Montoya reflects on progress in Huntsville start-up scene

Rocket HatchBy Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

It was just a year ago that we first met Antonio Montoya of Huntsville during separate visits that we were making to Chattanooga’s CO.LAB.

Fast forward a year, and it is clear that Montoya has been a spark plug in helping ignite a renewed sense of entrepreneurship in the Northern Alabama community known for its aerospace and military presence.

The soft spoken native of the Republic of Colombia is quick to share credit with others, but it is obvious that he is a key catalyst.

“Quite a few things are starting to happen,” Montoya told us recently, adding facetiously, “Maybe we are moving too fast.”

As documented in a series in 2014 (Part 1 and Part 2), Montoya’s initial foray was helping launch Rocket Hatch, a vehicle to bring creators and entrepreneurs together with a mission to support the start-up movement in Huntsville.

“I was inspired by Sheldon Grizzle and his work at the CO.LAB,” Montoya explained. So, one of the early activities was to develop a baseline of Huntsville’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Here’s what it looked like in January 2014; here’s the diagram today.

“It’s been very interesting to see all of the growth,” Montoya notes. If you look at the two diagrams, it is indeed impressive. There are new initiatives like “CO.STARTERS,” “Will This Fly?” and “Rocket City Launch.” There are new incubators and co-working spaces. There are more funding opportunities.

So, what was next?

Montoya and his colleagues pondered that question and determined that the city needed additional tools to help entrepreneurs and their start-ups grow. Their conclusion resulted in several new initiatives including a mentoring program named “Brain Trust” and an accelerator named “Slingshot.”

The former “inspires people to get engaged,” Montoya explains, adding that he has encountered “quite a few people who want to get involved. We are giving them a pathway.”

Alan Derrick, a member of the Board of Directors for Rocket Hatch, is serving as Program Director for “Brain Trust.” In a recent newspaper article, he described his vision for the program.

“If you are a future, current or past entrepreneur interested in launching and growing new ventures, the ‘Brain Trust’ is a safe place to discuss your pressing issues and find the support and resources you need to move forward,” Derrick said.

Montoya says simply, “The (‘Brain Trust’) is the glue that ties all the things we do.”

If the ultimate goal, however, is to grow new companies, other initiatives need to be added to the mix.

Montoya notes that the “Alabama Launchpad” competition, held several times a year, is dominated by start-ups based in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. He wants to change that equation, and the new “Slingshot” accelerator is a vehicle to help.

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