Inside a 5,000-square-foot facility on Fourth Avenue South, 15 employees of Deft Dynamics are hard at work perfecting the company’s fifth startup in as many years.
Birmingham’s Deft is one of a handful of venture studios popping up around the country that uses in-house talent, equipment and resources to help various startups get off the ground. Deft and other venture studios are in the business of creating new technology across various platforms by assembling a versatile team that can bring its skillset to many different ideas under the same roof.
Deft is, as it has been called many times before, “a startup that generates startups,” bringing engineers, business and capital around good ideas to commercialize them.
“We crank out startups,” said Ross Wesson, cofounder of Deft. “That is what a venture studio is – a machine to build startups. We exist so a brand-new startup doesn’t have to hire a full-time programmer. They can use 10 percent of a rock star programmer’s time because that’s all they need. Our business is to create startups. Startups are the product.”
Wesson and his Deft cofounder Austin Gurley were childhood best friends growing up in Chelsea. Gurley is the brains behind the inventions of Deft; Wesson runs the business side of the company. In 2014, Gurley was finishing up his Ph.D. at Auburn and Wesson was working on Wall Street when they both pitched in $5,000 to launch Deft’s first startup, Brigand Arms, which sells carbon fiber components for AR-15s. From the capital generated from Brigand Arms, the venture studio was born in Birmingham.
After tackling composites, machine learning and robotics, Deft’s focus right now is on the ever-emerging Internet of Things (IoT) industry. IoT includes technology like Google Nest, Amazon’s Alexa, the Apple Watch and the Ring video doorbell – all “smart,” Internet-driven technology aimed at making life easier for users and connecting a piece of hardware to the Internet.
“The tsunami of IoT is coming, it’s just a matter of how well we ride the wave,” Wesson said. “It’s happening fast, and it’s amazing how fast it’s growing. We are running hard to grow it as fast as possible.”
The company’s fifth and most recent startup, MOXIE, recently made it to the second round of the Birmingham Venture Club Spark Match pitch competition, hoping to follow in the footsteps of one of Deft’s other startups, APEX Pro, which won the seed stage competition and $100,000 at Alabama Launchpad last year.
Because of the wide scope of possibilities, MOXIE is quickly becoming Deft’s biggest business and its fastest-growing, Wesson said. MOXIE delivers end-to-end IoT systems to customers like Tocaro Blue – an all-in-one monitoring and security system for yachts – within 30 days and can do so at a fraction of the cost, mostly thanks to its headquarters being in Birmingham, Wesson said.
“If you’ve got your team based in Palo Alto you have to charge $1 million for an IoT system, but if you have the same talent in a highly automated process in Birmingham, you can charge a lot less,” he said. “Cost of living is a huge competitive advantage, especially when dealing with hardware.”
Now, five years in, all of Deft’s senior leadership is based in Birmingham, where, no matter how big MOXIE or any of the company’s other ventures grow, Deft will remain headquartered, he said.
Though still a relatively new company, Deft’s presence has been felt in the Birmingham innovation and technology network, said Virginia Sauer, Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA) market analyst who has collaborated with the company on BBA events like Pitch Prep and Investors Roundtable.
“Deft has already had a tremendous impact on Birmingham’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, and with the new venture, Moxie IoT, they are poised to make an even bigger impact,” she said. “Deft has the potential to help solve problems for some of the area’s largest companies right in their backyard and at a fraction of the price. Ross and Austin have created a dynamic operation that continues to produce some of the most exciting and innovative projects in the region.”