Chamber members tour The Edge, Tuscaloosa’s home for innovation and collaboration.
After a short flight out of Columbia Regional Airport, 70 members of Columbia’s Chamber of Commerce arrived in Tuscaloosa for their sixth annual leadership visit.
Thanks to Lindner Properties, the trip’s presenting sponsor, the first stop on the agenda was a tour and entrepreneurship discussion at The Edge Incubator and Accelerator, a collaboration between the University of Alabama, City of Tuscaloosa, and the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama.
Jim Page, president of the local Chamber, and Bobby Bragg, the chairman-elect, welcomed the group, followed by a tour of the 26,300 square-foot, $11 million, entrepreneur-focused space that opened in February.
“It really is a collaborative entity,” Bragg shared. “The building is owned by the City and the University pays for the staff.”
The Edge was built from disaster relief funds following the 2011 Tuscaloosa tornado, and is currently at 40% of capacity.
The space features 20 offices, 100 workstations with standing desks, conference rooms, working lounges, privacy booths, a breakroom, outdoor patio, and receptionist with guest waiting area.
The space is equipped to house about 125 people – everyone from an out-of-town salesperson to the founders of a start-up business. All the spaces are flexible and can be configured for a variety of uses. Clients choose the resources they need from a menu of space and services, and monthly prices range from $50-750.
How long do businesses stay? “Our goal is to grow people out,” Bragg says.
The group heard from three founders of three start-up companies as well, including Kinematic Sports, LLC, the creators of SidelinER, the collapsible and portable medical triage shelter that will be seen on the sidelines of many football games this fall. All three owners attribute much of their success to the incubator’s services and sense of community.
“I applaud what they are doing here,” says Bill Turpin, president of the Missouri Innovation Center. Turpin works with faculty, students, and local entrepreneurs to start and grow technology-based companies at the Mizzou Life Science Business Incubator.
Turpin likens The Edge to a larger version of REDI’s Innovation Hub, a local place for entrepreneurs to create and connect with a community of peers and resources to grow their business and skills for leadership. Run by Stacey Button, the Innovation Hub operates in a much smaller space, but operates at full capacity currently.
Although he works more with high-tech labs that require specialized space, he says that seeing a facility like this makes him wonder “if we shouldn’t double down and create more space like this in Columbia.”
The afternoon also featured a conversation on the economic impact the University of Alabama and its research has on the City. Dr. Russ Mumper, vice president for economic development, shared their five-year strategic plan to double their research awards in the next five years.
“We want to be the go-to university for company engagement,” Mumper says.
The University of Alabama recently joined MU as one of 131 higher education institutions designated by Carnegie as an R1 school.
“It’s fascinating,” says Piyusha Singh, vice president of academic affairs at Columbia College. “It’s all just change management. It’s intriguing to see how the city and university are tackling the problems.”