Shoals startup, Ark Labs, reaches semifinals at worldwide competition

November 16, 2016


The Ark Labs recently traveled from Florence, AL to Lisbon, Portugal for Web Summit, “Europe’s Largest Technology Marketplace,” where they met potential investors, other companies, and startup professionals.

On top of the amazing experiences they had and the relationships that were formed, Ark Labs represented North Alabama exceptionally well. Not only was Ark Labs selected as one of 200 companies to pitch in the pitch competition, but they then made it to the semifinals where only 33 companies were selected to pitch again.

The judges and the audience were impressed as  CEO, Robbie Hillis, explained how their product will play a small part in changing the world. From learning water patterns to preventing damage to saving water, there was nothing else like The Ark Labs at Web Summit.

A few other teams from America attended Web Summit, but The Ark Labs was the only Alabama group to represent startup communities in Alabama, North Alabama, and The Shoals.

Investors and professionals in attendance offered great advice to move Ark Labs forward and improve both its product and its brand.

Ark Labs has taken off quicker than they ever expected and excelling at Web Summit was yet another sign of their success.

We are proud to have Ark Labs represent the Alabama startup community and want to offer appreciation for their role in saving money and water for the rest of the world.


Propel Expo Highlighting Shoals Shift POWER Grant

October 18, 2016



Please visit Eventbrite to register.

Great Opportunities for Shoals Area Entrepreneurs!!!

October 11, 2016

    • Shoals Alabama Launchpad is for new, independent ventures in the pre-seed, seed, startup or early-growth stages, or for the expansion of an existing business into a new high-growth market.
    • Ventures that have raised equity capital totaling $1 million or more from sources other than team members or their friends and families, or that have realized more than $3 million in sales in the 12 months immediately preceding the competition are not eligible
    • This is a 4-month long process that includes an application, business plan submission and two live pitches. There will be two “cuts” along the way.
    • Businesses who make it to the finale may receive a share of $100,000! Awards and amounts will be determined by the six-person judging panel.
    • More information can be found online at  Shoals Alabama Launchpad or on Facebook
    • The deadline to apply is October 17th.
    • Shoals Idea Audition is for ANYONE WITH AN IDEA. You are not being judged on the viability of your business, but by the ingenuity represented by your pitch.
    • Ventures that have raised equity capital totaling $250,000 or more from sources other than team members or team members’ friends and families, or that have realized more than $750,000 in sales in the twelve (12) months immediately preceding the competition are not eligible
    • Entrants will receive “pitch training” and will pitch their idea to a group of judges during a one-night competition on Thursday, November 17th.
    • First-prize is $5,000! Second place is $2,500 and third place is $1,000.
    • More information and applications can be found online at Shoals Idea Audition or on Facebook
    • The deadline to apply is November 6th.

You may apply for both of these competitions if your business fits the stated guidelines for each.

If you have any questions about Idea Audition or Shoals Alabama Launchpad, please do not hesitate to contact me at (256) 764-4661 or Also, please share this information with anyone you know who may be interested. I hope to see many of you apply!

NextGen Shoals – Speed Networking Event

September 19, 2016

Have you ever been to a networking event and left without being able to speak to someone you really wanted to make a connection with?

Have you ever been to a networking meeting and sat through the agenda without getting that personal interaction and growth you want from a professional group?

If you answered yes to either of those questions then this event is for you (and everyone else)! Join us on Tuesday, September 20th at 6 for an awesome speed networking event followed by a social hour, or few! Doors open at 5:30! Also, Shoals Chamber members get 50% off their tickets by using “ShoalsChamber” as a discount code!

Remember: due to limited seating, you must pre-register for this event here:

Event Brite

Launchpad offers $100,000 for Shoals startups

September 14, 2016

SHEFFIELD — The Alabama Launchpad program is stationing a regional pod in the Shoals that will provide $100,000 to local startups.

The Shoals is the first regional site for Alabama Launchpad, a decade-old program that supports entrepreneurship in the state.

The program hosts a statewide competition, but Economic Development Partnership of Alabama and local officials announced Tuesday the formation of the Shoals Alabama Launchpad that is specific to this area.

Shoals Launchpad includes a share of a $100,000 award to startups that will be selected after a final pitch event on Feb. 21.

The application process includes a video pitch and business plan, said Angela Wier, vice president for the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama. From there, judges will select startups to make live pitches for a share of the funding.

“This is our pilot program,” Wier said. “We’d like to have many more across the state.”

Those interested can apply online at The deadline to enter is Oct. 17.

The development partnership agreed with the Shoals Chamber of Commerce to help match local funding toward the regional project.

The University of North Alabama College of Business and Shoals Entrepreneurial Center also are partners in the endeavor.

Created in 2006, the Alabama Launchpad program has provided $2.4 million to startups, Wier said. The program also helps sponsor federal grant-writing workshops, the Alabama Innovation Awards, and Alabama Innovation and Entrepreneurship Conference.

She said Shoals leaders were helpful and enthusiastic about the idea of a regional program.

“We have been impressed by the communication, collaboration and planning among the partners, and we are humbled to have the opportunity to participate with and learn from the Shoals team,” Wier said.

She believes having a regional Launchpad will provide an incentive for a startup to join.

“If startups could just travel a few miles to participate, that would be easier than traveling 90 miles or so,” Wier said.

UNA President Kenneth Kitts said assisting startups is a focus of the College of Business.

“With events like Shoals Idea Audition, Shoals Big Idea Competition, 3 Day Startup and now Launchpad, we’re establishing this region and this university as a place to be for entrepreneurs, and that’s a win-win for everyone,” Kitts said.

Article from

Alabama Small Business Virtual Forum

September 1, 2016

You are invited to attend the Alabama Small Business Forum web conference on Wednesday, September 14, 2016 from 10 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. CST.  If you are a Small Business, part of a Small Business Organization, State or Local Government Agency, this web conference is for you.  The forum will feature the following speakers:

  • Arleen A. Alexander

Governmental Relations Manager, Alabama Department of Revenue


  • Christina Coleman-Lovelace

U.S. Department of Labor-Wage and Hour Division


  • Regina Malisham & Nora Huffman

IRS Stakeholder Liaisons

RSVP by Sept. 12 via email to or call 251-341-5937 to receive the calendar invite and login information.

Thank you, and have a great Labor Day weekend!!!


Regina Malisham

IRS Stakeholder Liaison

Communications & Stakeholder Outreach

SB/SE Mid-South Area – Mobile, AL

Phone: 251-341-5937

e-Fax: 877-477-8115# 

Shoals Entrepreneurial Center Receives $997K POWER Grant for Shoals Shift

August 24, 2016

For Immediate Release:

Contact: Giles McDaniel


August 24, 2016

Shoals Entrepreneurial Center Receives $997K POWER Grant for Shoals Shift

The Shoals Entrepreneurial Center was recently awarded a $997,000 grant through the Obama Administration’s Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) initiative.   Local matching funds include $1M bringing the total grant impact to $2M. Grant funds will be used to diversify the local economy through future work with the University of North Alabama (UNA) and the Shoals Chamber of Commerce.

UNA and the Shoals Chamber are named as grant partners and will play a critical role in the three-year project called Shoals Shift. The project will create jobs, launch new businesses, and expand existing businesses as part of a three-state initiative.

The grant, provided by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), is designed to diversify and strengthen the economy of coal-impacted communities. The POWER initiative was developed to assist communities that have been affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power-plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries that occurred as a result of the changing economics of America’s energy production.

Giles McDaniel, Executive Director of the Shoals Entrepreneurial Center said the grant is a major accomplishment for the area. “Out of dozens of applications, we were one of the few groups selected,” said McDaniel. “We believe that our project was selected because of its reach and scope. Our work will affect nine counties in northern Alabama and two additional states. It will also increase awareness of the importance of business start-ups and industrial diversification,” he added.

The plan behind Shoals Shift is to accelerate the growth of a digital economy using the POWER grant. We plan to implement three interconnected strategies; 1) building an innovation discovery pipeline, 2) cultivating a culture of collaboration and entrepreneurship, and 3) strengthening existing businesses.

UNA President Dr. Ken Kitts said the University has already helped with building the innovation pipeline and UNA’s students will be instrumental in strengthening existing businesses.

“We are always looking for ways to strengthen ties between UNA and the community”, Kitts said. “We consider it part of our job to help diversify the local economy, so that we can keep those bright and talented minds in our area when they graduate, should they want to stay. We are very happy to be playing a part”, he said.

The Shoals Chamber of Commerce has already played a large part in helping build an innovation pipeline as well, through programs like Shoals Idea Audition and Co.Starters. Officials with the Chamber said the partners in this project have developed a simple and clearly shared vision of improving the economic well being of the region for the benefit of current and future residents.

“This grant will provide opportunities for all businesses to find ways to grow using technology,” said Andy Mann, Chairman of the Shoals Chamber Board. “Our work through the ‘Rhythm of Commerce’ capital campaign clearly works with the projects named in the grant,” he added.

This year a total of $38.8 million has been awarded for 29 economic and workforce development projects as part of the POWER initiative.   For more information on POWER grants, visit

The following links provide more information regarding our project partners:

University of North Alabama

Shoals Chamber of Commerce


A Story Worth Sharing

April 8, 2016


Laura Hester, founder and owner of Red Gingham Gourmet, LLC, is commended for her hard work, dedication, and personal sacrifices in building her company into a successful enterprise.

But, there is more to Laura’s story than just her business success. Laura is an inspiration to our community through her efforts in hiring individuals who need a second chance. In collaboration with the Florence City School system’s special programs and other local agencies, Laura employs people that have, or have had, personal struggles which eliminated them from the typical labor pool. These employees include young people who spent their childhood moving from foster home to foster home and getting lost in the traditional education system. They also include graduates of all ages from transition homes that counsel and treat addiction, as well as students who have had minor involvement with law enforcement.

Laura’s support of these employees goes beyond hiring, training, and providing a paycheck. She provides free lunches to all employees, transportation to and from work as needed, and she has personally advanced funds for rent, car payments, and medications.

Laura says that these special employees seldom disappoint her. They are hard workers– dedicated and loyal.

The next time you purchase Laura’s products, you are not only supporting a local entrepreneur, you are also supporting a special individual who is devoted to helping our community and those in need of a second chance.

Be sure to follow Red Gingham on Facebook and Twitter.

2016 NW AL Best Robotics Open House

March 14, 2016

You’re Invited to participate in the 2016  OPEN  HOUSE  for NW Alabama BEST Robotics (Design-Engineering & Business-Marketing)–A partnership between the Shoals Chamber of Commerce and Northwest Shoals Community College.

Tuesday, March 22, 5:30 p.m.

Northwest-Shoals Community College
Hospitality House
800 George Wallace Blvd.
Muscle Shoals, AL

Refreshments will be served
Please RSVP by March 18 to (256) 764-4661 or (877) 764-4661 or

A fun and educational competition for middle & high school teams, BEST is a K-12 workforce development program cleverly disguised as a robotics competition” –AND it’s free for Middle & High Schools! Providing college & career-ready skills, BEST is approved as an Elective in Alabama!

This is an exciting, 6-week challenge each fall and is open to all K-12 schools (public, private , and home schools) in NW Alabama, SC Tennessee, and NE Mississippi.  You are invited to attend the open house for the 2016 BEST Robotics.  During the open house, you will: 

  • be introduced to the BEST Robotics program
  • meet local coordinators, sponsors, mentors, volunteers
  • meet school team members who competed last year
  • receive an overview of the general rules, awards, judging, competition timeline, etc.
  • participate in Q&A time
  • be briefly introduced to the 2016 BET  THE  FARM challenge

For more information and check out the NW Alabama BEST Robotics web site  

Shoals Company Unveils New Clothing Line

February 27, 2016

The Shoals Entrepreneurial Center is pleased to welcome our newest client, Green Bananas Inventions! Good Luck Ashley and best wishes as you grow your new company!

Source: WAFF

By Marie Waxel:

Green Bananas

Ashley Morrow Colonna’s new clothing line ‘Allure’ set to ship out in March (Source: WAFF)


A Florence fashion designer is setting out to change the plus-sized fashion industry.

Ashley Morrow Colonna, 34, has a line called Allure Apparel that will ship her first line to stores around North America starting in March.

The line offers an enriched viscose blend that she said has the potential to alter the clothing landscape for plus-size, curvy women.

“I used to joke that it’s so hard for me to find just a plain black dress that didn’t have a cheetah print or the flipping Eiffel Tower or something,” she said. “I don’t know why designers think big girls like the Eiffel Tower and butterflies and flowers, but they do. It is crazy.”

The first Allure line will feature her designs, which she longed to find in department stores.

Colonna’s company, Green Bananas, is a part of the Shoals Entrepreneurial Center.

“I think women sometimes want things they can mix and match together with things they already have. They don’t want to have to buy the whole outfit,” she said. “They’d like to buy something that goes with their pants or with jewelry or a scarf they already have.”

She said that the line features clothing that women can wear year-round.

“It all layers together, or they can be stand-alone pieces that could just be the one awesome part of your outfit,” she said. “Everything is made with an upgraded viscose blend, so it has a nice drape to it that looks great on curvier and plus-sized bodies.”

Colonna added that the line will eventually serve women of all sizes.

Giles McDaniel, the Shoals Entrepreneurial Center director, thinks that Green Bananas will be a success.

“Ashley gets it,” McDaniel explained. “She’s sharp, and she understands her product and business.”

Her business– which she started at home first selling Alchemy– has outgrown her home and she hopes it will outgrow the Entrepreneurial Center.

“The SEC has a reputation for helping small businesses take that step from the garage to the office, and then from the office to something bigger,” she added. “That’s what I needed. I needed a place where I could have resources, where I wasn’t completely by myself, that I had a support system. I think getting to have that with such a small, new company will make the difference.”

She said that Alchemy is off to a great start and hopes the response to the Allure line will also be great.

Copyright 2016 WAFF. All rights reserved.