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The Beaufort Digital Corridor is a creative effort to attract, nurture and promote Beaufort's technology entrepreneurs through a combination of technology-enabled initiatives and business incentives, private business support and member-driven programming.

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Nate Schaub, the founder of the marketing firm Mindflint, works in the Beaufort Digital Corridor office on Sept. 6. The city is betting that it can develop a tech sector to diversify its economy. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff, The Post and Courier

In a tide of stagnant economic growth, Beaufort is betting on the tech sector

BEAUFORT – This city is facing an economic tide that's rippling across South Carolina's coast, a surge of inequality and soaring costs that favor wealthy newcomers over longtime residents.

Its leaders fear it could become a retirement community that sustains a big service sector with no economic counterweight. They think it might become a place where the real estate gets expensive and the pay stays low. So they decided they'd place a wager on a more lucrative economy.

They bought an abandoned bank branch downtown and made plans to fill it with tech startups, betting that they could piece together a new industry with a sleek renovation and the force of their will.

No matter that Beaufort is a city of 14,000 people. No matter that places many times larger have struggled mightily to win a slice of the tech sector. No matter that even South Carolina's most successful startup communities – in Charleston and Greenville – are small compared to places like Atlanta or Raleigh.

Beaufort's chances looked long, but the bet on what's now called the Beaufort Digital Corridor hasn't fizzled. It took the better part of two years to fill half the 10 offices they put in the bank building, but Beaufort's new technology boosters say they're turning a corner against the odds.

'The jobs that we need'

Their success so far isn't much to look at, just a few people sitting at their computers in glass-walled offices and shared cubicles.

One moved his company here from Pittsburgh. Another works for a startup headquartered in Charleston but wanted to live in Beaufort, his hometown. Another was toying with the idea of a digital media business out West, but fell for the Lowcountry on vacation.

City officials say they're happy with the way things are going: Beaufort isn't spinning off startups, but it would be just as well if the city became an outpost for tech workers looking to shed long commutes and the city grind for somewhere quieter.

Beaufort, after all, isn't trying to be a big tech hub. It'll never compete with Atlanta or Raleigh, or even Charleston. But it desperately wants new opportunities – to be a viable option for business owners to move in and local children to stay.

The challenges of South Carolina's fast-growing coast are distilled in Beaufort, where the hospitality business accounts for a quarter of all private-sector jobs and income growth has been sluggish since the recession. Beaufort County is one of the state's oldest – a quarter of its residents are retirement age – and local officials worry an aging population will steer the area toward low-paid jobs.

All the while, young people course through a Marines air station up the road and a University of South Carolina campus that has expanded over the past few years. Most veterans and graduates leave.

"We were becoming a retirement city and one that had tourists that loved to see our architecture and our waterfront, our parks," said Beaufort city manager Bill Prokop. "If we stayed on that, we wouldn't be creating the jobs that we need."

So it set out to find them.

Sister city

The city eventually looked up the road to Charleston, which has slowly built up the makings of a tech sector.

Charleston boasts a couple hundred startups now. A handful of them have managed to hire dozens of employees, but most of them are small – lots of little bets on the future of the region's economy.

Joe Floyd runs one of them. His company, InsureSign, has hired about a dozen people to make and sell software that handles electronic signatures. He started the company in Charleston, since he figured that's where he could find the workers he needed.

But he wonders if they wouldn't eventually be open to moving to his adopted home: Beaufort, where he has lived for the past 18 years.

After all, the idea of a tech industry in Charleston was long seen as an outside bet, and it wasn't so different from Beaufort when its tech push started in the early 2000s: a city with a lot of eggs in just a few baskets, dependent on service jobs and the government.

Like Beaufort, the city of Charleston pushed the idea of a tech industry at first. It formed the Charleston Digital Corridor in 2001, opened a pair of offices for startups and started offering whatever features they wanted –  coding classes or networking events or job boards.

Ernest Andrade, the Charleston initiative's director, said his group gave their plans to Beaufort's leaders on the cheap because the city was eager to test its model. The Beaufort project is partly an experiment to see if his model can work again, this time in a smaller city that won't have as many advantages. Charleston, for instance, has a pair of large publicly traded software companies and a Navy installation with a tech focus.

It was up to Beaufort to find a building for its technology project and the money to fix it up. The city contributed the former bank, which it already owned, and it pulled together $250,000 in private grants and state economic-development money.

The city still pays $50,000 a year to run the project. Officials hope it will pay for itself within a few years, but they haven't set a timeline for cutting it loose.

When they do, they figure their city won't be on a path to mimicking Charleston's tech industry. But then, they'd be happy with something much smaller.

'See what happens'

Getting Beaufort's tech industry to grow even this big – to a handful of startups and remote workers – has taken an all-hands effort.

It's a lesson to other cities and towns that have eyed a piece of the tech industry, places like Columbia, Hartsville and Myrtle Beach:

This isn't like other business-development projects. Setting up a project and letting it run won't go far.

For one thing, Beaufort has the benefit of residents who have experience in the tech sector – people who came to town because they liked the coast. Look at Kevin Klingler, who now chairs the Beaufort Digital Corridor. He moved to Beaufort after selling a startup he founded in California, thinking it would be a nice place to retire.

For another, it managed to find a group of advisers who were willing to get deep in the weeds of running the organization. Klingler, for instance, has started his retirement by advising startups that come through Beaufort one-on-one, getting into their business models and their financing needs. He leaves business cards with his cell phone number in the office.

Stephen Murray III, a city councilman who spearheaded the tech project, also sits on the board. He's there to keep the city in the loop, but he says he sometimes fills in at its office if program manager Shelley Barratt can't be there. And when the group recruited a few College of Charleston students to work in Beaufort for the summer, he put them up at his house.

But then, Murray said, he's not sure what else Beaufort ought to do, with young people leaving, incomes rising slowly and housing costs ticking up.

He was sitting in a City Hall conference room with a strategic plan taped up on the wall, laying out a list of goals for the city. Like using Beaufort's tourist charm to lure businesses instead of visitors alone. Or diversifying the local economy. Or drawing up new paths into the middle class.

It may as well have said that Beaufort's economy needs to turn a corner, away from a model it has leaned on for decades.

"If you don't try something, you're never going to know," said Prokop, the city manager. "You could wishful think, but here we said we'll put our money where our mouth is and see what happens." And even still, they don't know what will happen, if their bet on tech will be enough turn back a tide of economic trouble.

Beaufort Digital Corridor Chairman Kevin Klingler on Beaufort News

Beaufort Digital Corridor Board Chairman Kevin Klingler talks about BASEcamp becoming Beaufort's premier technology incubator with its critical mission to create technology companies right here in Beaufort. Click HERE to watch the interview.

Kevin mentions resident Wave Sciences as is a great example of an opportunity the Digital Corridor has to work with a business looking to commercialize their technology and help them become a growing, hiring company. 

"Do you have a startup technology idea? We can help you." -Kevin Klingler

Office spaces available now for startup technology entrepreneurs at BASEcamp. Contact us for more information on how to become a resident company.

Beaufort Digital Corridor Presents Season Two of CODEcamp

The Beaufort Digital Corridor is pleased to announce season two of CODEcamp – Introduction to Web Development. Registration is now open for this limited seating opportunity.

CODEcamp is a project-based, introductory code education program designed for busy adults of all backgrounds and experience levels in a convenient, affordable after-hours class format. Beaufort's pilot program last year was an extension of the Charleston Digital Corridor's many offerings for those interested in broadening their technical skillset.

The eight-week course will be held at the Beaufort Digital Corridor's BASEcamp facility on Saturdays from 1:00-3:30pm from October 20 to December 15, 2018. Students learn the fundamentals of web development (HTML, CSS & JavaScript) with a combination of written and verbal instruction using real-time online programs that show results instantly. Senior software engineer, gaming and tech enthusiast Matt Shaw will instruct this rendition of CODEcamp.

"By the end of the curriculum, you'll have developed a series of small but finished web-based products that can be used to showcase what you have learned. The face-to-face interaction with your instructor and small group of classmates makes it an exceptionally good value!" said Brian Canada, Ph.D., Department of Computer Science at USCB and last year's instructor.

About this fall's instructor: Matt Shaw has been programming for 14 years. Most recently he has been working as a senior mobile engineer, focusing on Android and React Native. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from Biola University, with the Peter and Paul award from The Torrey Honors Institute. When not working, he can be found enjoying time with his wife Sarah, reading science fiction and fantasy, playing video games, watching professional esports, and baking.

Beaufort Digital Corridor Presents Season Two of Game On!

The Beaufort Digital Corridor is pleased to welcome season two of Game On! – game design and development geared toward middle and high school students. Registration is now open for this limited seating opportunity.

Seth Konoza, an Animation, Game Design and Computer Science educator at Beaufort High School, teaches the code education program where students are introduced to the theory, tools, and practice required to create their own games.

The course will be held at the Beaufort Digital Corridor's BASEcamp facility on Saturdays from 9am-12pm from October 13 to November 17, 2018. Among the topics will be game strategy, puzzle design and a final project.

Originally an initiative to sell young students on computer science by using video games, it is more than that. "Kids love to play games, so why not give them an opportunity to create their own. Game On! provides students with the tools they need to create their own games, as well as help students develop everyday life skills, such as problem-solving and analytical skills," adds Seth Konoza. Putting the pieces together, kids can then continue their education with the excellent computer science offerings at colleges like USCB with a career path in technology.

Register Here or Contact Us for more information.

Beaufort's BASEcamp Rapidly Becoming Area's Premier Technology Incubator

With just under 5,000 square feet of space and cutting edge business and technology support, Beaufort's BASEcamp keeps adding technology-oriented business residents at an impressive pace.

The newest resident, Mindflint, is a strategic digital marketing and design company utilizing a broad spectrum of tools and platforms. The firm's principal, Nate Schaub, recently relocated from Pittsburgh, PA, and is excited to be part of our burgeoning tech community. Our other digital creative, 1212 Design, can be found meeting their web design and development clients in the conference room and working nights and weekends like creatives are known to do. Jamie Fleming and his crew are active in community outreach, particularly with young people; their summer school field trip to BASEcamp for middle-schoolers, Catch Me at the Corridor, had members and residents presenting the different types of work one can do with technology.

Wave Sciences was featured in recent news highlighting their intent to commercialize their audio technology. And finally, PollPit, residents for our pilot summer live/work/mentorship program, completed the aspects of their project that they intended in no small part due to the guidance they received from the Beaufort Digital Corridor's Board of Directors.

Program Manager, Shelley Barratt, notes that "When residents and members engage with each other as well as the local community, it opens up possibilities for everyone. This is what starts to create the ecosystem, and we have that space here at BASEcamp."

Spaces, one the pillars of the Beaufort Digital Corridor, is clearly meeting its potential with BASEcamp: Beaufort's premier business incubator and co-working office designed to meet the transitional professional office space needs of tech entrepreneurs seeking adaptable, affordable office and conference facilities of the highest quality, while gaining access to the Corridor's network of entrepreneurs and professionals.

Shelley Barratt, Program Manager, and Beaufort Digital Corridor Board Directors Jess O

Tech Life #110: Beaufort Digital Corridor | Technology Incubator | Silicon Harbor Radio

The Beaufort Digital Corridor's Board Chairman, Kevin Klingler, and Program Manager, Shelley Barratt, were recently interviewed for The Tech Life with Rich Conte podcast- just released for publication on Silicon Harbor Radio. Kevin and Shelley discuss the effort to launch the BDC and the initiatives that they are undertaking to promote technology entrepreneurship in Beaufort, South Carolina.

The Tech Life with host Rich Conte together with Silicon Harbor Magazine bring you Silicon Harbor Radio; news and interviews from the Technology, Creative and Entrepreneur communities in Charleston, SC.

Wave Sciences - Beaufort Digital Corridor's Newest Resident

The Beaufort Digital Corridor is excited to announce their newest resident at BASEcamp: Wave Sciences, an audio technology company applying the science of waves to enable better hearing in a noisy world.

Wave Sciences builds and licenses hearing technologies to enable hearing everywhere and help solve challenging problems in a variety of environments and situations. Applying these technologies to consumer hearing, smart speakers, audio electronics, and medical applications, they are able to cut through noise to improve hearing more than ten-fold for both people and electronic devices. One of the more intriguing applications is their patented smart garment as a wearable hearing assistive technology to help people hear in noisy conditions and from far away. These technologies can be seen in action at BASEcamp in the coming months.

Keith McElveen, founder and CTO, and his team are excited about expanding their already successful Charleston company to Beaufort. "The time is ripe for these technologies, particularly in the Lowcountry with its active elderly population, as well as proximity to educational and medical institutions in and around Beaufort County," said Mr. McElveen.

Wave Sciences will be consulting with Chairman Kevin Klingler to help them develop business plans to commercialize their cutting-edge hearing technologies. Mr. Klingler notes that "Wave Sciences is a terrific example of the expertise and support the Corridor offers companies wanting to grow their tech businesses in Beaufort. By working together we can help them grow, which in turn helps create a stronger economy and higher paying jobs right here." 

The resources offered by the Beaufort Digital Corridor is just one of the draws for tech companies such as Wave Sciences. As these companies grow, so too will the economic vitality, global competitiveness, and prosperity of the Lowcountry, as well as the innovation and skills of our workforce–acting as further inducement for other tech talent to move to the Beaufort area. To develop technology like this is beneficial for all.

Upcoming Events

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Game On!

Game On! is a code education program geared toward middle and high school students who would like to learn the practice of game design and development. Over this five-session program, students will learn the theory, tools, and practice required to create their own games. Learn more/Register HERE.

TECHconnect

TECHconnect is a monthly networking event held at BASEcamp for professionals working in and around technology with the goal of creating and advancing our local tech economy. Come and join the conversation!

Please RSVP to info@beaufortdigital.com

Coworking @ the Corridor

Want to work alongside entrepreneurs and check out what's going on at Beaufort Digital Corridor's BASEcamp? Join our resident community and like-minded remote workers each Friday for Coworking @ the Corridor at no cost.

Spend the day working out of BASEcamp, Beaufort's premier business incubator and coworking office. Pick a desk, settle in and get productive. High-speed Wi-Fi and access to conference space is included.

CODEcamp

CODEcamp is a project-based, introductory code education program designed for busy adults of all backgrounds and experience levels in a convenient, affordable after-hours class format. Over this eight-session program, students will learn fundamentals of web development (HTML, CSS & JavaScript). Learn more/Register HERE.

Coworking @ the Corridor

Want to work alongside entrepreneurs and check out what's going on at Beaufort Digital Corridor's BASEcamp? Join our resident community and like-minded remote workers each Friday for Coworking @ the Corridor at no cost.

Spend the day working out of BASEcamp, Beaufort's premier business incubator and coworking office. Pick a desk, settle in and get productive. High-speed Wi-Fi and access to conference space is included.

BASEcamp Gallery - FAB: Fiber Artists of Beaufort

Join us for BASEcamp Gallery. The Beaufort Digital Corridor will open its doors to the public in-tandem with downtown Beaufort's Fall Artwalk. Artwork by FAB: Fiber Artists of Beaufort, a group of Beaufort fiber artists that gather monthly to learn and share their work; to inspire and exchange ideas with one another. Facebook event page here.

BASEcamp is just a few blocks from downtown, so come on by! Look for the BASEcamp Gallery sign on Carteret.

Coworking @ the Corridor

Want to work alongside entrepreneurs and check out what's going on at Beaufort Digital Corridor's BASEcamp? Join our resident community and like-minded remote workers each Friday for Coworking @ the Corridor at no cost.

Spend the day working out of BASEcamp, Beaufort's premier business incubator and coworking office. Pick a desk, settle in and get productive. High-speed Wi-Fi and access to conference space is included.

Coworking @ the Corridor

Want to work alongside entrepreneurs and check out what's going on at Beaufort Digital Corridor's BASEcamp? Join our resident community and like-minded remote workers each Friday for Coworking @ the Corridor at no cost.

Spend the day working out of BASEcamp, Beaufort's premier business incubator and coworking office. Pick a desk, settle in and get productive. High-speed Wi-Fi and access to conference space is included.

Fridays @ the Corridor - Design in Technology

In this installment of Fridays @ the Corridor, several BASEcamp residents and members discuss the importance of design in technology. Join Jamie Fleming, 1212 Design, Nate Schaub, Mindflint, and Ginger Wareham, PickleJuice, in this interactive discussion. #designintech

This is a rescheduled program from the week of Hurricane Florence... Learn more and register HERE

Contact us if you are interested in sponsoring lunch for this Fridays @ the Corridor.

TECHconnect

Come and join the conversation @ TECHconnect - a monthly networking event held at BASEcamp for professionals working in and around technology. Note: this is the last TECHconnect for 2018! The next event will be Thursday, January 17, 2019.

Please RSVP to info@beaufortdigital.com

Coworking @ the Corridor

Want to work alongside entrepreneurs and check out what's going on at Beaufort Digital Corridor's BASEcamp? Join our resident community and like-minded remote workers each Friday for Coworking @ the Corridor at no cost.

Spend the day working out of BASEcamp, Beaufort's premier business incubator and coworking office. Pick a desk, settle in and get productive. High-speed Wi-Fi and access to conference space is included.

Coworking @ the Corridor

Want to work alongside entrepreneurs and check out what's going on at Beaufort Digital Corridor's BASEcamp? Join our resident community and like-minded remote workers each Friday for Coworking @ the Corridor at no cost.

Spend the day working out of BASEcamp, Beaufort's premier business incubator and coworking office. Pick a desk, settle in and get productive. High-speed Wi-Fi and access to conference space is included.

Coworking @ the Corridor

Want to work alongside entrepreneurs and check out what's going on at Beaufort Digital Corridor's BASEcamp? Join our resident community and like-minded remote workers each Friday for Coworking @ the Corridor at no cost.

Spend the day working out of BASEcamp, Beaufort's premier business incubator and coworking office. Pick a desk, settle in and get productive. High-speed Wi-Fi and access to conference space is included.

Coworking @ the Corridor

Want to work alongside entrepreneurs and check out what's going on at Beaufort Digital Corridor's BASEcamp? Join our resident community and like-minded remote workers each Friday for Coworking @ the Corridor at no cost.

Spend the day working out of BASEcamp, Beaufort's premier business incubator and coworking office. Pick a desk, settle in and get productive. High-speed Wi-Fi and access to conference space is included.

Coworking @ the Corridor

Join our resident community and like-minded remote workers each Friday for Coworking @ the Corridor at no cost. *NOTE: this is the last Coworking @ the Corridor for 2018! Next doors-open coworking day will be January 4, 2019.

Spend the day working out of BASEcamp, Beaufort's premier business incubator and coworking office. Pick a desk, settle in and get productive. High-speed Wi-Fi and access to conference space is included.