Bluffton 2.0

blufftonbizCould Bluffton become a mini-Silicon Valley? Local officials and Clemson University certainly hope so.

The town has joined with Clemson’s Institute for Economic and Community Development to create a “technology village” in Bluffton. The goal of this nonprofit public/private three-year pilot program is to diversify the local economy and create a breeding ground for technology companies, which would translate into new businesses and new jobs in Bluffton.

“If you look at the Kauffman Foundation (which promotes and studies entrepreneurship) and the Small Business Administration, their annual reports suggest in excess of 60 percent of new jobs come from small, emerging companies,” said Karl Kelly, director of Commercialization and Technology Incubation at Clemson. “We believe that it’s essential to help progressive small businesses thrive.”

 

To that end, this “incubator” will be a place for small technology businesses to access hands-on help with product development, marketing, identification of financing, employee recruitment, building corporate relationships and more. Participants will also have access to research and professionals at the Regional Entrepreneurial Development Center in Columbia.

“We’ve developed a combination of support mechanisms, training programs and consultants to support technology companies,” said Kelly. “Another component is the web. Part of the problem with the web is that there’s too much information. It takes days to sort through that. We sort that out and have built a library of online resources to help in market research, developing business plans and more. The overall approach is a very effective cost delivery model.”

The program is financed by a combination of public and private dollars. For instance, the town of Bluffton has committed $50,000 over three years and will also fund a director for the new center. The goal, however, is to move the funding of the program completely into the private sector.

Meanwhile, Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka hopes to see the program bring new business to the community. “The incubator will be a place where the region’s underserved fledgling entrepreneurs can get support so that their ideas can be nurtured and grow into local and regional businesses,” she said in a press release.

Kelly agreed, saying that “the program is designed to support technology in non-traditional areas. Historically, tech companies have developed in urban, metropolitan areas. We wanted to develop a model that would be available to towns across South Carolina.”

The program will be operated by a seven-member board of public and private leaders, called the Bluffton Technology Corporation, Inc. Members were chosen by the Bluffton Town Council. That board will choose participating companies in areas such as energy, life sciences, water resources, defense, advanced materials and agricultural-related discoveries.

The technology incubator will be housed in the CareCore National offices at the Buckwalter Place Tech Park. The now-deceased Don Ryan, chair and CEO of CareCore, offered the space for the program. His son, Kevin, CareCore president and COO, is carrying on that spirit of giving back to the community and promoting the local economy.

“CareCore recognized the opportunity that this presented,” said Kevin Ryan. “At CareCore we talked a lot about the need for a center like this in the Bluffton area. This is a great opportunity for economic development and for us to be part of the solution.

“Many young companies are on cusp of something great,” he said. “Supporting that can only be good for Bluffton.”

A grand opening of Bluffton’s and Clemson University’s “Building the Technology Village” project will be held on March 19. M

Editor’s note: As Monthly was going to press, the search for an executive director was nearing an end. Check back for updates on who will lead the technology village.

Photo by Rob Kaufman, Kaufman Photography