FLORENCE — A handful of  companies are moving to the final round of the Shoals Alabama Launchpad business investment competition.

Eight small companies looking to grow spent Thursday morning talking about their businesses, hoping to gain favor and confidence of the judges.

Alchemy, Luxe Brand, Nside, Southern Swaddle and Sycamore Physician Contracting moved forward and will pitch again Feb. 21 for a portion of  the $100,000 in prize money that is available.

The three companies that were dropped after this first pitch were Chumz, Red Gingham Gourmet and Seacoast Publishing.

Shoals Alabama Launchpad is the first, and only, regional competition for the Alabama Launchpad initiative that has spent 10 years investing in Alabama-based business startups.

The Shoals Alabama Launchpad is a collaborative effort of the University of North Alabama, the Shoals Entrepreneurial Center and the Shoals Chamber of Commerce.

Janyce Fadden, executive-in-residence from the UNA College of Business, said the idea for the launchpad started in a meeting in January 2014 when a group of leaders started talking about what the Shoals could be.

"We didn't know then what exactly that looked like," Fadden said.

Alabama Launchpad hosted its state finals pitch competition in April in advance of the announcement the Shoals would be the competition's first regional competition in the fall.

Alchemy is a sealant spray that keeps jewelry from tarnishing and irritating sensitive skin. Founder Ashley Morrow created the product in 2014, and has seen consistent sales growth. Morrow now wants to make a greater push through marketing, wholesaling and product development.

She is seeking development funds to attend five wholesale shows, create a media kit, and develop a single-use, disposable Alchemy wipe. She said this would help her appeal to new demographics, such as men and wearers who have skin irritation from the metal pieces of eyeglasses.

"This is a category creator," Morrow said. "There is nothing in the market that is like Alchemy."

LUXE Brand is a luxury shoelace brand created by UNA student Ryan Mason. The product is handcrafted, leather shoelaces in metallic and matte finishes.

It is targeted toward teens and young adults who are fashion-interested and are driving the growing sneaker market, Mason said.

"For millennial, customization is very important," he said.

The shoe laces are in boutique shoe stores in Birmingham and Atlanta and are sold through a digital marketplace.  

Mason said he plans to use social media to connect with buyers and send complimentary shoe laces to athletes and well-known social media personalities to spread the brand.

Nside is a Florence-based virtual mapping company that specializes in safety planning. The company has a particular niche for school safety planning.

The company creates web-based maps for schools or facilities and integrates safety plans and connects the users with first responders to coordinate safety plans.

Nside founder Steve McKinney said the company needs $30,000 to stage a school safety conference in Georgia. The company has hosted similar events in Alabama to connect with teachers and school administrators.

"We need time for them to see (the platform) and engage with us," McKinney said.

Southern Swaddle is a Florence baby product company founded by husband and wife team Adam and Miriah Brink. The Brinks were searching for a durable, quality swaddling blanket for their newborn, but what they found were cheaply made products from China that didn't meet their expectations.

Southern Swaddle blankets are made from thin, stretchy USA-made fabric that create a tight swaddle for a baby that still allows the baby to kick their legs without unwrapping the swaddle.

Their key to entering the baby market is mother-to-mother sales.

"It is going to be difficult for people to compete with our story," Adam Brink said.

Sycamore Physician Contracting is a web-based application that connects physicians with facilities that need doctors.

The focus is on providing emergency medicine physicians to hospitals that need shifts covered in the emergency department.

Dr. Hamad Husainy, a local emergency medicine physician, founded the company after seeing a lack of coverage by qualified physicians in small and rural hospitals.

Husainy said emergency departments are required to have a doctor on each shift, but do not require the doctors to be certified in emergency medicine. He said he knows there are emergency medicine doctors willing to work additional shifts at hospitals outside their normal employment.

Sycamore Physician Contracting was born to be a matchmaking service between doctors and facilities, he said. 

"For physicians, this is something we've been talking about for years," Husainy said.

jennifer.edwards@TimesDaily.com or 256-740-5754. Twitter @TD_JEdwards.

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