By John Mullen

The city is pursuing $20,000 in grant money to help start a business incubator in Fairhope with the assistance of the University of Alabama, the Baldwin Economic Development Alliance and BBVA Compass Bank.

“We will be the first location in the state for their Technology Village program,” BEDA Director Lee Lawson told the City Council last month. “This program was launched in South Carolina by Clemson University. It went out to non-university smaller areas within South Carolina and gave them the full resources of a four-year research university to create an entrepreneurial development center.

“That’s exactly what the University of Alabama is proposing with this initiative in Fairhope and for this organization.”

The Fairhope City Council authorized Mayor Karin Wilson to send a letter asking for three separate grants from the Alabama Municipal Electric Authority to get the program up and running. Wilson said the program will be able to link with another already aimed at small businesses in Fairhope.

“One of the ideas I’d love to tie in is the fact that Fairhope Local was started for independent businesses, really, entrepreneurs,” Wilson said. “I do think the marriage of the two would be great.”

The program will be administered with the help of BEDA’s Baldwin Community and Economic Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Lawson said.

“The reason we’ll use the (c)(3) arm is because that opens us up for future grant funding for this endeavor,” Lawson said. “It also allows us to partner with the university a little more cleanly and their funding streams potentially in the future. The university harnesses grant dollars that will be eligible for a [501](c)(3) rather than for a [501](c)(6).”

Lawson said the University of Alabama’s choice of Fairhope for the first town in the program was worked out over several months.

“We’re excited about that, we’re excited about partnering with the city,” Lawson said. “You know, based on talking with constituents, this is a city of entrepreneurs and we have an entrepreneurial spirit. What we do need to do is enhance our entrepreneurial culture. UA can help us with that, they can help us with the resources to then grow that culture, but on a technological base.

“It is to give us the full resources of the University of Alabama to then back us and help us develop and launch an entrepreneurial hub.”

Lawson said recruiting has already begun to attract start-ups and people wanting to start a company in the center. BBVA Compass is providing the office space for the program. Another first step is finding a director.

“We’ll hire a director that has experience in leading and guiding entrepreneurs and finding capital in getting these businesses commercialized,” Lawson said. “We believe that there is opportunity here and this can be a really special thing for Fairhope.”