UAB’s Office for the Advancement of Developing Industries has a new home in the heart of the city, and with it a new identity: Innovation Depot.

Innovation Depot President and Executive Director Susan Matlock spearheaded the business incubator’s move to the Old Sears Building.

The UAB business incubator (OADI) and Birmingham’s non-profit economic development business incubator (the Entrepreneurial Center), have joined together to become Innovation Depot, a business incubation facility and program that focuses on the development of emerging biotechnology/life science, information technology and service businesses.

A public-private economic development effort, Innovation Depot operates in partnership with the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which was one of the funders of the $17 million, three-year project, and will be an ongoing funding partner. Others are the Birmingham regional business community, including many leading private foundations; the City of Birmingham; and Jefferson County. The president and chief executive officer of Innovation Depot is Susan Matlock, who headed OADI and the Entrepreneurial Center and led the development of the new, consolidated incubator.

Making the old new again
The physical part of the integration of OADI and the Entrepreneurial Center, which began a few years ago as a joint operating contract between two separate entities to share staff and achieve cost efficiencies, is evident in the renovated Sears building, a downtown Birmingham landmark at 1500 First Ave. North. Built in 1945 and once home to a leading member of the city’s retail community, the decaying building – set conveniently between the city’s financial district and UAB and near the future Railroad Reservation Park (thus “Depot”) – had been vacant for 20 years until tenants of Innovation Depot moved in late April.

The architectural firm of Williams-Blackstock modified the original box-style design of the building while keeping the best of its historic roots, including terrazzo floors. Decorated in a high-energy color scheme with skylights in high ceilings, concrete pillars and exposed ductwork, the 140,000-square-foot structure features a variety of different-sized and shaped-spaces and a flexible floor plan to accommodate companies at varying stages of growth.

In addition to housing some 40 existing tenants (star tenants and graduates include Emageon, Medmined, Vaxin, Vista Engineering and TransMolecular Inc.) and offering space for at least 25 more, the incubator has already helped Birmingham snare a new corporate headquarters; Nashville-based BioDtech Inc. said it plans to expand its research lab in Innovation Depot, and call the incubator home for its head office beginning in July. Production and distribution will remain in Tennessee. The company said it could hire as many as 50 people in the next two years.

Economic impact
BioDtech can be considered a microcosm of the impact OADI-Entrepreneurial Center business incubation has on the greater Birmingham economy; combined, the two incubators have had a $1.3 billion economic impact on the area’s economy over the last five years. Much of that impact is attributable to companies that have been created through the licensing of technology through the UAB Research Foundation. The UABRF, which was formed in 1987 to identify, assess, protect and market commercially viable intellectual property developed at UAB, has generated 33 start-up companies based on its technologies and completed more than 330 income-generating option and licensing agreements.

Also calling Innovation Depot home will be the new, second location of The Bakery at Culinard, which will be open to the public and feature baked goods, gelato and catering not only for the building’s public spaces, but other businesses downtown, as well.

Along with the fun option of onsite coffee cakes and cookies, the tenants are provided with the hard-core necessities needed to conduct their business: wireless hotspots in common areas, T1 Internet connections, 20,000 square feet of wet lab space, de-ionized water, generator back-up for critical equipment and chemical fume hoods. Also, the incubator’s common lab features a large autoclave, high-speed centrifuge, minus-80 degree freezer, Cytoviva microscopic optics system and lab glassware dishwasher.

For more information about Innovation Depot, visit