State leaders to expand student opportunities

by Emily Mosier 

Innovate Alabama, a non-profit commission meant to encourage entrepreneurship, met at Troy University Tuesday to discuss several programs that will promote opportunities for college students.

Created by Alabama Governor Kay Ivey in 2020, Innovate Alabama is the first commission in the state to focus on entrepreneurs and technology. Its goal is to implement programs and legislation that support business owners, grows the state economy, and encourage workers to build roots and careers in Alabama.

Dr. Judson Edwards, the Dean of the Sorrell College of Business, said the commission will benefit Troy students long-term.

“They’re trying to make sure that companies and industries have the opportunity to access really great students who stay to work within the state,” Edwards said. “So, they’re not only trying to help our students develop and become more creative, but to have greater opportunities.

“If students have skills and talents in all different areas, companies will be here to employ our graduates and keep growing the state. “

Programs discussed during the board meeting included access to capital, talent development, and a program concerning the lifestyle and outdoor recreation industry. Innovate Alabama CEO Cynthia Crutchfield discussed a program called Fuel Alabama.

“We’re looking to bring resources outside of the state into the state, helping our students in-state really understand that wholistic view of Alabama and what Alabama has to offer,” Crutchfield said. “And not just from an educational perspective, but also quality of life. Our goal is that they will remain in Alabama.” 

Additionally, the board discussed ways to give students equitable opportunities, helping those that may have less opportunities than others. One of these initiatives is the HBCU engagement program.

“A lot of these programs stem from grants, which falls right within the Innovate Alabama mission and what we’re trying to accomplish,” said Alabama State Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro. “And with that we can hopefully put together an ecosystem and bring in that diversity and inclusion.”

Board member Britney Summerville spoke about the Innovate Alabama Network, an initiative meant to map a statewide innovation ecosystem asset map. 

“It would allow us to aggregate resources into a database or into an app that is accessible to anyone of interest,” Summerville said. “It will help us find gaps and any missing connections, and these gaps will help us direct funding and identify partnership opportunities.”

The meeting ended with Adam Carson, an operations manager at Lockheed Martin, who was invited to talk about business in Pike County. He said he hoped to see more opportunities offered to high school students who are not college-bound and who may not realize there are more than just minimum wage jobs available.

“We want to give opportunities to children in our communities,” Carson said. “The only way to do that is to get in front of the students . . . so that they realize manufacturing is something they can do.”

So far, the commission has spent $5 million in their efforts to support innovation in Alabama. Their current program budget for 2023 is over $29.5 million.

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