June 28, 2019

#StartupsEverywhere: Beaufort, S.C.

Edward Graham  /  Engine.is

Driving Startup Growth in the South Carolina Lowcountry

The coastal city of Beaufort, South Carolina might not seem like your typical hub of startup activity, but the Beaufort Digital Corridor is working to make the city a destination for those who work in and around the tech industry. Modeled after the successful Charleston Digital Corridor established about 90 miles north of Beaufort, the BDC is working to drive further tech-related business growth across the Lowcountry region. BDC Board Chairman Kevin Klingler and Program Manager Shelley Barratt are focused on creating a nurturing startup community by building out networking and training opportunities, as well as a business incubator, to help spur the local tech industry.

**Can you tell us a little about yourself? What is your background? **

Kevin Klingler, Board Chairman, is a serial entrepreneur whose last company, SmartSound Software, was acquired by one of Europe's largest independent music companies.

Shelley Barratt, Manager, is an executive collaborator with project management, human resources, and communications experience revolving around tech and startups.

Tell us about the Beaufort Digital Corridor. What is the work that you're doing?

We nurture Beaufort's technology entrepreneurs by creating a business, education, and social environment that is attractive to those working in and around tech. We do this by offering mentorship and networking opportunities, continuing education, and member-driven programs. Ideally, we want to help these entrepreneurs grow their ventures into viable companies that can create job opportunities, higher wages, and a healthy tech economy in the Lowcountry.

What makes Beaufort's startup ecosystem unique? What are the selling points for bringing companies to Beaufort?

Beaufort is this beautiful, historic, and diverse coastal locale that sells itself. People want to move here because of its livability. They bring their ideas, their small companies, or remote work with them to where the living is easy.

Our 'tech hub', BASEcamp, is on Carteret Street just blocks from the waterfront park and Bay Street with its shops and restaurants. It is not unheard of for visitors to get off the boat and walk to BASEcamp to co-work for the day. But more than that, it's a central location, a tech-exchange right in the heart of downtown Beaufort that acts as a resource for local businesses.

There are also two local colleges in the area. Technical College of the Lowcountry is a public, two-year, multi-campus community college that offers career-oriented education for today's high-skill jobs, including computer technologies with the recent addition of a Cyber Security Certificate program.

The University of South Carolina Beaufort (USCB) is a small, public university with three campuses situated in the heart of the Lowcountry. The USCB Department of Computer Science offers B.S. and M.S. degrees in Computational Science, a B.S. degree in Information Science and Technology, as well as minors in Computer Science and Data Science. They have had an office at BASEcamp since its inception in January 2017. We also work with the Business and Fine Arts departments, partnering up on projects from a tech entrepreneur seminar to BASEcamp Gallery exhibits. The historic Beaufort Campus is just a few blocks from BASEcamp, and the Dean of USCB Beaufort Campus, Dr. Robert LeFavi, sits on our board and is a proponent for entrepreneurial business.

What are some of the ways BDC helps integrate startups into the Beaufort community?

Considering we are in our own startup to growth stage, the extent of integration is through our membership opportunities including promotional communications, and various programs such as the chance to present at our Fridays @ the Corridor seminar series or network at our TECHconnect monthly meetup.

Down the road, we will offer connections to vetted contacts for other business and governmental services for those that want to grow their companies in the community, as well as act as a liaison to city, county, state and other policymaking entities that have an effect on tech business.

What are the most exciting or important developments that have happened to Beaufort's startup and tech ecosystems in the last year?

BASEcamp has proven to be the right thing at the right time. We are at capacity this summer, with all our offices leased out as well as an uptick in coworking demand. Several of our residents are startups, and at least one company is in growth stage with commercialization of its business on the horizon, including a presentation at an upcoming capital investment opportunity later in the year.

We are in the second year of our Live Work Mentor program, where a team of college students who have come up with a tech-oriented concept spends the summer developing a business plan and minimum viable product. Local tech and business mentors provide guidance, and we give them opportunities to present their ideas and interact with the community. This year, USCB Housing has graciously partnered with us in providing a place to live that is just down the street, and the Rotary Club of the Lowcountry has sponsored an office at BASEcamp for the students to work.

Are there any policies at the federal, state, or local level in particular that have helped Beaufort's startups?

The Beaufort Digital Corridor was started by Beaufort City Councilman Stephen Murray and City Manager Bill Prokop, with assistance from Ernest Andrade, Executive Director of the Charleston Digital Corridor. We were created in the image of the Charleston Digital Corridor and are its 'little sibling,' sharing common programs.

The S.C. Department of Commerce's Office of Innovation is in the process of carrying out the state's ambition to intensify technology and research development activity, focusing on startup support and talent development. They recently released Scribble, a content toolkit for the pursuit of innovation, and are also on an ongoing Pen to Paper tour with stops at various innovation and incubator locations across the state. They will be visiting us at BASEcamp July 8th. To be listed and included in the state's initiatives brings needed attention to Beaufort and the surrounding area.

What issues are Beaufort's startups and entrepreneurs dealing with that should receive more attention from state and federal policymakers?

One of the main issues in the area is access to capital, particularly for startup to growth phase. We are actively working to address this issue and are reaching out to venture capitalists in the Atlanta area as well as other regions. Additionally, we will work to develop an Angel investor network in the Beaufort area to help our companies access seed capital (pre-VC). We believe that, in time, we will be able to significantly improve upon the access to capital in the Beaufort area.

What is your goal for the next year? The next five years?

Our goal is to begin graduating companies out of BASEcamp and into the Beaufort economy. This may happen over time depending on the type of company. Based on our smaller population, if we help startup and graduate a handful of companies over the next three to five years resulting in hires within the community and from the colleges, as well as keep the interest and interaction with local tech workers active at BASEcamp, we will consider that a success.