For Micah Ulrich, co-founder of Flux Hybrids, there was a time not too long ago when he felt his dream of building a tech startup slipping away.
“I was with the only other full-time guy at our company at the time. We hadn’t made money for two and a half years. We had won some grants, but the dream was dying,” Ulrich recounted in a panel discussion with four founders from this year’s class of Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator.
“When we did our quick pitch and Nate said, ‘I get it, it makes sense,’ I had no idea how magical it would be to hear that. I had felt crazy for years. There is nothing as momentous as when someone looks you in the eyes and says, ‘I get it; you’re not crazy.’”
Nate Schmidt is the managing director of Techstars, and Ulrich recalled the deep impression Schmidt’s words left on him during their first video call that led to Flux Hybrids joining Techstars’ 2021 class.
Joining Ulrich at the recent Coffee and Conversations hosted by the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA) to share their startup and Techstars experiences with young professionals were Erika Boeing, founder of Accelerate Wind; Julie Kring, founder of Khepra; and Olivia Pedersen, founder of Sustaio.
Miller Girvin, executive vice president of EDPA, moderated the panel.
“As you go through this journey, how often do you think, ‘I wish I wasn’t doing this and I was doing something else?’” she asked the panelists.
For Pedersen, the thought never occurred to her that she would do something else – even with all the highs and lows.
“The lows are really low, and the highs are really high, but I have never been like, ‘I wish I didn’t do this.’ Because what is cool about being an entrepreneur is that it’s your choice. I have never regretted this choice,” Pedersen said.
Boeing felt the same way.
“The financial pressure was a lot rougher than I thought it would be. But what makes it hard for me to do anything else is that you can envision the world how you want it to be,” she said. “You have that blank slate to create a new culture in your company, to bring something to the world that wouldn’t exist otherwise.”
When asked about Techstars, Kring discussed how impactful the accelerator program has been to her startup.
“There’s a lot of candor with being a part of Techstars. Having 10 to 12 people at a huge company telling you what you need to do because they’ve seen your company before illuminates a lot of blind spots,” she said. “You wouldn’t be able to walk into Southern Company and say, ‘Hey, I make chemical reactors,’ and ask them to give you candid advice if you were just a random person.”
Southern Company is the parent of Alabama Power, which is the corporate partner of Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator. This year, 55 employees from Alabama Power, Southern Company and its related subsidiaries volunteered to be mentors for the startups, sharing their time and industry knowledge with the founders.
The panelists shared how Techstars has personally affected them and their mental health.
“Nate and Brooke set up an amazing community with all the teams so that we can bounce ideas off each other working in the same space,” said Boeing. “That’s important when you’re a founder because it can be lonely, and having that support psychologically can be helpful.”
Brooke Gillis is the program manager of the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator. Schmidt, who had gone through Techstars Seattle 10 years ago, hired Gillis right after he returned to Birmingham. Since then, they have been major players in building Birmingham’s startup community.
The Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator is a selective 13-week program where startups from across the U.S. and Canada are chosen to receive guidance and mentorship to affect the future of energy. EDPA is a community partner of Alabama EnergyTech. For more information, visit the Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator program page at www.techstars.com.