The The Vulcan statue is the largest cast iron statue in the world, and is the
city symbol of Birmingham, Alabama, reflecting its roots in the iron and steel industry.
This past week I spent a few days in Birmingham Alabama where I visited a number of companies that represented a cross section of the innovative business environment in Birmingham. These companies included financial and information services companies, healthcare, and the University of Alabama Birmingham. I had only been in Birmingham once before about 15 years ago when I visited the old Bell South. I was immediately struck by the vibrant IT and business environment that I found on this visit. Birmingham was an old steel mill town not long ago, But, unlike many old steel mill towns Birmingham has transformed itself into a center for innovation and digital transformation.
It started at the modern new Birmingham–Shuttlesworth International Airport where I landed, followed by the Uber driver that picked me up at the airport and drove me to my hotel. The Uber driver was a high school teacher and basketball coach who was able to tap into the digital economy during his summer vacation through Uber. We had a great conversation over the NBA finals and high school basketball.
The local Hitachi team and I met with CIOs and heads of IT, and all the meetings were very down to earth and unpretentious. One meeting was at a seafood diner where I had gumbo and another was at a breakfast diner where I had grits with cheese and hogs head biscuits, The CIOs were very open in sharing their direction and strategies to enable us to align with their vision. All were very committed to digital transformation and were using agile and DevOps tools. Most were using private cloud and some were moving to public cloud. The banks were all into digital banking and universal tellers and working with FinTechs in niche services areas. While these were regional banks they were still knowledgeable about the blockchain technology that global banks are working on.
The university and several of the other companies we met with are involved in Birmingham’s Innovation Depot. The Innovation Depot is the epicenter for technology, startups, and entrepreneurs. The resources are provided by the University and other companies in the Birmingham area. They have over 100 startup companies, employing over 800 people, and have had an impact on the state of Alabama of nearly $1.4 billion over the past 5 years. Based on this success, the city of Birmingham is establishing an Innovation District in the area around the Innovation depot. City and business leaders want to see that portion of downtown, anchored by Innovation Depot, become a hotbed of growth fueled by young, vibrant companies like those at Innovation Depot. Fast Company magazine named Birmingham as the No. 1 city in America for millennial entrepreneurs.
This type of collaboration between the city, the university, established companies, and startups in Birmingham is a model for other municipalities and countries in driving social innovation.
As a side note, one of Birmingham’s sister cities, is Hitachi in Ibaraki, Japan. This town is the namesake of our company Hitachi which was founded there over 105 years ago, by Namihei Odaira, based on the concepts of Harmony, Sincerity and Innovation.