The original concept for this piece was a discussion of startup accelerators in the Upstate. We were thinking of programs like the now-defunct Iron Yard (2013-2017), programs that provide funds, training and mentorship to startups to help them pass successfully through the early stages of business growth.
We quickly discovered that there are currently no such programs in our area.
“If we have any startup accelerators, I’m not aware of them,” says Ken Brower, interim CEO of NEXT Upstate, an organization dedicated to nurturing and providing space for entrepreneurship. “I think that’s a hole in the market right now.”
That hole is an important one to fill, says John Moore, founder and principal of Momenteum Greenville, a consulting firm specializing in entrepreneur support programs for communities and economic development organizations around the world.
“Quite a few of us believe it’s a gap in our ecosystem that warrants attention,” Moore says. “One of the ways to think of them is as recruiting and retention mechanisms to help us draft innovators. There’s no guarantee that they’re going to stay, but we know we have a great community here. If we can bring innovators here, plug them into our ecosystem and help accelerate their efforts, we know we have a decent chance of keeping them.”
As for why the Upstate hasn’t either spawned more of its own organic accelerator programs like Iron Yard or attracted outside programs, Moore can only speculate.
“They’re not easy,” he says. “Somebody has to be there to raise the capital to do it, so it’s a matter of finding someone who knows how to do it and sees this as a great marketing opportunity.”
“I think we are maybe not as on the radar because of our size,” says Mark Farris, CEO of the Greenville Area Development Corporation, a county-chartered organization tasked with promoting and enhancing the economic growth of Greenville County. “But if you’re interested in being outside of one of the major urban areas like an Atlanta or Charlotte, I think we hold a lot of potential.”
Brower says that a tightly focused accelerator program that invests in key areas could do a market like the Upstate a lot of economic good.
“If we had a focused accelerator on a fairly narrow niche, you’d have more of an impact,” he says. “If we focused on advanced manufacturing, or on life sciences, you could make it work in a smaller market like this.”
And we just might have something like that in the near future. Moore hints at some developments later this year that might fill the gap in Greenville’s economic ecosystem.
“There are outside accelerators looking to come here,” Moore says, though he doesn’t specify which ones. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t have some announcements coming in the foreseeable future. It’s not a perfect market, but I think these outside entities are realizing that there’s an opportunity here.”
What is an “Economic Ecosystem?”
The theory of business ecosystems was developed by business strategist James Moore in 1993. In this case, an “ecosystem” is the network of organizations — including suppliers, distributors, customers, competitors, government agencies and so on — involved in the delivery of a specific product or service through both competition and cooperation. The idea is that each entity in the ecosystem affects and is affected by the others, creating a constantly evolving relationship.