More Innovation


Tech moves forward.

by André Natta

 

A conversation with Devon Laney will leave you excited about what the future holds for Birmingham and its tech realm. Laney, the Innovation Depot’s current chief operating officer, will become its new president when Susan Matlock steps down from that post later this year. According to their website, Innovation Depot is a business incubation facility and program that focuses on the development of emerging biotechnology/life science, information technology, and service businesses.

“I’m in a very fortunate position, and the community is a fortunate position, because Susan has done such a great job building this and making this what it is: a successful organization and one that’s had a tremendous impact on the community,” says Laney.

The business incubator has helped its home, a former Sears Roebuck flagship store in Birmingham’s City Center, find a way to once again serve in that role. It’s been recognized by Forbes magazine as a reason for the visible growth in related industries in the region. In fact, it is the largest incubator in the southeastern United States. Laney himself was named to the National Business Incubation Association’s board of directors late last year. He said the building is more than adequate for the city’s current needs. “I don’t think Birmingham can sustain anything larger than this,” he says. “That being said, we’re about 90 percent occupied with 95 companies [currently housed here].”

He also spoke about “two significant graduations that are going to be huge successes for Birmingham” in the coming year. “Those will knock that number back to 75 percent occupied,” he explains. “[The occupancy rate is] always a moving target. I feel like right now, for the ecosystem where it is, this is the right size.”

He’s talked in previous interviews about the ability to attract and retain young talent to the community. “It’s better now than it’s ever been,” he says. Laney recounted a recent experience with a young entrepreneur who had worked for Microsoft and recently relocated because his wife found her dream job in Birmingham. He decided to start his own company and reached out to two guys who had worked with him at Microsoft. “They said, ‘OK, let’s come to Birmingham and check it out.’ They were blown away,” Laney says. “The next week, they both moved to Birmingham. Now, could it have happened five, six years ago? I don’t know. Maybe it could have, but I don’t think it would have been as easy.”

Laney says that his goal is to stay on focused on what the company does at its essence. “At the end of the day, I think it’s a mistake to say, ‘We have to do everything differently,’” he says. “We’re very good at what we do. [We need to] stay focused on that and enhance and improve it.”

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