Birmingham, Alabama has long been known as the “Magic City” since leading the way in the iron and steel industries. Now, Birmingham is once again becoming nationally known as a mecca for small business start-ups, specifically in the technology industry.
Inspired by this entrepreneurial spirit and backed by their Samford University education, three recent graduates are setting out to make their mark on the local business community and are using the Brock School of Business business incubator in Cooney Hall to get started.
Integrated Holdings LLC is the umbrella organization under which Zachary Taunton, Sydney Murphy and Adele Fogle operate their three budding companies: Funnel, Storymark and Plug ‘N Play. Taunton and Murphy, both 2018 Brock School of Business graduates, formed Integrated Holdings immediately following graduation in May and shortly thereafter invited Fogle, a 2016 Howard College of Arts and Sciences graduate, to join them in their venture. Taunton serves as president and founder, Murphy is the chief executive officer and Fogle contributes as the chief marketing officer and web designer.
“We couldn’t wait for school to be out so we could get started,” said Murphy who is originally from Marietta, Georgia.
Funnel, the first of the three companies, was launched by Taunton after spawning the idea from a sports marketing class project for Minor League Baseball. The social media software offered by Funnel is directed towards sports leagues and promises to give fans the content they crave. Taunton and his classmates’ research showed that sports fans want to see content directly from the players, rather than from the organization they play for. Funnel’s platform allows the sports organization to take the content directly from a player’s individual page and repurpose it to reach more Generation Z and Millennial followers.
The second arm of Integrated Holdings is called Storymark which offers story telling for businesses through web design. They use what they call “sledgehammer marketing” to communicate with clients clearly by narrowing the business’s message down to the most direct points and refining content used on their website. As certified Storybrand copywriters, the team promises a large return on investment after the project is completed. With the support of family and friends, some of Storymark’s first clients include West Cobb & South Cobb Diner, run by Murphy’s family in Marietta, Georgia, as well as one of the latest restaurant concepts in Homewood, Alabama, FarmBowl.
“It’s certainly a challenge to convince people that they should change their website,” said Taunton, a Birmingham native. “We’re learning so much and definitely experiencing ‘trial by fire.’”
Plug ‘N Play, the last of the group’s business ideas, is a facility with soundproofed rooms and top-notch instruments where musicians can play whenever they want. “It will be like a gym for musicians,” Taunton said.
When Cooney Hall was conceptualized and built, there were strategic plans to include the incubator space in an effort to encourage ideas and student collaboration.
“We wanted to have a space for our emerging entrepreneurs to work, collaborate, and learn – the incubator is a unique space that allows all of that to happen,” said Chad Carson, associate dean and Brock Family Chair in Entrepreneurship. “Students use the space on a daily basis to push their ideas to the next phase of development and implementation.”
Taunton and Murphy said that support from the faculty and staff in Cooney Hall has been nothing short of fantastic and everyone is interested in what they are trying to accomplish.
“When we were students, there was no lack of learning how a business works and how to be true professionals. Everything was laid out for us and we wanted to be part of something from the ground up,” Murphy said. “My Brock School of Business experience was a game changer and I can say who I’ve become because of this school.”
Fogle, a native of Kennesaw, Georgia, said she was very prepared for her role from her studies in Samford’s journalism and mass communication program. “I just wanted to try something different and learn new things,” she said. “You have to be willing to go the long-haul to make something work.”
“These young entrepreneurs are taking great advantage of the space this summer,” Carson added. “Our hopes are that this will be a launching point for them to move forward. They have big ideas and a lot of talent to make their entrepreneurial path a great success.”
“The incubator has been a great space for us as we launch our businesses,” said Taunton. “Birmingham is full of start-ups. Everyone is connected and we’re excited to be a part of that.”“Jesus is orchestrating this,” Murphy closed. “And we’re just living in it.”