Local entrepreneur sells company for $1.2 billion—big win for Birmingham

Shegun Otulana

By David Sher

When you read this column, you may think it’s about a successful entrepreneur selling his business and making a lot of money.

He did make a lot of money, but the real story is that this man plans to build multiple businesses that will create many much needed high paying jobs.

Birmingham and Jefferson County have struggled for decades to attract fast growing companies to expand our employment base.

Yes, it’s  true this man will likely make even more money, but that’s not the point,  He’s committed to investing  his time, energy, and capital locally when it might be easier to do elsewhere.

Meet Shegun Otulana–a man on a mission to transform Birmingham.

Having heard him speak, I’m excited for him, his employees, and especially Birmingham.

Shegun moved to Birmingham in 1998 from Lagos, Nigeria, to attend UAB, where he studied engineering and management information systems.

Shortly after graduation, he started Zertis, a computer software company.

Then in 2013, he founded TheraNest, a software solution for mental and behavioral health providers.

In May of 2021, he sold Therapy Brands, TheraNest’s parent company, for $1.2 billion.

He has a real love for Birmingham and his goal is to take the lessons learned from founding TheraNest and Therapy Brands to build Birmingham’s economy.

To do that, he founded Harmony Venture Labs (HVL).

HVL is an entity whose goal is to create other companies, specifically B2B SaaS (software as a service) products.

According to Shegun, over the next 10 years, “Our goal is to launch 40 new startups in Birmingham– with an aggregate value in the billions of dollars.”

He says “It took us about seven and half years to take our prior startup to a company worth north of a billion dollars. But I project we can build 10 companies over the next 10 years with the insights we’ve learned and with the support of a lot of people in our community.”

He fears “Birmingham has challenges to building high-growth companies–lack of capital and talent staying in Alabama, but I feel me and my team can overcome these obstacles and turn these problems into an advantage.”

He says “I’ve witnessed entrepreneurs making the same mistakes over and over again throughout the ideation, customer validation, and product development stages of growing a company.”

But he feels “I’ve found a way to avoid many common startup pitfalls by doing market validation first.” He says “You can significantly increase chances of success by ensuring there is a big enough problem in the market that people actually care about.

He and his team are creating a mechanism to move the needle past a single-digit success rate that you might typically find around technology startups.”

He feels “if we can bring the capital, create the right teams, and find the right partners, we can significantly increase chances of success.”

He says “HVL takes a venture equity approach to building companies. Venture capitalists and private equity people take a lot of risks, so they are more interested in companies that are very capital efficient and very profitable. My experience is that those companies actually have a better chance of succeeding in a place like Birmingham.”

He said he was fortunate that “we became very profitable very fast. We did not raise a lot of money. My company was very capital efficient and built a company that became profitable within its second year. This is certainly not the norm, but being capital efficient has become a best practice.”

To date, “My team and I have created a lot of ideas and have launched six companies within the HVL Studio. Most were internally-generated, and a few were early-stage companies we acquired.

Those companies are already generating several million in annual revenue. HVL is about two years into its journey, and we’re happy with the pace of achieving goals.”

And the ‘why’ behind HVL for him, personally is “it will be a powerful vehicle to do all the things I care about…building teams, building companies, value creation, and Birmingham.”

He says “it’s the perfect platform to do all these things and to create momentum in the tech ecosystem.

His hope is that in 10 years there will be multi-billion dollar HVL-affiliated companies all around our city.”

This an approach he believes is perfectly aligned with Birmingham’s future–which he feels is truly bright.

David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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Invite David to speak for free to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com.

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22 thoughts on “Local entrepreneur sells company for $1.2 billion—big win for Birmingham”

  1. Shot out to you my brother, you migrated from the motherland, and I’m sure you overcame a lot of obstacles and GOD carried you to the top!!! Keep up the good work, and may GOD continue to bless you and your family!!!

  2. This is AWESOME!!! CONGRATULATIONS Mr. Otulana. I look forward in seeing your future endeavors on improving our city and state. Job well done Sir

  3. Amazingly Awesome…But God! We pray that God will continue to bless everything you touch in Jesus’ Holy Name, Amen! Amen!!Amen!!! #GoBeGreater, Calvin & Barbara Daniel! We are so proud of you!

  4. A proud UAB School of Business graduate he is for the record! There are many good people like him in this city but many prefer their privacy!
    What a shame but many dislike this race and poverty and disjointed 13 school systems and 30 plus Cities in Jefferson County?! I tell them to soldier forward and many do but many leave the city!

  5. I’ve got to commend you for wanting to start multiple companies. You could of taken the money and retired, but you didn’t.

    I’ve lived in Birmingham all my life as a software developer and can admit there are very few jobs in this field locally.

  6. EXCITING! A BLESSING ! Birmingham has been “hanging-on” for years ( thanks to UAB) since the demise of its iron and steel industries and desperately in need of more HIGH TECH. Just in time, a PATRIOT from NIGERIA steps up to pay his “civic rent”! God speed, Otulana!

  7. I read this exciting article with interest! Congratulations on your accomplishments, young man! You are an inspiration to others. Keep it moving.

  8. Thanks for inspiring an active movement of hope and in this area for the great city of Birmingham! God has given you this city an d I’m behind you with taking it by force to reach your expected end. Blessings& honor

  9. Congratulations what you did and doing is very inspiring. I hope this reaches our youth because they are failing us!

    1. The youth are not failing us. The lack of parenting is failing the youth. The lack of financially affordable enrichment programs to actively engage our youth is a detriment to our youth. Let’s be proactive now about training the younger generation to value education and have respect for others. Let’s provide resources and give opportunities for the youth to channel their energy towards things that will help them have a better future.

  10. Thank you, David Sher, for this article. It is always great to hear the positive things that are happening in the city. Thank you, Mr. Shegun Otulana, for your dedication and belief in the magic city. Thank you for resolve to stay and assist in the efforts of creating a greater city, where its citizens can thrive. The city of Birmingham has so much potential. Mayor Randall Woodfin and you would make a great team! Innovative thinking and great leadership makes a difference.

  11. Congratulations Mr. Otulana ! I really enjoyed reading this intriguing article about your amazing talents and successful business endeavors, including the challenges you’d overcome. I pray that God continue to shower you with endless blessings and happiness in all aspects of your life. Because, you are humble, determined, relentless, highly intelligent, awesome entrepreneur, creative in exploring and providing job opportunities in the Birmingham area. #AwesomeNewsArticle🙂

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