Any employee can volunteer and help with Torch Helps, the employees decide which community charities are selected.

Several years ago, we considered leaving south Huntsville, but the mayor encouraged us to stay and asked us to help revitalize South Huntsville, so we did. We started buying buildings such as the Freedom Center and Office Park south.

We have spent close to $20 million revitalizing old buildings in southeast Huntsville and bringing them back to a premium where people would want to be in them again.

What advice do you have for future entrepreneurs?

Learn as much as you can about the business area you want to go into.

If you want to start a business in engineering, you will need to get a college degree, a few years of experience and get some customer relationships such that you have the influence to be able to bring the contracts to the company that you start and the experience to justify bringing in those contracts.

It’s important to build relationships with companies that can help you and with government personnel that would be willing to provide the funding.

Also, for decades, we had that belief that everyone needs to go to college to be able to do business. I don’t think that’s as true anymore. There are lots of good trades out there and there’s a shortage of people to work those skilled trade jobs.

 

 

 

 

 

Madison Chamber of Commerce Celebrates Best in Business 2019 Awards

MADISON — Tuesday night was sheer gala for members of the Madison business community as the Madison Chamber of Commerce and Good Samaritan Hospice of Madison awarded Best in Business 2019 awards.

More than a dozen businesses were recognized at the annual dinner and awards presentation at the Insanity Complex Entertainment Center.

The evening was capped off with Janine Nesin of Nesin Therapy Services being awarded the Excellence in Leadership & Service Award. Cassie Scott of the Quadrus Corp. was runner-up.

According to Pam Honeycutt, executive director of the Madison Chamber, the awards categories are evolving every year to better reflect the growth and diversity of the Chamber membership.

“We added arts, entertainment and hospitality categories to the awards this year, and we added a new Culinary Student Program sponsorship, presented by Earfinity,” said Honeycutt. “A $500 check was awarded to Madison City Schools Culinary Program instructor Monica Creekmore for their service to the Chamber throughout the year.”

The winners were Signalink for Best Business of the Year; Capital Management Services for Best Start-up Business of the Year; Mozaic Audio Video Integration for Best Small Business of the Year; and Union Chapel Christian Academy for Best Nonprofit of the Year.

Conditioned Air Solutions; Black Patch Distilling Co.; Air Essentials; and Big Brothers/Big Sisters of North Alabama took runner-up in each category respectively.

Daniel Kasambira of Hogan Family YMCA won Community Servant of the Year with Michelle Linville of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of North Alabama the finalist.

Health and Wellness Business of the Year went to Hot Yoga DeLux & Cryotherapy with Madison Health Mart Pharmacy taking second place. The Dessert Fork won the Culinary Business of the Year with Insanity Complex the runner-up.

Compass Physical Therapy took first place as Medical Practice of the Year; Conditioned Air Solutions won for Essential Service Business of the Year; and Signalink won Professional Service Business of the Year. Good Samaritan Hospice of Madison; Turf Tamer; and Two Men and a Truck were finalists in each of those categories.

In the new Arts, Entertainment & Hospitality category, iHeartMedia took the top prize while Insanity Complex was runner-up.