Alabama Launchpad helps start-up businesses

Two ingredients needed to start a business. Hard work and capital.

As the entrepreneur, you provide the hard work. But, Alabama Launchpad may be able to help provide part of the funding.

The start-ups accepted for the Alabama Launchpad competition pitch their businesses before a panel of judges. Those selected for the final round will compete for a share of $100,000 in investment funding.

The idea is to help provide start-ups that have a solid business model the resources they need to take that next step forward.

Greg Sheek, program director for Alabama Launchpad says what started out as a contest for business planning and writing, has evolved into a program that's awarded more than $1 million to start-ups.

"One of Launchpad's main goals is to help develop Alabama's 'next' economy," says Sheek. "There's not a first place, second place, third place. It's really the amount of money they need to accomplish their most important step."Launchpad considers market size, management team, intellectual property and other parties involved before selecting finalists who will receive a share of grant money.Once the money is awarded, Alabama Launchpad keeps tabs on the start-ups selected. "As they move forward, we try to facilitate connections that we may have in the investment community and management support. So that they can continue moving forward," Sheek explains.One of the most recent start-ups, Alabama Chai -- which sells organic tea beverages was awarded $30,000. Marshall Malone, founder of Alabama Chai, is moving into his new office at Innovation Depot. Malone says the grant money has helped market and brand his product. "This product would be very far behind, it would be lingering, while we are processing how we can get things on the shelf without money. So we are much less of a 'bootstrap' organization because of Alabama Launchpad," says Malone.Melanie Rubery is also setting up shop at Innovation Depot after her start-up NutriPilot was awarded $36,000. Rubery says the grant money helped launch her app and connected her with clients. "We've been able to take the idea, finish product development and really launch it, as Alabama Launchpad does. Just take my business, my idea, launch it into the marketplace so we can start getting the market validation and to grow our business," says Rubery.Alabama Launchpad also helps start-ups at the university level. Sloan McCrary and Will Sanders are grad students at the University of Alabama who founded e-Electricity.They were awarded $23,000 and received an additional $10,000 for meeting 'milestone goals' by Alabama Launchpad. "We were given a lot of responsibility being involved in the Launchpad competition, and we took that as a challenge to stay as focused as possible and get this thing developed," says Sanders"They've just basically helped us jump start everything, it gives us the additional funding to get materials and get things moving," says McCrary. "We're hoping with this that we can go to angel investors and venture capitalists to help us raise even more money get this product to market."Now it's time for the next round of competitors and more new ideas.

"There are a lot of creative ideas out there that come to us from all points, and we really get excited about reading these first plans," says Sheek.

Registration for this most recent competition began Monday, October 21. The applicants that are accepted will be announced December 19.