Startup.SC: Tech incubator turns ideas into reality
By Jason Lesley
Georgetown County is growing its own tech businesses in a program called Startup.SC at the Litchfield Exchange.
The county bought the beleaguered shopping center behind Applewood House of Pancakes two years ago to house Summary Court for Murrells Inlet and the Pawleys Island area and a sheriff’s substation for $600,000. It retained four retail outlets — two are occupied by Art Works and the Chocolate and Coffee House and two are empty — and two large rooms in front have been dedicated to a business incubator.
Brian Tucker, county economic director, said the 11 high-tech businesses in Startup.SC could yield high-paying jobs in the future. “So much of the stuff wrapped up in this space is in their heads,” Tucker said of the entrepreneurs. “That’s what makes this game very different from chasing smokestacks. This could have a significant impact on our local economy and go much farther.”
Ryan Smith, executive director of Startup.SC, said it is an initiative of the Grand Strand Technology Council, an organization that’s been around for seven years trying to develop a tech industry. The businesses at the nonprofit Startup.SC have the ability to grow to $10 million in sales within five years. “We select high quality entrepreneurs and provide office space, mentoring, access to capital and technical talent,” she said. “Entrepreneurs create jobs. The goal is to be acquired by a larger company or go public.”
Another goal of Startup.SC is to build a “code school” to teach tech savvy individuals how to write computer code. Code writers, she said, make more than three times the area’s average salary. “We’ve been here 10 months,” she said, “and had incredible success.”
Barb Royal, founder of KidsCanGiveToo.com, a website that coordinates cash gifts for children’s birthday parties, directing half to a charity of a child’s choice, 40 percent to the child and keeping 10 percent, has raised $325,000 from seven investors.
Royal, a mother of three and former elementary school teacher from Murrells Inlet, dreamed up the idea for this website four years ago when it seemed her children were going to a different birthday party every weekend. “I noticed the waste and frustration surrounding the modern birthday party gift giving experience,” she said, “not to mention the cultural shift of no longer opening presents at the party but rather bringing them home to open later in a fury, with no opportunity for eye contact and a thank you for the giver. When my son got three pairs of Incredible Hulk Hands with no receipts — $90 worth — I knew there was an opportunity for charities and a teachable moment for kids. Kids Can Give Too was born. Startup.SC has brought me to the next level by advising me and helping me create a pitch deck that I used to raise $325,000 in angel funds.”
Royal’s is the first business associated with Startup.SC to become fully funded and ready to scale. She has hired her first three employees with a goal of hosting 1,000 parties per month and raise $1 million for charities within the first year.
Other entrepreneurs are hatching their own ideas. Donna Brin is developing Pueri Elemental, a company that sells “bop” toys for small children and is working on a way to let buyers customize their toys online when they order. Jerry Harrison is developing Luna Desk, a platform that helps small companies manage employee scheduling and training.
Jason Greene, a runner for 30 years, is developing Race Links, a race administration and planning website that lets organizers focus on the experience rather than the competition. And Peter Gasca is working on software to serve the craft beer industry. It’s so fragmented, he said, the brewers need help connecting and raising their visibility.
“Every one of these companies,” Tucker said, “has the ability to service an international market and when they hire we want them to hire here. That’s the idea behind it. This will help build a diversified economy.”