Innovation Depot

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The Innovation Depot is a combined facility for the City of Birmingham's Entrepreneurial Center and UAB's Office for the Advancement of Developing Industries (OADI). The two centers have worked together under the Entrepreneurial Center's management since 2001.

The present facility opened in 2007 in the former downtown Sears store at 1500 1st Avenue North, on the block between 1st and 2nd Avenue North and 14th and 16th Streets. The building was gutted and renovated at a cost of $17 million for the center. The architects for the renovation were Williams-Blackstock with Brice Building Company as the general contractor and Brantley Visioneering as the construction manager.

The building's architectural design won an Honor Citation from the Gulf States chapter of the American Institute of Architects and a Merit Award for Adaptive Reuse from AIA Birmingham.

The name "Innovation Depot" was chosen to reflect its proximity to Birmingham's Railroad Reservation, the "incubator" of industrial development in the late 19th century. The 145,000 square-foot facility was designed to house as many as 75 small businesses and employ as many as 500 workers. The center focuses on biotechnology start-ups and has 20,000 square feet of wet laboratory space and a shared equipment lab with an autoclave, centrifuge, low-temperature freezer and micro-optics.

The Innovation Depot in August 2008

Other service providers that are located in the building include the Alabama Small Business Development Center Network, the Alabama Procurement Technical Assistance Center, the Birmingham Business Resource Center, the Birmingham Venture Club, TechBirmingham, and the Alabama International Trade Center.

The Innovation Depot serves as an anchor for the city's proposed "Entrepreneurial District", which is reflected in the 2004 City Center Master Plan. According to the plan, the Innovation Depot will be connected across the Railroad Reservation and midtown to the UAB campus by a "green street" on 14th Street South which passes alongside the Railroad Park (opened in 2010). The entire district will have a special overlay zoning to encourage entrepreneurial activity as an engine for dense mid-rise urban development.

Culinard's Culinard Cafe, with a gelato bar, was located inside the Innovation Depot until 2016. Other amenities include picnic tables and a boule court in a courtyard garden and a rooftop deck.

In March 2009 the Depot reported a "sales and earnings impact" of over $340 million for 2008. At that point the center was serving 55 client businesses with a combined payroll of over 350 employees. For 2009, the center's sales impact declined to $290 million while the number of client firms increased to 65. In 2010, the Depot went ahead with plans to complete the outfitting of still-unfinished areas and subdivide some existing spaces into smaller offices to reach a total capacity of 85 companies and around 600 employees. In March 2011, the sales and earnings impact was reported at over $1 billion for 2010. In 2018 the Innovation Depot claimed a five-year economic impact of $1.66 billion for the Birmingham area.

In 2011 Discovery BioMed, which designs and contracts human cell-based drug discovery and development programs, became the first company to formally "graduate" from the center's program, moving to offices in the Riverhills Business Park Inverness.

Innovation Depot rebranded and updated its programs and facilities in 2021. Telegraph Creative was commissioned for the brand refresh, with Kinetic Communications upgrading the center's website and smartphone app. Bendy Knees Design created a series of interior murals. Knight Eady's former offices were reconfigured as the Ignite co-working center. Innovation Depot also became a tenant in the building that replaced the Ramsay-McCormack building in downtown Ensley.

In 2023 Innovation Depot turned over operation of its "Voltage" 6-week accelerator program to AppThink. The same year, the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator relocated to Innovation Depot from the Denham Building. Development of the nearby Nextec Building was expected to expand the range of services available to startups. All three moves were seen as helping nurture productive interactions between entrepreneurs. Later the same year the Depot began offering access to the building's public spaces for remote work and networking by subscription.

The Innovation Depot under construction in February 2007. Photo by Curtis Palmer

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