Create Birmingham

Meghann Bridgeman, president and CEO at Create Birmingham, has sustainability on her mind. Whether for her organization or the nonprofits, artists, and entrepreneurs they work with, she knows that sustainability is an essential part of the economic opportunity equation in Greater Birmingham. “It’s not traditional economic development in these big, heavy hitting ways,” she says. “But I think it’s very important to the fabric of our city and the well-being of our residents to celebrate and help our creatives succeed.”

And that is exactly what Create Birmingham is doing thanks to a grant of $70,000 from the Community Foundation. With this transformative funding, Create Birmingham was able to launch its popular CO.STARTERS program in Bessemer and sustain its Create Consults program following its pilot. And now these programs are helping launch new businesses across the region as CO. STARTERS works with entrepreneurs to vet and launch their ideas, and Create Consults works with entities that have been in business at least 12 months to fill in knowledge gaps and assist in strengthening and growing their ventures.

“By funding CO.STARTERS in Bessemer and understanding the value of Create Consults, the Community Foundation is really investing in individuals. They want our creative talent to stay here and thrive in our region,” says Bridgeman. “I remember when we were being reviewed for this grant, there were a lot of detailed questions about how Create Consults solves for the next step in entrepreneurship. I love that the Community Foundation saw the value of investing in that next phase of support so you don’t just go from CO.STARTERS to ‘See you later.’

Bridgeman says she would be hard pressed to imagine Birmingham without its vibrant creative community that she characterizes as “the life and soul of Birmingham.” From the food scene to artists to makers, she says that’s what sets the Greater Birmingham area apart as a desirable region to be in. “We have such a rich amount of talent. And for the Community Foundation to recognize and value that even though the numbers are small – we’re not opening a big car plant or something – it’s really important.”

Without funding from the Community Foundation, however, Bridgeman says that expansion into Bessemer and continuing the Create Consults program “just wouldn’t have been possible.” But not only has it been possible, Create Birmingham has even been able to offer financial assistance to Bessemer entrepreneurs who might not otherwise be able to participate in the programs. “A hugely important part of the work is to make the programs accessible,” she says.

“I think the Community Foundation is taking a regional view for our grant,” Bridgeman continues. “The Community Foundation recognizes that Bessemer hasn’t had as much opportunity or funding. I think that’s a really tangible example of recognizing that we have work to do across the region, that there are folks who have historically been underserved or less funded and investing in them.”

Having so many distinct neighborhoods and municipalities in and around Birmingham makes things complicated, Bridgeman notes, but she is inspired by all the ways the Community Foundation shows up regionally. “I see them in a lot of strategic thinking meetings where there’s a focus on how to uplift the region and explicitly address our barriers and constraints,” she says. “There’s a lot of work to do and we have a lot of barriers that have yet to be addressed so I think we’re really fortunate to have them as an investing partner and an ally focused on rising tide solutions.”

For now, though, Bridgeman is focused on expanding Create Birmingham’s programs to ensure the future of creative entrepreneurship in the Greater Birmingham area. “The money from the Community Foundation grant is transformational,” she says. “It helped us keep Create Consults alive, and it helped us launch a whole new CO.STARTERS touching a whole other region. It’s literally changed our footprint.”