Blog

Rising Alabama startup aims to eliminate waste with water-saving technology

January 28, 2016

An unfortunate accident in 2014 is the inspiration behind The Ark Labs, a rising north Alabama startup that aims to eliminate inefficiency and damage caused by water leaks in homes.

Robbie Hillis, CEO of the Florence-based business, came up with the idea for a water-saving technology after his then 2 ½-year-old daughter left a faucet running for about 14 hours in his home.

The Ark’s machine-learning device recognizes water patterns and sends alerts to users when it detects change. The product, endorsed by water advocacy groups, has the potential to eliminate $8 billion in water losses a year in the U.S. alone.

“What we’ve come up with is the technology to help focus on preventing any type of catastrophic, major, getting into insurance types of events,” he said. “And then also, we can detect down to a drip so that leaky faucet or leaky toilet can be addressed.”

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the average house wastes about 10,000 gallons of water a year or the amount of water needed to wash 270 loads of laundry. The most common types of home leaks are worn toilet flappers, dripping faucets, and other leaking valves.

Visit al.com for more on this story.

Chattanooga Start-Up Wants to 3D Print Your Next House

January 20, 2016

Picture a tiny bridge made of interconnected plastic pyramids that weighs a mere 2 ounces.

Now picture a 160-pound man standing on it while it supports his weight.

That real-life experiment helped convince Platt Boyd to quit his high-paying job as a partner at an architectural firm in Montgomery, Alabama, move to Chattanooga, and launch Branch Technology, a startup business built around the world’s largest free-form, 3-D printer.

“To leave a good job and go do something crazy was a big deal,” says Boyd, a married father of four.

But Boyd is convinced he’s on to something big. And if he’s right, it could change the shape of ordinary, everyday architecture — literally.

Instead of boxy buildings “stick built” from 2-by-4s and sheets of plywood, Boyd believes his technology could let more architects design free-form structures with curves, rounded corners and swooping roofs — a style synonymous with architect Frank Gehry.

“The advantage is not the straight wall,” says Boyd; stick-built wins there. “The advantage of a technology like this is you can do crazy shapes.”

He envisions a day when architects will send their plans to Branch Technology, which would use 3-D printing to build lightweight frames of interconnected plastic and carbon fiber pyramids. The frames would be assembled at the building site and then filled with foam or concrete and covered with stucco or some other finish to make walls and other architectural features.

Visit TimesFreePress.com for the rest of the story including details on a contest in which Branch Technology will award a $10,000 prize to the person who comes up with the best design for a house to be built with 3-D printing.

Ark Labs to Launch Kickstarter Campaign

January 13, 2016

Propel is an event designed to begin laying the foundation to develop a strong startup ecosystem.  The time is right for you to attend this fun evening with local craft beer, locally roasted coffee and some tasty food.  Then learn how you too can build your startup from the ground up.  Mentors and partners will be in attendance making a commitment to you to help propel your idea to market.  From accounting to legal to marketing, we have every aspect covered.  NOW is the time!

Ark Labs is also going to launch their Kickstarter campaign to help propel The Ark to market.  We will show you how crowdfunding works and you can see how other startups are utilizing it.

Partners

  • Shoals Chamber of Commerce
  • Party Pros USA
  • Lyons Coffee
  • Court Street Market
  • Singin’ River Brewery
  • Grier Insurance
  • Armosa Studios
  • Shoals Entrepreneurial Center
  • William Diver Law Firm
  • Carter Norvell & Associates
  • Tech MeetUp
  • Part Cycle
  • The 610 Project
  • Mane Capital Fund

WHEN

Thursday, January 28, 2016 from 5:30 PM to 8:30 PM (CST) – Add to Calendar

WHERE

Shoals Entrepreneurial Center, Davis Center for Innovation – 4002 Helton Drive Florence, AL 35630

Visit Event Brite to RSVP

Propel Poster Digital

Ark Labs to Launch Kickstarter Campaign

January 13, 2016

Propel is an event designed to begin laying the foundation to develop a strong startup ecosystem.  The time is right for you to attend this fun evening with local craft beer, locally roasted coffee and some tasty food.  Then learn how you too can build your startup from the ground up.  Mentors and partners will be in attendance making a commitment to you to help propel your idea to market.  From accounting to legal to marketing, we have every aspect covered.  NOW is the time!

Ark Labs is also going to launch their Kickstarter campaign to help propel The Ark to market.  We will show you how crowdfunding works and you can see how other startups are utilizing it.

Partners

  • Shoals Chamber of Commerce
  • Party Pros USA
  • Lyons Coffee
  • Court Street Market
  • Singin’ River Brewery
  • Grier Insurance
  • Armosa Studios
  • Shoals Entrepreneurial Center
  • William Diver Law Firm
  • Carter Norvell & Associates
  • Tech MeetUp
  • Part Cycle
  • The 610 Project
  • Mane Capital Fund

WHEN

Thursday, January 28, 2016 from 5:30 PM to 8:30 PM (CST) – Add to Calendar

WHERE

Shoals Entrepreneurial Center, Davis Center for Innovation – 4002 Helton Drive Florence, AL 35630

Visit Event Brite to RSVP

Propel Poster Digital

Party Pros USA Sees Opportunity in Holidays

December 7, 2015

By Bill Campbell, Staff Writer, TimesDaily.com

 

Jackie Hendrix never stops having ideas. He can’t help it.

First his special events company, Party Pros USA, grew from a man with a truck and some supplies in a friend’s warehouse.

It was a company started with an idea — the idea people need help hosting parties — and an opportunity. That was eight years ago, and Hendrix keeps having ideas, ideas that have kept a business in an otherwise struggling industry growing by 25 percent, year after year after year.

Though December isn’t a profitable time of year for proms, weddings or a lot of the events that sustain Party Pros eight to nine months of the year, Hendrix and his business partner of two years, Josh Johnston, have found a way to make this time of year their biggest growth period.

The secret: Christmas lights.

Turns out a significant number of people and businesses like Christmas lights, but not the burden or time required to put them up and take them down.

“I knew when I started if I didn’t find revenue in winter, I’d starve,” said Hendrix, who explained his business at a recent Biz Buzz meeting at Florence-Lauderdale Public Library. “After all, who gets married in January?”

For the rest of this story visit TimesDaily.com.

PREPARE FOR THE “HOUR OF CODE” IN ALABAMA

December 7, 2015

News Release:

Contact: Ed Crenshaw

334-353-5220

ecrenshaw@alsde.edu

PREPARE FOR THE “HOUR OF CODE” IN ALABAMA

Alabama Celebrates the Importance of Computer Science Education Next Week

Montgomery, Ala. – Teachers and school systems statewide are hosting Hour of Code (HoC) events next week to celebrate Computer Science Education Week in Alabama, December 7-11.

More than 600 local Alabama HoC-related events have been planned (see full schedule of events athttps://hourofcode.com/us/events/all/us/al).

“The Hour of Code is a global movement reaching tens of millions of students in 180+ countries,” said Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates in a news release from Code.org. “Learning to write programs stretches your mind and creates a way of thinking about things that I think is helpful in all domains. We encourage all schools and teachers to take the first step and do an #hourofcode … no experience required.”

“We are proud to be a part of this partnership to positively impact the lives of students,” said State Superintendent of Education Tommy Bice. “Computer science education provides a real opportunity for students to prepare for successful futures. Research indicates that computer-related careers are some of the most in-demand and fastest-growing areas in America. This year’s Hour of Code celebration should energize Alabama’s computer-savvy students and teach them about the many great opportunities that exist through the study of computer science.”

HoC is “propelled by teachers,” said Laura Kline, Product and Marketing Manager for CODE.org in a recent interview. What began as an awareness campaign to get teachers interested and possibly excited about teaching computer science has now “taken on a life of its own” according to Kline. In its third year, the “Hour of Code” surpassed its national 2015 goal of 75,000 teacher registrations in the first week. Teachers and education leaders can visit CODE.org/learn to view and share 2015 tutorial videos and also to find more resources for HoC activities.

For more on this story visit www.alsde.edu

 

Creating an Opportunity to Keep our Bright Minds at Home

December 4, 2015

By:  TimesDaily.com 12/4/2015 – Editorial

 

The Issue:  UNA and the Shoals Entrepreneurial Center have done the region a largely unrecognized favor by partnering with a group of angel investors and raising their own fund to participate. It will help local startups, but also could help provide jobs for others.

The creation of the Mane Capital Fund is an important landmark for the Shoals.

A community that prides itself on creativity, our best and brightest have through the years had to look outside our region for funding when trying to scale up their entrepreneurial startups.

Aside from those with biotech aims, that might no longer be the case.

The Mane Capital Fund is a micro-venture fund established here by the Angel Capital Group, a collection of angels — wealthy investors who provide capital for new businesses in exchange for convertible debt or ownership equity — who established partnerships in nine states.

One Shoals entrepreneur who has been making news in 2015 is Robbie Hillis, who created a water-saving device that has drawn interest from investors on multiple continents. His Ark Labs is a tech-connected water monitoring device that, among other things, can detect leaks or running taps, and alert a home or business owner via computer or cellphone. The owner can then turn off the water, using his tech device, until the problem can be investigated.

It’s a creation that strikes a chord in water-starved nations and the U.S. West Coast, especially, but can be of service to any homeowner and, perhaps more significantly, to big businesses, universities, government agencies, etc.

So the potential for such a device is huge, as recognized by judges in pitch contests and investor groups that have rewarded Hillis and his partners with cash flow, training, ultra-high-speed Internet capabilities and other assets.

Though Ark Labs has access to the Shoals Entrepreneurial Center’s resources, those resources have paled in comparison to some provided by Chattanooga, which recruited Ark Labs with its city-wide gigabyte-per-second Internet access and other entrepreneurial infrastructure.

The Mane Capital Fund is the result of hard work by leaders at the Shoals Entrepreneurial Center and the University of North Alabama business school, who raised $1 million of their own for investments, hopefully in local startups but also in those it favors in other Angel Capital Group ventures.

But this is more than a means to prop up the select few who have entrepreneurial ideas. Angel investments created 264,000 new jobs in the U.S. last year — a significant contributor to job growth.

Angel investing is a staple in modern America with more than 73,000 startups last year receiving funding from these groups of more than 316,000 individuals in 2014, according to the Kansas City-based Kauffman Foundation on entrepreneurialism.

We congratulate UNA and the Shoals Entrepreneurial Center for creating an opportunity for our own bright minds to fund their dreams right in their backyards.

 

North Alabama Establishes Micro Venture Fund

November 19, 2015

Angel Capital Group, a leading national angel investor network, is proud to announce a new micro venture investment fund in North Alabama (http://www.theangelcapitalgroup.com/locations/florence/). The MCF will target capital investments ranging from $1 mil to $5 mil for local, regional, and national startups. Giles McDaniel, Executive Director of the Shoals Entrepreneurial Center is the General Manager of the fund.

The Shoals Entrepreneurial Center led the effort to establish this fund through a grant provided by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs and the Appalachian Regional Commission. The University of North Alabama College of Business played an instrumental role in building awareness and generating interest for the development of the North Alabama fund.

Visit prweb.com for more on the story.

Biz Buzz Meets Again Wednesday, November 18

November 17, 2015

Biz Buzz is back from a week off! Please join us tomorrow to hear the story of Audie Mescal from Leslie Keys! 

If you haven’t heard, Biz Buzz is a new networking program for budding entrepreneurs.   This program is a free, weekly program designed to educate, engage and connect entrepreneurs. Developed by the Shoals Chamber of Commerce, the University of North Alabama College of Business, the Shoals Entrepreneurial Center and the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, Biz Buzz is based on the notion that entrepreneurs discover solutions through networking together and learning from others who have created their own, unique business in the Shoals. It provides an opportunity for those with innovative ideas to learn from each other and grow.

Events are held weekly at 9:00 am at the Florence Lauderdale Public Library and include a featured speaker and coffee. Stack & Blair, LLC are the coffee sponsors. 

Follow Biz Buzz at Meetup.com for more information.

Creative Thinking and Doing Stimulates Economic Development

October 30, 2015

THE GUITAR PROJECT

In dealing everyday with the creative types, you never know…….

Displayed in the parking lot this  morning at the Shoals Entrepreneurial Center was a unfamiliar object, designed, engineered, and fabricated by one of our client’s, Josh Johnston.  Little did we know, this object had quite a story behind it.  The Project is a guitar that stands over 9′ tall, includes LED lighting that can change colors with an interactive fire effect.  The goal is to take the guitar to as many events as possible to promote creativity AND The Shoals area. Click here to view a quick demo of “The Guitar Project”.

The Shoals  has been known for years for telling stories through music and the creative arts.  Josh’s interactive art piece is a symbol to the Shoals’ musical heritage while exemplifying the desire of today’s creative minds to encourage entrepreneurs and innovators to increase their worldwide collaborations in creating positive impacts on the local economy.

The guitar project is much bigger than just an oversized guitar; this is the beginning of an ongoing effort to generate creativity in the Shoals and all over the South.  The inspiration for this project stems from Josh’s collaborations with individuals on the West Coast where his creative skills are well known.  Josh created the guitar to show people that creative thinking and actually creating is easer than one might expect. Josh wants to inspire others to not only think creatively, but to put that creativity to work.

He is already planning other interactive art pieces.  His efforts are self funded at this time but a gofundme campaign has been established to assist with project expenses.

To learn more about this project or how you can get involved visit the gofundme site.  All money donated will go to the expenses of creating The Guitar Project.