Shoals Innovation Week Schedule of Events

February 9, 2017





7:00—8:30 AM


See what is new at the Shoals Entrepreneurial Center and how you might use their re- sources to better your company or learn more to help your clients. The free breakfast event is open to all business principals, chamber members and interested community members.

4:00—8:00 PM


Watch as Shoals Alabama Launchpad participants pitch in front of judges & an audience for a share of $100,000. Anyone interested in being a part of the entrepreneurship community is invited to this free event.


11:30—1:30 PM


Join a discussion with panelists Giles McDaniel, SEC; Carolyn Long, SBDC; Caitlin Holland, SCC; Doug Barrett, UNA Institute; Moderated by Mary Marshall VanSant, UNA CE. Each panelist has up to 7 minutes to introduce them- selves. Then a moderated discussion with the attendees to dig deeper into how to work together to accelerate success for their clients and the entrepreneurs. lunch is available by reservation at contact information below.

$15 per person. Call 256-765-4107 or email for lunch reservations.

6:00 PM


Be a part of a fast-paced fun evening that recognizes and rewards startups that inspires us to be at the leading edge of tech communities. Led by the Chamber’s Next Gen group, this premier event is certain to be an annual must go. The tech community, chamber members, and interested community members are invited to attend.


4:00—5:30 PM



Attend a free gaming demo at a Business Afterhours precursor that includes UNA and Teen Club members competing in selected video games promoting the upcoming May Leo Con. Open to students, parents,

players and the public.

5:30—7:00 PM


This after-hours highlights the ways the community is able to use the Collaboratory and get acquainted with the staff who are there to assist. Chamber members are encouraged to attend this free event.




Hear the story of Single Lock Records at Biz Buzz, sponsored by the Shoals Chamber of Commerce, UNA College of Business, and the Shoals Entrepreneurial Center. Biz Buzz is free and open to the public.





SMART START WEEKEND: 3RD FLOOR OF THE UNA COMMONS: Friday night kicks off Smart Start Weekend, A three-day event for students to ex-change business start up ideas, focusing on 4-6 ideas that cover the course of the weekend to develop a company. This year’s program uses a new format based on the very successful Innovation Engineering tool set. Students will come away with a clear path towards building a company and then present their ideas to a panel of local investors. The public is invited to be part of the finale starting AT 5:00 PM on Sunday, January 26.




Shoals Entrepreneurial Center Announces Partnership with Strategic Networks Group

January 30, 2017

For Immediate Release: Contact:

Giles McDaniel

Shoals Entrepreneurial Center

(256) 760-9014

Contact: Michael Curri

Strategic Networks Group

(202) 558-2128


Today, the Shoals Entrepreneurial Center in Florence, Alabama announced that Shoals Shift (a grant project funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission) will include business assistance and workforce development programs developed by Strategic Networks Group (SNG). SNG is an economic development partner that specializes in accelerating the understanding and meaningful use of broadband applications. This programming drives numerous economic advancements including increasing local business competitiveness, job creation, and new economic opportunities. Working together, the Shoals Entrepreneurial Center and SNG will gather the necessary intelligence to turn broadband potential into local business growth – measurable in jobs, business retention and expansion, and increased tax base brought to the region.

Focused on economic advancement through broadband utilization, SNG is a group of economists who develop strategies for most effectively leveraging broadband investments. SNG addresses broadband utilization from the individual organization level all the way up to working with more than ten states across the United States. SNG looks to help make the most broad-reaching and transformational impacts that broadband can bring to enable businesses, communities, and regions by delivering the data and analysis decision makers need to maximize broadband’s potential.   SNG’s charter in the region is to help businesses embrace and better use the internet and its applications to compete and grow (learn more about SNG at

Shoals Shift, a partnership of the Shoals Entrepreneurial Center, the University of North Alabama, and the Shoals Chamber of Commerce, will utilize SNG’s comprehensive and industry-leading eSolutions Benchmarking to help develop digital strategies for the region. Also included in this partnership will be the Small Business Growth Program, a unique approach to show businesses the quantifiable economic impacts that inspire greater utilization of Internet applications.

Central to this exciting initiative will be inviting businesses across nine counties to share their needs and uses of the Internet and applications for developing plans and programs to help businesses grow through technology.

Businesses across the counties of Colbert, Franklin, Lauderdale, Marion, Walker, and Winston in Alabama, as well as Alcorn and Tishomingo in Mississippi, and Lawrence in Tennessee, will be invited to participate in an online analysis that evaluates their needs and issues related to adopting Internet applications.

Giles McDaniel, Executive Director of the Shoals Entrepreneurial Center, explained that the SNG component of Shoals Shift will help accelerate the growth of a digital economy, “We encourage as many businesses as possible to share their needs and experiences through our online analysis to ensure that they have the tools to succeed. Business/organization participation is critical so that we can benchmark how we are doing across our region to effectively move forward in today’s digital economy.”

SNG’s Small Business Growth Program, supported by Shoals Entrepreneurial Center, the University of North Alabama, and the Shoals Chamber of Commerce is uniquely suited to assist businesses in taking practical actions to benefit from today’s technologies by providing personalized evaluations, Internet use scorecards, and paths relevant to each business to improve their sales, marketing, and operations performance via online applications and opportunities.

“SNG’s programs are specifically designed to help businesses grow and create job opportunities,” explains Michael Curri, president of SNG. “We’re thrilled to be able to provide the tools to help expand the region’s economic base. Watch for more details once the online analysis is available.”

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.