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Bidsters to open for business

JaQuia Curry

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Ben Bickerstaff always imagined that he would be “somewhere turning salt water into fresh water.” A native of Anniston, Alabama, and a graduate of the University of Alabama civil engineering program, Bickerstaff is now founder and CEO of a company that solves a problem he first noticed as a cooperative education employee for a large construction company.

As an employee, Bickerstaff became involved in the industry, doing everything from making copies to finding companies to bid on contracted construction jobs.

“There is a process that the larger contractors have to go through to hire other companies or individuals, called subcontractors, to come work their professions on a certain project,” he said.

After going through this time consuming task for many months, he realized there had to be an easier way. Thus the idea for Bidsters was developed: an online liaison where companies in the construction industry can direct and promote the projects they are working on and manage the bidding process for subcontractors interested in that project.

Bickerstaff said this idea was not a dream, but a goal he wanted to see through. He saw the opportunity that would help him accomplish this goal on Twitter, where he was informed about Alabama Launchpad, an organization that supports entrepreneurs and hosts an annual competition for start-ups.

Greg Sheek, programs director of Alabama Launchpad, said the company supports the development of growth ventures to diversify Alabama’s economy and create jobs.

“Alabama Launchpad’s competition helps entrepreneurs to make critical decisions, hone their pitch skills and face questions that real world investors ask,” he said. “We also offer other resources such SBIR grant writing assistance, access to our statewide business network and exposure through our innovation conference.”

Unsure of what to do with his idea, Bickerstaff was introduced to Whitney Hough, the venture development associate at the Office for Technology Transfer. Hough is responsible for commercializing intellectual property at the University, often through the development of technology or companies.

“Ben had identified a problem within the construction industry through his experience during a co-op,” Hough said. “He felt very passionately that he could solve this problem.”

Hough worked with Bickerstaff personally through the first preliminary rounds of Launchpad to develop the bases he needed to mature Bidsters. Although his idea didn’t get accepted during the first round, Ben’s opportunity was not over.

“This is our second year to offer multiple competition rounds in a single year,” Sheek said.

After working to improve Bidsters with each round, Bickerstaff advanced and eventually won the competition and a $16,000 prize sponsored by the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama Foundation.

“Alabama Launchpad will continue to leverage its network to help Bidsters at each stage of its development, and Ben would be eligible to participate in a future seed round that Alabama Launchpad is planning on adding to its plan of work in 2015,” Sheek said.

Currently operating at The Edge, a partnership between the University of Alabama, the city of Tuscaloosa and the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama, Bidsters will open for business on Saturdy.

“Ben worked really hard during our first interactions to provide me with the information needed, so I knew that he was going to have the work ethic to see this idea to a reality,” Hough said.

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Bidsters to open for business