by Emma Planson, Innovation Depot Intern
As a relative newcomer to the Birmingham startup community, I have been excited to learn about the wealth of resources and opportunities available for technical and non-technical founders alike. For Pride month, it is my pleasure to highlight and celebrate Anna Topping, a Venture for America Fellow and the Coordinator of Programs and Member Experience for TechBirmingham. As a part of the LGBTQ+ community, Anna works to help make technology more accessible for underrepresented individuals including queer individuals, women, people of color, and other minority groups.
TechBirmingham is a chamber of commerce style non-profit organization housed in Innovation Depot. Their mission is “to strengthen and promote the technology ecosystem by promoting tech companies in the region, helping to recruit and retain tech talent and entrepreneurs, and providing opportunities for technical training and education.” They host programs and opportunities from monthly lunch and learns to an annual tech career fair for students from underrepresented backgrounds to mixers for their members, and they even have a directory of resources on their website for folks looking for any kind of tech-related assistance.
The three main focuses of TechBirmingham’s work are attracting and retaining talent, aligning existing tech efforts and initiatives in Birmingham, and promoting these efforts and initiatives. To accomplish these goals, the organization also co-manages the Birmingham Tech Council, a community-run initiative that works to align the tech talent pipeline in central Alabama, alongside CentralSix AlabamaWorks! and Innovate Birmingham.
Anna is a Venture for America (VFA) Fellow. VFA is essentially a reverse-brain drain program—a prestigious and specialized recruitment and workforce placement organization. It brings young future leaders and entrepreneurs to cities with emerging tech and entrepreneurial ecosystems and equips them with the skills and resources they need to create economic opportunity in their careers. The program lasts two years and provides both host companies and Fellows with support.
Anna grew up in the Chicago area and went to college at the University of Michigan. Aside from attending Space Camp as a kid, Anna did not have a lot of exposure to Alabama or Birmingham before visiting their potential placement. As a queer person, one of Anna’s top considerations in accepting an offer was the social context for the LGBTQ+ community. Unfortunately, some of the negative stereotypes about Alabama preceded Anna’s visit to Birmingham. Though apprehensive about moving to the South, upon visiting Birmingham, Anna quickly connected with many individuals here, thanks to the warm welcome of VFA, TechBirmingham’s CEO Deon Gordon, and individuals within the LGBTQ+ community.
Anna coordinates events and programs for TechBirmingham and is a member of the leadership team of Tech Equals. Tech Equals is a community organization, and an affinity group of TechBirmingham that was started by Dr. Lindsay Sutton (Shipt) “to provide visibility and voice to the LGBTQ members of central Alabama’s tech community.” Tech Equals works to “provide resources, support, and professional networking in a safe and affirming environment” as well as organize “larger community efforts around the issues that most impact LGBTQ members by leading public discussions and forums, being involved in citywide inclusivity efforts, and serving as our tech community’s proponent for LGBTQ-inclusive, statewide non-discrimination laws.” Tech Equals was started during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 and has started gaining momentum with a newly formed leadership team and increased programming in the past couple of months. A sponsorship from Verizon is helping to provide the resources to roll out more programs and events—like their upcoming Pride celebration at Monday Night Brewing, which is also supported by Trend Micro.
Mentorship, representation, resources and role models matter, as we learned from Weida Tan, founder of Fledging. So, I asked Anna what advice and resources they would give to young, queer individuals interested in tech. Here’s what they advised:
“People are willing to talk to you and connect you with what you’re interested in. Anyone you know who is connected to the scene or community will very likely be willing to talk to you or refer you to someone. The Birmingham network is so strong, so be curious and ask questions. People are interested in you and in what they do, and they want to connect you with resources. I’ve also found that all these cool organizations and opportunities, like Tech Equals, The Bevy, and the Magic City Acceptance Center, are really great for tapping into Birmingham’s queer community, whether professionally, socially, or both.”
Newsletters & online information hubs:
TechBirmingham Newsletter (sign up at bottom of page)
Tech Affinity/Interest Groups:
Anna, thank you for your time, for choosing Birmingham, and for being a role model and resource in tech for the LGBTQIA+ community!