Shegun Otulana’s most recent startup venture ended with a $1.2 billion acquisition.
Following that success, Otulana is dedicating to scaling the next round of Birmingham-based startups.
Birmingham has been Otulana’s home since studying at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). After working in the technology and consulting space for several years, Otulana started looking for an idea he could scale.
He told Hypepotamus that he knew his next venture had to meet some specific criteria. “I had these parameters in my head. Could this be a big business I could build a large team around, could I see myself in this for the next ten years of my life, and could I build this as a web-based SaaS product?”
Even with those strict parameters, Otulana added that he was “letting serendipity do its thing” as he searched for the right startup opportunity.
Serendipity ultimately did work its magic when Otulana was introduced to a counseling, psychiatry, and child welfare services organization near UAB’s campus. “My research led me to get excited about the [mental and behavioral health] industry because there were lots of solutions out there, but they weren’t that great. There were some really good ones, but they were very expensive and they approached the industry more from a large mental health center standpoint, not from the private practice standpoint,” Otulana added. “There were a couple of really good ones that were in the private practice space that I knew would be my real competition, and I thought I would be able to hold my own.”
The result was TheraNest, described as an “all-in-one” EHR (electronic health record) software for therapists, psychologists, social workers, and counselors.
TheraNest ultimately became one brand within Therapy Brands, which Otulana founded in 2017.
After building up the team and the platform from Birmingham, Therapy Brands has recently turned heads across the country. New York-based investment firm KKR acquired a majority stake in Therapy Brands this April, making it the sixteenth Southeast-based startup in KKR’s private equity portfolio.
The deal’s price tag was $1.2 billion, according to Bloomberg.
Otulana’s Next Chapter In Birmingham
Now, Otulana is ready to build something new and re-invest in Birmingham.
“What I really want to do next is to build great companies, great products, and great teams. And that’s ultimately what Harmony Venture Labs (HVL) is about.”
As a lab “in the business of creating startups,” Otulana says Harmony Venture Labs aims to seed the next generation of Birmingham startups “through organically growing companies or acquiring companies.”
Harmony Venture Labs currently houses Copysmith, Funnelfly, and TrustSpot. As a venture partner, it specifically focuses on building B2B SaaS software solutions and teams.
Despite the homegrown success stories like Shipt and Fleetio — along with a slew of startups brought to the state through the Alabama Futures Fund — Otulana says it’s “funny how little people know about Birmingham outside of here, but this is the state that has so many things going for it. Look at Huntsville, with a ton of engineers in aerospace, artificial intelligence, and research. And look at Birmingham and biotechnology and health care.”
The State of Alabama has also been doubling down on its efforts to build up the technology and innovation sectors. The Alabama Innovation Commission, also known as Innovate Alabama, recently passed two startup-specific pieces of legislation designed to develop new public-private partnerships and increase research and small business funding in the state.
For Otulana, Harmony Venture Labs is taking the momentum Birmingham’s startup community has built up over the last few years and ultimately joining the group of recent successful founders re-investing in the community. “My own entrepreneurial journey. I’ve learned a lot. It’s changed my life. And I think it would be very exciting to be able to replicate that over and over,” he added.