May 14, 2012

State of Alabama
Press Release: Alabama Department of Commerce

On the Record: Susan Matlock, CEO and President of Innovation Depot

May 13, 2012


CEO and president Susan Matlock is celebrating the fifth anniversary of Birmingham's Innovation Depot. (The Birmingham News/Hal Yeager)

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- This month marks a milestone in Susan Matlock's career in helping early stage entrepreneurs grow successful businesses.

It's the fifth anniversary of Innovation Depot, an incubator at 1500 Second Ave. North downtown created from the merger of the Entrepreneurial Center, an incubator Matlock founded over a decade ago, and Office for the Advancement of Developing Industries, a high-tech incubator formerly at UAB.

In an interview, Matlock talked about the success of Innovation Depot, which last year won the 2011 Technology Incubator of the Year from the National Business Incubation Association. Matlock also shared her Mother's Day perspective on how women can balance parenthood and the workplace, and her thoughts on the growing number of successful women executives in metro Birmingham.

Q. Innovation Depot has won many national accolades over the years. What do you feel has been the key to its success?

I think it's because we do what we say we're going to do and keep our focus on what we're best at. We were named the national technology incubator of the year last year, and 10 years ago won national incubator of the year.

We get calls all the time from people wanting to see what we do. (Last week), we had 15 Swedes who are all part of incubator programs who were here touring our facilities from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

A few weeks ago, I got a call from a governor's office in a state outside the Southeast that I won't name, wanting information about our incubator program because he wants to do one in his state.

Q. What do the latest statistics show on the economic impact of Innovation Depot?

We have had over $1 billion economic impact over the past four years. We consistently keep doing that every year. We have 85 tenants with a combined 470 employees. We were featured in CNN Money and NBIA's Best Practices in Action publication.

Title: CEO and president, Innovation Depot
Hometown: Memphis
Education: Bachelor's in art and art history, Memphis State University; master's in public administration, UAB
Work history: CEO of Innovation Depot since it was created in May 2007 from merger of Entrepreneurial Center, an organization she founded, and Office for the Advancement of Developing Industries, an incubator formerly at UAB; Previously worked as a management trainee and lending officer at predecessor to BBVA Compass Bank, and in budgeting and economic development for the City of Birmingham
Most recently read book: "Get to Work" by Linda Hirshman
In my iPod: Classical music and Michael Jackson
Family: Husband Mike Calvert, sons Jake Matlock and Scott Calvert; daughter Tracy Calvert

Innovation Depot clients comprised more than half of the Birmingham Venture Club's 2011 Entrepreneur Accelerator Program Class -- Magic City media, ThinkData Solutions,, W Social Media, Zertis Technologies, Metrocket, Choice Research and Suture Health.

Q. How is the renovation going at Innovation Depot?

We just completed the build-out of the building. We added about 25,000 square feet, enough to allow us to go from 85 to 95 or 96 tenants.

Q. What are the requirements to be accepted into the center?

Our target market is technology. Of our 85 companies, 45 are in IT (information technology), 12 are in bioscience, 12 are in emerging technology. We require a business plan and look at their growth potential, and whether they can create jobs and revenue in the Birmingham region.

We had 131 applications last year and accepted 19, and consistently get an average of 110 applicants a year. We had 10 graduates last year. Our goal is to help businesses grow, and for a lot of our applicants, it is a reality check.

There are huge advantages for being in here -- the flexibility, allowing to move up to bigger space and add employees when things are going well and the ability to scale back in times like the recession when business is slower.

In the real world, you can't do that. Our job is not to just rent space, but to grow businesses.

We have ongoing training taking place here about once a week -- local law firms sharing advice, marketing tips, human resources professionals. We keep on top of how our businesses are doing. We look at their financial statements once a quarterly so we won't be surprised.

Q. Today marks Mother's Day. Share your assessment of the progress women have made in the workplace?

Women have made a lot of strides in the workplace in Birmingham. In our community, I am impressed with the number of women who are CFOs.

In the CFO role, it shows that companies value women's ability to focus on helping address problems and needs. There aren't enough women CEOs, but at least women have a seat at the table of leadership.

Q. You worked in corporate environments before going into the incubator field. What do you see as the biggest challenges that remain in the workplace for women?

The biggest challenge for everyone is how to balance work with family issues and demands. It's the same for men as both parents are now more actively involved in parental issues.

Q. What advice can you offer for entrepreneurs, both men and women?

Be prepared. Don't focus just on ideas, focus on how you can finance and turn opportunities into success.

And make sure you are prepared to lead. It's not about who you know, but your ability to deliver the goods that counts.

You must have the right mind-set to succeed. You also must be able to balance work and personal life.

Q. What professional women do you most admire and why?

I'm a huge fan of Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice. Both of them are incredible.

And I was extremely impressed when the COO of Facebook made the comment that she goes home at 5 p.m. to be with her family. That is an important role model.

Q. What do you feel has been a key to Birmingham's growing reputation for entrepreneurship?

Our focus on technology. I am so pleased that the BBA (Birmingham Business Alliance), made technology a focus of the Blueprint Birmingham growth plan and to bring on an executive to focus on technology.

And, critically, UAB is leading the way in being more proactive on commercialization of technology.

Q. How did you balance parenthood, marriage and work when your children were younger?

For me, the thing that made a huge difference was living in close proximity to my job. I was always within a 10 minute distance and avoided wasting a lot of time in traffic. If I had time during lunch, I was able to go home and prepare meals for my son during the day.

Q. How is your husband, longtime former Operation New Birmingham President Mike Calvert, enjoying retirement?

He's loving it. He's staying busy on a couple projects, such as the old Powell school. And he's taking photography classes, including one at Samford University. He's having a lot of fun, and hasn't changed a bit.

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