July 31, 2012

State of Alabama
Press Release: Alabama Department of Commerce

National Business Incubator Association Recognizes Innovation Depot for Helping International Companies

July 31, 2012


Steven-Ceulemans.JPGSteven Ceulemans

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Innovation Depot's ability to help international companies enter the U.S. has received added clout that could help attract more foreign firms interested in relocating to Alabama and the Birmingham region.

The National Business Incubator Association has added Innovation Depot to a small list of incubators from around the world verified for helping international entrepreneurs and companies navigate their way into the U.S. market. The designation, known as the NBIA Soft Landings Business Incubator designation, has been given to 25 incubators worldwide, and only half of them are in the U.S. Other cities with a Soft Landings incubator include Boston, Baltimore, Detroit, Spain's Madrid and Taipei in Taiwan.

Innovation Depot, founded in 2007, is home to nearly 100 start-up companies and is estimated to have a $1 billion economic impact on the Birmingham region. It is the first incubator in the Southeast to win the Soft Landings award.

The designation is another tool that economic developers can use in efforts to persuade international companies to move to Birmingham and other parts of Alabama, according to Steven Ceulemans, vice president of innovation and technology for the Birmingham Business Alliance. Because the NBIA is the "gold standard" incubator organization, the award increases Innovation Depot's exposure overseas.

"It elevates the marketability of an asset in our community, especially with the economic development crowd," he said. "The concept of a Soft Landings center is already understood and it will solidify that."

By using its existing networks and expertise, Soft Landings centers work with international companies and entrepreneurs to cut through the red tape and logistical challenges companies face when entering a foreign market.

Devon Laney, chief operating officer at Innovation Depot, said the award could help create strategic partnerships that could make for permanent partnerships down the road. For example, the incubator is helping a biotech company at Innovation Depot and a large company in China receive proper worker visas for the U.S. through writing letters and talking with legislators.

"What you're trying to do is show and help (companies) understand the nuances of American business culture and specifically the Birmingham business culture," he said.

Innovation Depot also helped Winter Industry Piping Solutions -- a German company that does piping systems primarily with auto manufacturers -- enter the Alabama market. In the two years since it moved to Innovation Depot in 2010, the company already has annual revenue of more than $1 million, according to Winter Industry Executive Director Cindy Holland. Holland wrote a letter of recommendation for Innovation Depot to receive the Safe Landings designation.

About 50 percent of the incubators who have sought the designation have received it since the program was created eight years ago, according to Randy Morris, director of members services for Athens, Ohio-based NBIA. To qualify, an incubator must be financially stable and have a minimum 18-month track record of helping at least two international companies move into a new market. The designation is ultimately voted on by a five-person panel of incubator professionals.

"We oftentimes equate it to the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval on a product," Morris said. "It basically conveys to someone that someone they trust believes the services are good, so I believe it carries a good bit of clout."

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