Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Innovative Side of Columbia

By Greg Hilton, Senior Project Manager, EngenuitySC
Some recent reports by our friends at the Kauffman Foundation have put South Carolina at close to the bottom in terms of entrepreneurial activity.  Their recent 2010 Index of Entrepreneurial Activity shows South Carolina with an index of .23% which means for every thousand people, we had 2.3 individuals start new businesses.  Many people speculate that we’ve been in the game less than other places like Austin, Raleigh and Silicon Valley so naturally, we’re way behind.  Others point to the agricultural history as another reason.  

Columbia, especially, has a reputation of not being a hot bed of entrepreneurial activity.  Critics point to an economy dominated by public employment (government, higher education), a weak business community (that drives activity), and risk averse culture.  As with most other things, detractors point to our neighbors in Greenville and Charleston and cite their growing cluster of high tech startups.  They say that Columbia is not business friendly and that government is not supportive of small businesses.  They say that Columbia doesn’t have the depth and breadth of quality startups to attract investment capital to the region.  

The truth of the matter is that while there is always more that could be done, Columbia is no sissy when it comes to great startups.  In fact, the diversity of our economic base is one of the strongest elements that supports our entrepreneurial activities.

While we might have gotten into the game late, Columbia has the capacity to turn it up in the “kitchen of entrepreneurship”.  I see it everywhere I go.  From amazing life sciences startups like like Bridge to Life, Vitasol, and RhythmLink; to innovative insurance tech companies like Duck Creek Technologies, EagleEye Analytics and Trumbull Services .  RhythemLink was just recognized again as one of the fastest growing companies in the state.  Duck Creek was recently acquired by Accenture for upwards of $100 million some speculate.  Our friends at Sensor Electronic Technologies (SETi) just announced $20 million in new capital and an expansion of 150 jobs in Richland County.  Shall we go on???  

In fact, this ebbing culture of entrepreneurship is not just limited to high tech sectors. Columbia has always been an underrated city for the creative economy because in some cases its an undercurrent that you have to be a part of to fully appreciate.  However, if you went to Ignite 2011 this year, you got a taste for what our fair city’s creative entrepreneurs are capable of with Philippe Herndon of Caroline Guitar Co. and Katrina refugee Natalie Brown with Alternacirque. Nothing gets me more excited than when creativity and a desire to start something new collide.  In fact, I’d argue that we have one of the more entrepreneurial creative communities in the southeast...even in the nonprofit sector (where, by the way, thinking entrepreneurially is a must in tight times).    

So, to the detractors and nonbelievers...its time to take it to find something else to complain about.  For the inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurial spirits...its time to take it to the next level in Famously Hot Columbia, SC.  Everyone has a role to play in this game.  As the saying goes, “it takes a village...”.  

Greg Hilton is a Senior Project Manager for EngenuitySC. He leads EngenuitySC's involvement in entrepreneurial support and community development, manages EngenuitySC's involvement with the USC-City of Columbia Fuel Cell Collaborative, is a consultant to New Carolina's iTs|SC (insurance technology and services group), and is the former volunteer chair for the board of directors at Columbia Opportunity Resource | COR. Greg is dedicated to building innovative, entrepreneurial, and dynamic communities.

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