Ask Randall Cottrell to define the term “entrepreneur,” and he has a ready reply.
“I once heard it defined this way,” Cottrell says. “An entrepreneur is a person with a unique distaste for being manipulated or controlled.” He laughs and adds, “Once I heard that, I began to think that maybe I was cut out to be an entrepreneur.”
Born in Montgomery, Cottrell moved to Birmingham while in high school. He attended the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and then earned an associate’s degree in business from the city’s Lawson State Community College. With his lifelong affinity for “all things mechanical, technical and creative,” he knew he wanted to work for himself, and he opened he opened a video and car audio business, which eventually transformed into a home theater company.
When the housing market crashed in the global financial crisis of 2007-08, Cottrell’s business suffered. He pivoted to information technology, becoming an IT consultant and service provider, developing expertise in fiber, copper and wireless datacom. His consulting services expanded to include business startup, organizational leadership, project management, financial analysis and technology infrastructure design.
“My business grew because I’m good at helping clients bridge the gap between the business unit and the IT unit,” Cottrell says. “Another strength I bring is in matching technology to an organization’s vision.”
He launched his IT and services firm, Bluejireh, in January 2014. Since then, he has assisted clients in streamlining and improving processes and enhancing productivity, as well as implementing solutions in areas that include wireless infrastructure, cyber security, networking, hardware and software.
One of those clients was Cardinal Health, one of the world’s largest healthcare services and products companies. In what he describes as “a career milestone,” Cottrell helped the company complete a major acquisition by working on IT strategy and authoring an IT employee succession plan. In addition to Cardinal, Cottrell has consulted for several other Fortune 500 companies in the healthcare, consumer electronics and banking fields.
Talking about his affinity for the entrepreneurial spirit, Cottrell says being an entrepreneur is “a calling” for him. Part of that call is carried out, he says, through the role his company and other ventures play in the community.
“We create jobs!” Cottrell exclaims. “Ultimately, everything is entrepreneurially driven, so in a way, entrepreneurship is the community, in terms of generating ideas and creating opportunity. We have a responsibility.”
Fulfilling that responsibility has become an integral part of the entrepreneurial scene in Birmingham. Cottrell sees substantial differences in the current level of local support for entrepreneurs — in terms of dollars and resources, but also in terms of a growing appreciation of the value of innovation and diversity, and the emergence of a mutually supportive technology community — and when he launched his first tech venture nearly a decade ago.
“Back then,” Cottrell recalls, “there were access issues. Looking back, I can see it’s easier now to find talent locally. And if you’re an entrepreneur in Birmingham now, everybody wants to help you. All you have to do is step out of your silo and engage.
“Availability of capital is something we’re still dealing with,” he adds. “And with very few exceptions, we’re not flipping companies. But you can see it coming. It’s like we just got to zero and now all things are possible.”