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A Driving Force for Local Entrepreneurs, Urban Engine Turns 4

Called a “driving force” for entrepreneurs, Urban Engine is at the forefront of innovation in the area.

Known for hosting its weekly co-working nights, Urban Engine is more than a social platform, it is a springboard for ideas and a cultural movement that resonates with our growing community of innovators, founders, and leaders.

Housed in Huntsville West, the former West Huntsville Elementary School and now a home to start-up businesses, Urban Engine helps to develop high-growth potential businesses and generate the workforce needed to support these endeavors.

And Urban Engine has a lot to celebrate: Four years of a solid upward growth trajectory.

And what better way to celebrate than to host a catered party in the “lunchroom” at Huntsville West and to invite hundreds of sponsors, startup success stories, the local community, and of course, the Mayor.

The fourth anniversary event highlighted Urban Engine’s success story.

Starting off small, Urban Engine began with programs and resources for those who are interested in technological innovation. Since then, there have been more 200 Co-Working Nights, 37 Founder Stories have been shared, more than 1,000 collaborative learning workshops have been presented, and nearly 100 new business ideas have been propelled forward.

Since 2016, more than 20 startups have been supported by Urban Engine and close to 10,000 people have benefited from its programming and services.

“It’s been great, celebrating four years at Huntsville West,” said Urban Engine founder Brendon Malone. “In 2015, I had a dream to give back to the city, to give businesses the best possible start, and to offer classes. We hit the ground running.

“There are now 175 people working in this building that are partners with Urban Engine, in support of the business ecosystem.”

Ashley Ryals, Demetrius Malone, Mayor Tommy Battle, Toni Eberhart, Sameer Singhal. (Photo by Steve Babin)

When introducing Urban Engine Director Toni Eberhart, Demetrius Malone, Huntsville West’s community manager, said, “Always in the best possible mood, one of the most supportive and encouraging people, Toni is our dreamer, a cheerleader, and a good friend to many.”

As she took the stage, Eberhart laughed and said, “I didn’t know how great I was until Demetrius spoke.”

Eberhart saluted the sponsors of the not-for-profit organization, saying “it would not be possible without our partners.”

“Our sponsors are in front of the Urban Engine community saying that they believe in doing business with startups, that they invest in professional development and growth opportunities for our workplace to keep them on the edge of innovation and that they value the Urban Engine as a critical partner in cultivating a desirable culture and climate for startups to launch and grow. How it’s made an impact would not be possible without the support of sponsors, Intuitive Research Technology, Brandon Kruse, and the team.”

She said Huntsville’s environment is conducive to businesses flourishing.

“People ask me, ‘Why Huntsville?’ I believe it’s because anything is possible here,” Eberhart said. “The landscape is totally open to incredible things. Businesses can launch and grow and do things in our local market that would be so difficult to break into on the coasts.

“Investment opportunities are possible. Educational opportunities are possible; career changes are possible, and everyone here is Ultra-supportive. Urban Engine is a cheerleader for these possibilities, and it is how we propel ideas forward at the core.”

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle delivered the keynote address to a packed audience.

“We have seen the vision, the driving force, making it a reality,” said Battle. “We need to make sure our city thinks outside the box. We are a city on the move, with 25,000 jobs added over the last year. 15,000 of those have been in high tech.

“The end result is that you’ve made this count. We’re more competitive, there’s more jobs, thank you for the job you are doing. Huntsville is a place that’s made for the future. The job we do today sets us up for the next 10 years. What you’re doing today will be the technology of tomorrow.”

For more information, visit www.UrbanEngine.org

Urban Engine Discussion Focuses on Unique Challenges Faced by Women in Business

The Rocket City is known for its high-tech, digital-driven businesses and engineering.

But, if you’re a woman in those industries, there are challenges that male counterparts don’t have to face.

So, Urban Engine Executive Director Toni Eberhart stepped in to help women answer those challenges with a panel discussion called “Her-Story.”

“We decided to do a panel discussion for Women’s History Month which featured women who were making waves,” Eberhart said. “The panel was designed to open the discussion of the unique challenges faced by women. It was important to us to find women that were relatable and accessible.”

Founded in fall 2016, Urban Engine is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit, small business incubator that governs, nurtures, and sustains.

“Urban Engine facilitates aspiring entrepreneurs, it’s collaboration,” Eberhart saidr. “We started a meetup and a place where people work on their side projects. It’s geared toward those interested in startups leveraged around mobile technology and software, the industry disrupters.”

The meetups soon gained momentum, and what began as a group of six to 10 people grew to 100 people and morphed into what is now known as “Coworking Night.”

The “Her-Story” event was moderated by Carly Seldon, host of “Let Me Tell You Something.”

“I’m really excited about the panel,” Seldon said. “Toni and I have worked on this. We wanted to have an honest conversation about the struggles and to be able to pass along some knowledge.”

The panelists were: Jessica Barker, entrepreneur, owner of Affluent Business Services; Joanna Broad White, government affairs liaison, Huntsville Area Association of Realtors; May Chen, computer engineer at Adtran; and Emilie Dover, owner of Rocket City Digital.

Seldon started the panel discussion by asking Chen about the challenges faced as an engineer, which, traditionally is considered a male-dominated field.

“There are (few) females in research and development or management,” Chen said. “It’s hard to have a female voice. I see myself as a capable, confident engineer.

“Customers and clients don’t see you has having the answers. Is it because I’m female? Because I’m Chinese? It’s hard not to question. I try to see things objectively and say what I think.”

Women also have to face certain “stereotypes” compared to men in the same position.

“I’ve never heard a man be referred to as ‘pushy,’” White said. “I think men lack some of the qualities women have. Men are reticent to express passion. If a woman is really jazzed or really angry about something, men are going to get uncomfortable.

“Assertiveness is valuable, and paved with passion that men will grow to appreciate. My male mentors were afraid to be assertive, which allowed me to push forward. It’s also important to back everything up with really good work.”

Climbing the ladder also brings its own set of challenges for women.

Barker brought up the “crab” effect, also known as “Crabology.”

“Something that a lot of black women know what you’re talking about,” she said. “Like a bucket of crabs, as you’re climbing up, trying to get up the ladder (out of the bucket), your friends are pulling you back down. At this point, you start to lose friends, or your friendships change.

“The problem is not limited to the black experience. How to circumvent it is to change your own mindset. Keep in mind that they (your friends) might not be in that same mindset. You can’t be talking about travel and new car purchases, you have different conversations with them and don’t bring up certain things.”

Did Someone Stifle Your Growth?

“It’s a huge reason why Rocket City Digital came into being,” said Dover. “I had several bosses who would give me more work. I would take on more jobs, more responsibilities, all along realizing I could do this for myself.

“One day I told my future partner, ‘I’m quitting. So, if we’re going to start this business, we’re going to start it today.’”

Seldon posed another question: “How do you make sure you don’t stifle someone else’s growth?”

“I’m very self-aware, my partners and I have our own strengths and weaknesses,” Dover said. ‘We strive to provide a safe, healthy, fun workplace for our employees. At Rocket City Digital, we strive to provide a workplace where you want to be there.”

What are the traits a woman needs?

“You really have to know what your passions are. You have to love STEM, or at least like it. You have to have the courage to pursue what you want,” Chen said.

“Whatever you wake up in the morning yearning to do,” said Barker. “Put your passion to a purpose. Whatever it is that’s burning inside you. Someone needs what you have the passion to do.”

What lessons are you passing on to your children?

“Make sure you find out what they are passionate about,” said Barker, a mother of four – ages 1-14. “Follow what they like to do. Let them be free to live their lives.”

White, also a mom with four children, said let the children know what is important.

“That the world doesn’t revolve around them, we are not the only things in mom’s life,” she said. “Husband, faith, friends, they are all very important. We celebrate our friend’s successes. They have them ask themselves ‘How can I make a difference? Do I have compassion?’”

“I want to make sure that my son knows that life isn’t always fair,” said Dover, mother to a 3-year-old son. “Time and dedication, it will ultimately pay off for the future.”

What about R-E-S-P-E-C-T?

“I love confrontation,” said White. “When you live in the present, it’s so important to deal with these things because they will fester. You cannot please everyone, you are not pizza. Not everyone is going to like me, but they will respect me. I just need to make sure that I back it up with good work.”

“Show them real value and you’ll be respected,” Chen said.

What would be the advice you would give your younger self?

“You need to become ‘numb” inside,’” said Dover. “Business is business and business owners see things differently. You can’t take everything personally when it comes to business. Then, it becomes a vicious cycle. Find ways to do your job better and more efficiently.”

“I have an amazing group of friends,” said Chen. “I have a lot of good friends, male, female. Find your support group, it helps.”

“Energy is not created nor destroyed,” said Barker. “Whatever you put out there is what you will get back.”

“Take a minute, stop and eat,” said White. “Nothing is as dramatic as you think. There is a time when you need to take time for yourself.”

What do you do to get motivated?

“In the office, we do slow claps,” said Dover.

“I listen to local Huntsville music, like Judy and Josh Allison on Spotify,” said White. “I nerd out about Huntsville. Stuff to keep me focused and to remind me why I am here. I also focus on big projects. Huntsville is a small pond. So, if you work hard, you’ll be a big fish really quick. Maybe things are ending for a reason. Be sure there’s a good examination, find a network.”

Barker, who listens to New Orleans jazz music to get motivated, said, “When things look bleak, I go back to my network, go to networking events, and make sure I’m staying current.”

How does one learn to say ‘No’?

“I’ve often weakened my ‘no’ by saying ‘yes,’” said Dover. “If you are doing the hard work, they will respect your ‘no.’”

“Make sure you’re personally aligned with your mission,” said White. “Develop your personal mission so you know when to say ‘no.’”

“Build relationships and rapport,” said Chen. “When I say no, they know I have a good reason.”

“To them, your ‘no’ may look like doom at first,” said Barker. “But it just might be your victory.”

For more information on Urban Engine’s Coworking Night and other programs, visit   https://www.urbanengine.org/