I relocated to Huntsville from Boston for a job with Curse Gaming in January, 2015. Huntsville had a different culture than I was familiar with: it was quiet and family-focused, but its community was loyal and ambitious. Right away, I got the impression that the people of Huntsville had big aspirations for its future. Over time, I've adopted those aspirations as well and have become passionate about helping Huntsville flourish.
Huntsville has a ton of potential. You'd never guess that this small place in Alabama could be so forward-thinking. It's full of brilliant minds—more PhDs per capita than anywhere else in the country. It's home to world-class institutions, such as NASA, the Redstone Arsenal, HudsonAlpha, and Lowe Mill. Decades of focus in esoteric industries (defense and aerospace) has fostered a more private culture here, however it hasn't stopped these institutions from recruiting a creative, innovative workforce. The people of Huntsville have incredible creative capital.
To me, Huntsville feels like a nest-egg of an almost-city. It's like a startup; its potential for growth provides a great civic opportunity. As an entrepreneur, I see opportunities and desire to innovate. And as someone whose livelihood is validated by connecting people, Huntsville presents an ideal opportunity for me. It has all the components of a soon-to-be-city—400,000 people, money, resources, smarts, proximity to other cities, an influx of transplants—but it lacks the social infrastructure to connect its dots. That's where I feel I can help.
To me, Huntsville is one of the most exciting places in the country to live. Cities like Boston, New York, and San Francisco are great, but they've already hit their pinnacle. They have millions of people, tons of great bars and restaurants, sports teams, transit systems, and diverse economies, but their fight is gone; they've won. Folks who live there aren't writing their city's story the way we are here. Huntsville has the potential to be the next big thing, and we are fortunate to have the opportunity to help it get there.
Open Huntsville is a website and community organization that was borne out of conversations I had with small business owners who expressed a desire for greater access to freelancers. Without the budgets to hire agencies or full-time employees, these folks wanted to find designers, programmers, lawyers, accountants, and other professionals who could help them with specific business needs.
I began building Open Huntsville as a Wordpress site and later brought on a team to build the site using Huntsville-based Ruby framework, Pakyow. We launched the site in August of 2015 with a private party at the Apple Store at Bridge Street.
To date, the site has attracted close to 200 freelancers and is used every day by people looking to find and work with members of the community.
Currently, the team and I are working on v2 of the site, which will have a broader focus on professionals in Huntsville rather than exclusively on freelancers. The team includes Andrew Hall, Joe MacKenzie, Kyle Newman, Tarra Anzalone, and myself.
In April of 2015, I launched a new community organization called Code for Huntsville with a kickoff event at the AL.com building in downtown Huntsville. At this event, I propositioned our audience about participating in weekly Hack Nights—basically weekly mini hackathons—to which they expressed interest. As such, I began hosting weekly Hack Nights on Wednesday nights at AL.com.
As time passed, Code for Huntsville eventually backed out of the weekly Wednesday night routine and Hack Night was reorganized as CO|WORKING NIGHT.
Nowadays, a group of digital makers gets together weekly to co-work on projects. Each week, we structure events according to the following format:
- 6:00pm-6:30pm - CO|NNECT: Networking time
- 6:30pm-7:00pm - CO|LEARN: A community member who has started and launched a successful project or company speaks to our audience about this process.
- 7:00pm-11:00pm - CO|WORK: Attendees break into groups or work solo on projects, companies, homework, etc.
Code for Huntsville
Upon moving to Huntsville, I was eager to get plugged into the local tech scene. I looked around to see if I could find any hackathons or tech conferences, but there weren't any. As a result, I began talking with folks about organizing a hackathon. One of these people was Larry Mason, who had a specific interest in civic hacking. After a month or so of discussions, we launched Code for Huntsville in April of 2015.
Code for Huntsville is Huntsville's chapter of Code for America's "Brigades" network. We organize our community around two goals:
- Lobbying our local government to publish non-sensitive public data to open, API-accessible databases.
- Building civic apps using that data, either based on the city's needs or the broader needs of the citizens of Huntsville.
Since our launch, we've worked on a number of projects, including a mobile app called Frontier, a Google Analytics dashboard, a trolley tracking app, and gathering bicycle tracking data. We have yet to publish a project, but we've built valuable connections with the city and helped to bolster Huntsville's civic/tech community.
3210 is a community for young professionals in their 20s and 30s who are interested in or who are working on startups. We meet bi-weekly to deep dive the founding stories of existing successful startups. In the process, we're growing Huntsville's young professional startup scene. Huntsville now has 20+ startup teams who are building apps, and many of their founders are members of 3210.
Huntsville Founders is a video series featuring the stories of Huntsville's business founders and entrepreneurs. Every two weeks, we release a new founder story in the form of a 3-7 minute video.
The inspiration behind Huntsville Founders came from several conversations I had with people who hadn't heard of Brandon Kruse. Brandon, who founded, grew, and ultimately sold his company, DialMaxx, is one of Huntsville's more accomplished young entrepreneurs. I felt that entrepreneurial leaders like Brandon deserved to championed in the community.
Our goals at Huntsville Founders are:
- To demystify the term "entrepreneur."
- To inspire would-be founders to start their own companies.
Rather than portraying entrepreneurs as Silicon Valley bigwigs, we aim to personify entrepreneurs as everyday folks who took a business risk. Our hope is that our videos reach the eyes of would-be entrepreneurs who relate to our founders' stories and start their own companies as a result.
Huntsville Founders is produced by Andrew Hall, Elizabeth Hagale, Seth Turner, and myself.