Q&A with the BBA

By Cary Estes

MedWint13-BBAA native of Belgium, Steven Ceulemans is vice president for innovation and technology for the Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA), the region’s leading economic development and business advocacy organization. He holds master’s degrees in international business and biochemistry and molecular biology. Among his responsibilities at the BBA is to work with the School of Medicine and the rest of UAB to generate economic growth in the Birmingham region through entrepreneurialism and promotion of the region’s “innovation ecosystem.”

How do the BBA and UAB work together? We want to help make it easier for inventors to become innovators and become engaged as job creators. My job is to help facilitate technology innovation development in Birmingham, and UAB is a key part of that. We focus specific resources on supporting the relationship between UAB and the business community.

What is an example of your collaboration with UAB? One of the projects under way is called Invention2Innovation, which started in August. It’s a collaborative program between the BBA and a number of UAB groups to identify technology with high potential for commercialization and growth. So we’re scouting technologies, and then we’re building entrepreneurial teams around those technologies in partnership with the UAB School of Business. The goal for the BBA is to match each team with industry mentors on a technology-specific basis. We want to find an entrepreneurial quarterback, a technology expert, and an experienced executive to help support them.

Why is this important? Early on in a company, you have a limited number of people who can directly take care of all of the responsibilities to help move the company forward. It’s almost inevitable that you’re going to have gaps. To be able to bring in advisors, mentors, and coaches to help these inventors network in the business community and find the resources to get what they need is of tremendous value.

What is the end goal of these efforts? There is real value in the process of engaging inventors and in supporting and enabling them as technology innovators. It adds value to the university research to reach society in the form of new products and services, which in turn can foster enterprises to grow and be successful. The work we’re doing directly helps UAB grow and be successful, because it makes them more competitive in recruiting and hiring the smartest people. We want to continue to build and grow the innovation ecosystem. In the process, we can grow a cluster of dozens and maybe even hundreds of people with a skill set that lends itself toward technology entrepreneurship. Doing this is a long-term effort. You’re not going to generate companies with hundreds of millions in revenue overnight. But as an indicator of the early value of the process, I think it’s been very promising.