Get to Know the Alabama Launchpad Social Impact Contest Startups: Pearl’s Café and Generational Systems

On December 8, the Alabama Economic Development Partnership and the Alabama Power Foundation will host the finals of the latest Alabama Launchpad competition for startups. This round of Launchpad is focused on businesses that want to have a positive impact on the community. Ten finalists are competing for a combined funding of $75,000.

Today’s article highlights two of the Alabama-based finalists: Pearl’s Cafe and Generational Systems.

Beads Coffee

Asked about the social impact of Pearl’s Café, owner Wendy Lawless pauses to reflect on the decade she spent in the restaurant industry as a youngster, followed by 15 years as a food specialist. job and job coach for people with disabilities. She sees her restaurant’s mission – to train and hire people with intellectual disabilities – as the culmination of these experiences.

I had dreamed of it for 20 years,” Lawless said. “There are such great benefits to the community in giving people the opportunity to reach their full potential.”

Wendy Lawless and Cathy Pearl Wiley (Mark Kelly/Alabama NewsCenter)

Lawless speaks from personal knowledge. His Birmingham cafe is named after his aunt, Cathy Pearl Wiley. Shut out of the workforce for decades due to an intellectual disability, Wiley got her first job, at a local Jack’s Burger franchise, at the age of 58. The positive impacts of the job on her aunt’s life impressed and inspired Lawless.

“She loved it,” Lawless recalled. “I saw how much it affected him. There’s so much value in that.

Open since October 15, Pearl’s is a foodservice mainstay for the Woodlawn Marketplace retail incubator in historic Woodlawn. The cafe serves breakfast and lunch from 07:00 to 15:00 Wednesday to Saturday.

Located at 5530 First Ave. S. in the Woodlawn business district, the market has 11 businesses. Like Pearl’s, the other businesses sharing the brick-and-mortar facility started out as street vendors, many at the popular Woodlawn Street Market.

Lawless credits the non-profit community development organization REV Birmingham for being involved and that of other business owners in discussions that led to the opening of Woodlawn Marketplace. Ultimately, his vision for Pearl’s includes multiple locations where the majority of staff members have some form of disability. She also hopes to partner with Birmingham City Schools to train students in catering special education. Looking to the future, Lawless sees opportunities to have lasting impacts.

“Hopefully we can be a model for other companies,” Lawless said. “We need to value people with disabilities. They are loyal, they take pride in their work, enjoy interacting with customers, have lower turnover. In today’s job market, these qualities should be very attractive to employers.

Learn more on Instagram @pearlscafewoodlawn.

Generational systems

Disrupting the 3D printing industry is the goal of Auburn-based Generational Systems. This means expanding access to the benefits of metal 3D printing technology by reducing costs while achieving faster build times, safer operating conditions and greater ease of use.

“It democratizes manufacturing,” said Michael Knotts, founder and COO of Generational Systems. “3D printing can change lives, whether it’s making custom prosthetics or starting a small business taking a product from idea to manufacturing.”

The Generational Systems team: CEO Jerry Knotts, Founder/COO Michael Knotts, Chief Technology Officer Travis Thompson and Vice President of Business Development Jack Hudon. (contributed)

Generational Systems did not start as a business idea. It started in 2018 as research for Knotts’ master’s thesis at Auburn University. While exploring options to reduce metal 3D printing costs, Knotts realized that his findings could translate from an academic setting into an entrepreneurial venture. After delays mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company was launched in 2021.

Despite the many benefits of 3D printing, issues of cost, speed, and health and safety risks associated with accessibility and production have limited its accessibility. By addressing these issues, Generational Systems is setting the stage for substantial social impact, Knotts said.

“We try to increase access to creative tools. This opens doors for innovation.

Generational Systems also recognizes the potential impacts of 3D printing on education and professional training. The company wants to help ensure that economic circumstances will not limit access, by “reaching as many schools at all levels as possible”, Knotts said.

He noted that Alabama’s growing network of startups and startups demonstrates the state’s positive climate for innovation. The Alabama Launchpad social impact contest is another indicator of how Alabama is setting the stage for a better future.

“Generational Systems is thrilled and grateful to be part of the Alabama Launchpad,” Knotts said. “There is such a strong community here, with a level of mentorship that is just fantastic. We are thrilled to be part of this program.

Learn more at

The finals of the Alabama Launchpad Social Impact Competition will take place at 5 p.m. on December 8 in the Pearl River Room at Regions Field, 1401 First Ave. S. in downtown Birmingham. The event is open to the public but the number of participants is limited. To reserve a place, please register here.

To learn more about Alabama Launchpad, click here. To learn more about the Alabama Power Foundation, visit

Richard Dement

The author Richard Dement