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Blazer Hatchery & Hackathon Goes Worldwide From Alabama With Online Pitch Gala

Post by Michael Sznajderman from Alabama NewsCenter

An upcoming online event will showcase some of the brightest entrepreneurial minds at UAB as they pitch ideas for social enterprises that build on Birmingham’s history and culture to drive the greater good.

All are invited to tune in on Wednesday, Nov. 17, from 6-8 p.m. to view the final pitches of five teams competing in this year’s Blazer Hatchery & Hackathon. The “Virtual Pitch Gala” is the culmination of more than a month of intensive discussions, seminars and concept formulation, with a total of $10,000 in prize money at stake.

“We’re excited to showcase the potential of our young entrepreneurs and the vibrancy of the Birmingham entrepreneurial ecosystem to a worldwide audience,” said Patrick Murphy, the Goodrich Chair of Entrepreneurship and director of UAB’s Entrepreneurship Program.

Murphy said the first hackathon, held in 2019 prior to the pandemic, was a “powerhouse” that drew more than 300 people to the face-to-face pitch gala. But by moving the pitch gala online – with the ability for anyone to watch, wherever they are – the event is now open to much greater participation.

“Going virtual has really expanded this event’s reach nationally and internationally. We are connecting with people in India, in China, in Europe – as well as entrepreneurial educators all over America,” Murphy said.

One important element of this year’s hackathon is that the pitches must involve creating social enterprises – businesses that not only pursue financial profit but are focused on improving the community. The social enterprise theme comes on the heels of Alabama lawmakers approving a law that clears the way for entrepreneurs to create benefit corporations – a specific category of business that has financial profit and social benefit as part of their mission. A new Alabama Benefit Corporation Association has been formed to educate Alabama business leaders and entrepreneurs about benefit corporations. The Alabama Power Foundation is supporting the association and the Blazer Hatchery & Hackathon.

This year’s Blazer Hatchery & Hackathon Virtual Pitch Gala will be livestreamed from the offices of the Velocity Accelerator program at Birmingham’s Innovation Depot on Nov. 17. (contributed)

“We think there is tremendous potential in benefit corporations,” said Hallie Bradley, who coordinates strategic initiatives at the Alabama Power Foundation. “We hope this hackathon can inspire young entrepreneurs, and people of all ages interested in starting a business, to consider the advantages of benefit corporations.”

Murphy is excited about the ability to form benefit corporations in Alabama. “Benefit corporations expand the potential for entrepreneurs to do good in their communities and generate a positive social impact.”

About 60 students from UAB, including undergraduates, graduates and medical school students and residents, applied to be part of this year’s competition, with 25 chosen to participate.

Already completed is the first portion of the event – the “hatchery” – an intensive two-week seminar that had participants studying and discussing ideas around the entrepreneurial mindset. It was followed by a third week during which the challenge was presented and the participants divided into five teams. The teams are now deep into the hackathon portion of the event, devising and honing their venture ideas, which will be presented on Nov. 17 and livestreamed from the offices of the Velocity Accelerator program at Birmingham’s Innovation Depot. Register to watch the pitch event here.

Murphy expects entrepreneurial leaders and investors to be among the many who tune in, and he hopes some will want to follow up with the teams to move proposals past the idea stage.

That would be just fine with Brian Akhtar, an MBA student at UAB and participant in this year’s event. Akhtar was one of the first students at UAB to receive an undergraduate entrepreneurship degree. He recently competed as an entrepreneur on the Alabama Public Television business pitch show, “Alabama Upstarts,” where he won $1,000.

Although he’s been studying entrepreneurship for some time, he said the hatchery “opened his eyes to new ideas” and how to look at problems constructively.

John Wise, another competitor in the hackathon, is a senior in computer science at UAB and is one of the team leaders. He said the hatchery was “truly mind-bending in how you think about business and how you solve problems. It changed completely my framework about how you start a business.”

The hackathon is focused on Birmingham’s history – from its industrial beginnings and growth, to its civil rights struggles – during a year the city is celebrating its 150th birthday.

Murphy said social enterprises are far more likely to succeed if they are tied to a community’s culture in authentic ways.

“We want this to be a culturally laden experience,” said Murphy, a highly cited scholar in social enterprise. “I’m hopeful the teams will formulate amazing ideas that will serve as forces for good.”

Learn more about the Blazer Hatchery & Hackathon and sign up to view the Nov. 17 pitch event here.

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