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

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Beaufort Digital Corridor Brings Tech Hub To Lowcountry

Ian Leslie has lived in the Lowcountry for 15 years, and he's pretty tech savvy.

"We heard the Digital Corridor was coming to Beaufort.... it's very important to me to invest back in the knowledge economy. I think it's important for young professionals to have jobs to stay here for," Leslie said.

Leslie and his business partners signed on as soon as Beaufort Digital Corridor opened its doors less than two weeks ago; and they launched their first mobile app Monday.

"C'reer, its a career matchmaking app available on your iPhone or android device. Uh what it does is it delivers a vocational assessment to high school students, helps them figure out um their personality, what careers are the best match for them and then connects them to the best university or college that places professionals in those careers," Leslie said.

Tech startup like C'reer are exactly what the city of Beaufort had in mind when planning the Digital Corridor.

Beaufort City Councilman Stephen Murray spearheaded the project.

"The council took a very strong focus on economic development about 2 years ago and specifically how do we create more economic opportunity, better jobs, for people who have to work and live here," Murray said. "What this seeks to do is to try to bring a sense of technology community together to give them a formal place to meet on a monthly basis so that synergies and companies and ideas can develop bring folks together."

With funding from the city, Hargray, Beaufort County Council, South Carolina Department of Commerce, and the Municipal Association of South Carolina, they were able to raise nearly a quarter of a million dollars, partner with the Charleston Digital Corridor and make the BASEcamp office space reality in Beaufort.

The BASEcamp hub consists of 10 office spaces, ranging in size from one to six people, and in price from $300 to $800 a month, utilities, fiber optic internet and coffee included.

Murray says it's time to for Beaufort to catch up with the rest of U.S. cities.

"I really think we are at risk of becoming a sleepy little retirement village and I don't think anybody whether its a young professional or a retiree wants that for our community so programs like this in trying to create opportunity for people are really important for who we are and who we want to be in the future."

And while the office spaces are reserved for tech startup companies, everyone in the community can be part of the innovation. Anyone can buy a yearly membership for $99 and get access to Friday networking events and the conference room.

"We'll have monthly Fridays at the corridor and have a guest speaker and we'll alternate topics, so one month, we'll talk about business development and how to grow your business, and the next month will be something on technology and emerging technology trends."

Currently, two offices are rented out. One to Leslie, and the other to University of South Carolina Beaufort computational professor, Brian Canada, who brings in students to work on projects.

To find out more about the Beaufort Digital Corridor, visit their website at www.beaufortdigital.com or call 843-470-3506.

See the WSAV-TV news coverage here

BASEcamp Ribbon Cutting

The Tao of Tech

Last January Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling cut the ribbon at 500 Carteret Street officially ushering in the city's Age of Technology. In a town that dates back centuries some things are better late than never. Enter the Beaufort Digital Corridor, a hi-tech incubator sponsored by the city to grow the tech and knowledge-based companies of tomorrow in the shadow of the Antebellum South. The Beaufort model is a slightly modified spin-off of the highly successful Charleston Digital Corridor, the brainchild of Ernest Andrade – also instrumental in getting the Beaufort project up and running.

The driving force in recruiting Andrade and bringing the project to life in an astonishingly short six months is City Councilman, Stephen Murray. The final piece of the puzzle was finding someone both capable and dynamic enough to run the thing. Karen Warner seemed the perfect fit with nearly three decades spent as a manager and an executive in High Tech and Marketing. She describes her job as "managing a techno ecosystem." Her experience in venture capital factors in directly with a key element to the incubator's long term success: finding the money to fund the dreams.

I recently sat down with Murray and Warner in the Corridor's newly renovated facility in the old Bank of America building on Carteret Street. The BDC's BASEcamp has been neatly transformed from a dreary 1980's branch bank into 5000 square feet of state-or-the art office and meeting space. Private offices are available for public lease as are "touchdown" spaces, basically plug-in cubicles designed for short term and temporary use. "It's perfect for visitors or guests who need some work space for a day or two," says Warner. The modern minimalist design is meant to evoke Silicon Valley. "And we're dog friendly," she adds.

Murray, a businessman and member of the Redevelopment Commission, says it all began when Council got some disturbing census numbers in 2015.

"It was shocking to a lot of us," says Murray. "We found that over ten years we had about a 40 percent decrease in per capita income in Beaufort. At the same time we had about a 25 percent decrease of 21 to 44 year olds in the city. Meanwhile the cost of owner occupied housing is about twice the state average at around $250,000. Not positive trends when your citizens are getting poorer, older and the young folks are leaving and the cost of living is skyrocketing. So, we took a hard look at how to turn some of these things around."

The typical approach to economic development tends to be large scale industrial recruitment. This, says Murray, was simply not a reality for a place like Beaufort. There had to be another solution, one that would have maximum economic impact with a minimal footprint. The suggestion to reach out to Andrade came through a mutual friend over drinks.

Over 15 years Andrade's non-profit incubator has been hugely successful in helping to grow Charleston's hi-tech base. With an average salary just shy of $90,000, Holy City "techies" make nearly double the regional and state average yearly wage.

Stephen Murray: They had a very similar problem. Young people were leaving, there was a rapid rise in the cost of living and a very seasonal, tourist driven economy with low wage service and hospitality jobs.

Karen Warner: Over 15 years, 148 companies incubated with a $88 million in capital raised by those companies. They've got about 356 members.

Murray: We really hit it off with Ernest and brought him down to Beaufort and walked him through this space and the pieces just fell together. He's very passionate about the program and what they've done in Charleston and he was willing to help us. So, in June 2016 the Redevelopment Commission and City Council authorized a partnership with the corridor and we raised just shy of a million dollars. We were able to upgrade this facility with no cost to city taxpayers, which was pretty exciting. Even more exciting was that the time we authorized to the day we opened was about six months.

Warner: We cut the ribbon January 12th.

Mark Shaffer: The idea's based around 4 components.

Murray: Talent – cultivating innovation and knowledge-based businesses. Capital – creating access to money through investment or other areas. Space – that's the Corridor where you can rent an office here or a "touchdown" space. And community – building a formal way for the tech community to meet on a regular basis and the hope that ideas and other companies will grow out of that network.

MS: And Karen gets to coordinate and implement all of this. This all came together very quickly. How did you get involved?

Warner: I'm exactly the people we're trying to keep here. I was an executive coach and that required me to get on a plane and go somewhere else. I looked around when I moved here and I really wanted to be part of the community. I come from the Boston technology corridor and worked for over two decades there in venture capital. And so I thought: what can I start in Beaufort? How am I going to do this? And my brother in-law said 'you need to know about the Digital Corridor' and introduced me to Stephen and some others. And just looking at what Earnest was doing in Charleston was pretty amazing - the amount of growth he's managed to achieve out of nothing. I thought I had some background that might be relevant to running this thing, so I threw my hat in the ring.

MS: What's been the biggest surprise?

Warner: I thought bureaucracy and city would be a problem, not knowing the government here. I've been amazed at how everyone is blocking and tackling to help me do my job.

MS: A little unusual for this city...

Murray: I think that when it comes to economic development, part of the community's been hesitant because for a long time the mindset has been smokestacks and pollution and anti-industrial development – and rightfully so. But I think technology has a certain sexy edge to it. Everybody uses technology. Your grandparents are on Facebook now. Everyone has a smartphone.

Warner: About smokestacks versus technology in Beaufort . . . one form of technology might be clean energy and helping to keep the area pristine.

Murray: We also have some pretty heavy in-fill goals for redevelopment downtown. We have areas nearby that are in pretty poor condition. And one of the things we found about the tech companies in Charleston is they can go in anywhere. Ernest has a company that went into an old Walmart, completely renovated it. Now it's their corporate headquarters and class A office space. While we're really trying to create opportunity for people, we hope to have a broader positive impact in the city and the region.

Warner: I feel like there's a nice balance struck between doing what Ernest has a vision for here and also making sure it accommodates Beaufort, because Beaufort is not Charleston.

Murray: The public/private partnership's important. Initially we'd talked about the Charleston model which was solely a public model that was sponsored by the city of Charleston. Ernest was a city employee. The lesson they learned was that it's important to have some separation from the government. While the city is a sponsor of the program, we don't own it. It's owned by a non-profit and my job is to block and tackle for Karen to help her be successful.

MS: So, this is a non-profit and part of the Charleston Corridor?

Murray: Right now, it's run under the Charleston Digital Corridor Foundation. And we expect that this year we will come out from under their umbrella and stand under our own Beaufort Digital corridor non-profit. To get going as fast as we could we thought it was a benefit to do it this way.

Warner: There's no question that it was a benefit to get this place renovated and looking like it does. Earnest had a vision and knew how to execute it and save a nickel, I must say.

Murray: One of the cool things about partnering with Charleston is that members get free use of the space in Charleston and vice versa. I think they sort of look at us as their retreat destination. We look at them like –

Warner: The mothership.

Murray: Lots of resources.

MS: Where do things stand three months in?

Warner: We have two residents right now and 24 members. Residents have to be members but you don't have to be a resident to be a member. We have people who offer services like intellectual property law that would be available to our clients. And we vet those partners. Ernest and I really screen to see who's here to provide a unique service to our membership. Members tend to be companies and they pay a membership pro-rated on their revenue. And we have investors. Investors can be anyone.

We get a lot of people walking in who've been in Beaufort a long time who have the background and the experience to help. The best way to help is to become a member. You're going to get all the communication and know what's going on and see for yourself where we need help and jump in. We've got a lot of people aged 59 and up with a lot of experience who could be mentors. In 2015, 20 percent of the companies started were started by people in their 60's.

Murray: The real goal here is to create great jobs and create companies out of the community to give the folks who have to work here the type of living they need to offset this high cost of living. I've often said that most people don't move to northern Beaufort county because they want to live in a sleepy retirement village. They move here because we're a very diverse, authentic place – a real hometown. My fear is that if we keep losing our young professionals to this mass migration of retirees at some point we wake up and we are a sleepy retirement village and I don't think anybody wants that here.

You know, before the tourists came and brought their high cost of living with them you could hack out a living here and make it work. That's changed. The economics just don't work. I think this is us trying to shape our own destiny rather than letting destiny shape us.

Beaufort High School

Vireo Labs Kicks Off Regional Student Feedback Tour For Mobile App, C’reer

Career-focused education technology company Vireo Labs today announced a regional student feedback tour starting in the southeastern United States. The company kicked off its "C'reer Day" initiative at Beaufort High School. "C'reer Day" is an ongoing regional listening tour designed to collect feedback from high school students on the company's free career and college matchmaking app named C'reer.

C'reer is available now in the App Store for iOS devices or in Google Play for Android devices. For more information visit www.creer.us.

"The C'reer leadership and development team was thrilled to meet with students face-to-face and exchange ideas about how they will actually use our product," said Vireo Labs co-founder and chief marketing officer, Ian Leslie. "As a lean start-up, we've been heads-down the last 18 months developing and testing the product. Now that it's live, there's no substitute for watching students use the product right in front of us. We get their unvarnished reactions and suggestions in real time. It's the best kind of feedback and helps us improve the user experience."

The C'reer mobile app allows students to complete a 5-minute vocational assessment, receive career recommendations that match their preferences, and connect to the best colleges aligned with their career choices via chat.

Leslie continued, "Each year 50 million Americans research college through the question: 'What do I want to be when I grow up?' Most will use a mobile device for this research. By going on site with the students, we get to test our design assumptions. One is that today's high school students like taking this sort of personality and career assessment on their phones rather than on one of the desktop options used by some high schools around the country." He added, "We also confirmed that students like that C'reer lets them share their profile and career results with parents on what is sure to be an important conversation."

Wally Holt, Vireo Labs chief technology officer, listened not only for feedback on the current product, but also for features that might go into future builds of the product. "While our major design decisions were validated, we also heard suggestions for data sets the students think will make the product more useful to them," Holt said. "This is only the first of a series of student dialogues we plan to have in South Carolina and across the southeast over the next two months.

Karen Gilbert, the director of career and technology education for the Beaufort County School District, hosted the first "C'reer Day".

Gilbert said, "The game design students at Beaufort High School were excited to try out C'reer and gave it a thumbs up. They determined the app was easy to download and they were able to see the results of their career interests within a matter of minutes. Part of my role is to help young people make the transition from school to career and make sure they're college ready. C'reer will definitely be a tool that we'll explore further."

The company has also completed a "C'reer Day" at Ponchatoula High School in Ponchatoula, La. and expects to be on the road and doing virtual meetings with schools through May.

For more information on how schools can host a "C'reer Day" email info@creer.us or simply pick a date and time here.

The mobile app has reached more than 1,100 downloads in 20 states through word-of-mouth since launching in late January. 

Beaufort, SC Digital Marketing Firm Receives Silver ADDY Award For Creative Excellence in Advertising

Picklejuice Productions announced today that they are the proud recipient of the American Advertising Federation's Silver ADDY Award for their design of a holiday e-card series for Beaufort's Regional Chamber of Commerce. The six-card series features whimsical illustrations of the coastal Carolina town's most iconic themes, keyed to holiday messages, which could be shared digitally to family and friends.

"This is the advertising industry's largest and most representative competition for creative excellence in the region," said Picklejuice founder and chief executive, Ginger Wareham, who designed the holiday series for the Chamber. "Receiving this recognition is a great honor for both Picklejuice Productions and Beaufort's Chamber of Commerce."

"The city of Beaufort works hard to preserve and promote both our heritage and our coastal lifestyle," said Robb Wells, Vice President for Tourism in the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce. "Picklejuice's take on our holiday card perfectly captures that. Residents and visitors alike are always looking for ways to share what they love most about our city. We wanted a holiday card that they could download, customize and send online."

The Picklejuice team received the Silver ADDY Award at the American Advertising Federation's Midlands Chapter Awards Gala on February 18 in Columbia, SC. The AAF represents the interests of all facets of advertising: advertisers, agencies, suppliers and media. The AAF is based in Washington, D.C. and has more than 40,000 members through 200 local advertising clubs.

Vireo Labs Co-founders - Jose Mallabo & Ian Leslie

Vireo Labs Creates Connective App For Students, Higher Ed

Considering what career path to take can be daunting for a college graduate, let alone a ninth-grader just entering high school.

But a tech company based out of the city's newest venture, the Beaufort Digital Corridor BASEcamp, is creating a simpler way to connect students to their futures.

Ian Leslie of Vireo Labs says the startup's first product, C'reer, was developed as a way to help students and higher education institutions. "We learn. We suggest. You explore and connect," is how the mobile application is described.

Leslie said C'reer provides a 20-question assessment that a student can complete in about five minutes, giving high school guidance counselors another tool for the career planning part of their jobs.

"Guidance counselors have a huge workload, from career planning to addressing emotional and behavioral issues, along with academic problems," Leslie said.

"There's really a gap there in helping students find a career path, and the tools needed to help with career planning sometimes come at a high cost to the schools. To help solve that problem, we've created this free app that creates a profile for the student based on their personality and shows a list of careers within that profile."

Students can see whether they are considered "entrepreneurial, realistic or artistic," which jobs are geared toward that classification and the best colleges and universities to attend to prepare for that career.

"The way we recommend those schools is through a proprietary algorithm," Leslie said. "We've pulled in data from sources and have a formula that provides the recommended schools largely based on how they place professionals into those certain careers, but also factors in school indebtedness of post-graduates and the default rate on loans."

Once a student finishes the profile, it is up to him or her whether to connect to the university suggested–- which brings in the other side of the C'reer product.

Leslie says the college recruitment process is expensive.

"To recruit a student, the college or university needs them to stay a very long time before they can actually make money on that student," he said.

By using the C'reer app or web portal, a college can discover students who are "raising their hand that they are serious and interested in attending," Leslie said.

"But we're not just providing the college with the name of the student who is interested; we're actually giving a way for them to live chat with those students. It is all student-initiated, so the student must opt in and say they want to chat with the school," Leslie said.

Since launching C'reer last month, Vireo Labs has had more than 500 downloads through Apple and Google Play. The company is networking with guidance counselors in 40 states to push for more students to use the tool in preparing for their future.

The digital corridor is connecting the startup with potential investors while providing office space and local connections to the University of South Carolina Beaufort and Technical College of the Lowcountry.

Leslie and his partner Jose Mallabo hosted the first "Fridays at the Corridor" forum last week, using it to advocate for C'reer and show how BASEcamp is providing new opportunities for tech businesses.

"It's an opportunity to put a good foot forward for the corridor and show early success for this initiative," Leslie said.

Corridor program manager Karen Warner said the "Fridays at the Corridor" events will be held the second Friday of every month to keep the doors open to the community.

"We want to invite them in to showcase these businesses that are part of the fastest-growing job market," Warner said.

As a resident of Port Royal since 2002, Leslie has had to drive to Savannah for job opportunities. He is encouraged by the corridor's goal to diversify the Lowcountry's economy for professionals like himself.

"We are talking to USCB about internships on the developer and programming side of Vireo Labs, and that's a great start. When we become able to hire, we hope that to find that talent locally. And it's all about just putting Beaufort on the map," Leslie said.

"The more we can grow this economy, the better. I'm excited to be a part of that."

To learn more about C'reer, go to www.creer.us. To learn more about the Beaufort Digital Corridor, go to www.beaufortdigital.com.

South Carolina Commerce Plans Marketing Push To Grow Tech Sector

Charleston's technology sector has quietly grown larger than one of the region's largest and most prominent employers, Boeing Co. In the Upstate, tech workers outnumber BMW's headcount.

But in both cities, the big-name manufacturers get more attention. And both were attracted here with big incentive packages from the state government. Read More:

Vireo Labs First Startup To Move Into BASEcamp Incubator In Beaufort, SC

The Beaufort Digital Corridor (BDC) today announced that Vireo Labs will be the first tech startup to move into BASEcamp - Beaufort's premier business incubator and co-working office designed to meet the transitional professional office needs of tech and knowledge-based entrepreneurs seeking adaptable, affordable office and conference facilities of the highest quality.

Vireo Labs is a career focused education technology startup founded in 2015. The founding team is leveraging its higher education, ecommerce and mobile experience from SCAD, eBay, Amazon and LinkedIn into the development of its first mobile product, C'reer, to address the $7 billion recruitment marketing segment in the U.S.

C'reer – available on both the iOS and Android platforms – will be launched this month by Vireo Labs.

"Locating to Beaufort's BASEcamp is really the fulfillment of what C'reer tries to accomplish for all who use it," said Vireo Labs co-founder and CMO, Ian Leslie. "C'reer is about connecting people with the career of their dreams and the school that will get them there, while BASEcamp and the Digital Corridor are working hard to bring new opportunities to the Beaufort region while expanding the knowledge economy."

By locating to Beaufort, Vireo Labs will also gain access to the network of entrepreneurs and professionals in Charleston, South Carolina. "It is humbling and validating to have Vireo Labs make the decision to commence operations at BASEcamp the same day the facility is being dedicated," said Ernest Andrade, BDC's Executive Director. "This tech start-up is the first of more tech and knowledge-based companies we expect will populate the recently renovated facility in downtown Beaufort."

Vireo Labs joins the University of South Carolina Beaufort, who has also established an office for a faculty member in their Computational Science program. "Our goal is to stimulate collaboration between our students and the tech entrepreneurs located at BASEcamp," said Assistant Professor, Brian Canada. 

Upcoming Events

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Fridays @ the Corridor - CODEcamp Roundtable: What Do We Need?

With the rapid acceleration of technology in every corner of our economy, we at the Beaufort Digital Corridor have a mandate to provide our local students and working population with a chance to acquire those technical skills that are increasingly in high demand, skills that may serve as a gateway to jobs with compensation levels well above per-capita wages. To that end, we have been working with our colleagues throughout the state, county and city to evolve a hands-on coding program that meets the untapped technology needs of the region's workforce. 

At the June Fridays @ the Corridor event, Pam Wood Browne, Program Manager of the up-state SCcodes project, will discuss the lessons learned from two successive, and successful, coding programs that she helped deploy in Greenville, SC. Following her presentation, we invite the Beaufort community to join us in a Q&A session to help shape Beaufort's CODEcamp program.

Learn more and register HERE.

Scratch Computer Programming For Kids

Get into coding with Scratch, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed programming platform that removes the intimidation of learning to code by turning it into game play. Students will learn to code and think logically while they express their own creativity to code their own games. To get a preview, check out scratch.mit.edu.

Adults are encouraged to join with their children. If you plan to do so, please RSVP for both the adult and child.

Learn more and register HERE.