Clemson honors software entrepreneur

Larry Blackwell

Larry Blackwell founded Datastream Systems in Greenville and sold it 20 years later for $216 million.

His accomplishments as a software entrepreneur still draw kudos more than a decade after he left the company.

Blackwell, now 76 and living at the Isle of Palms on South Carolina’s coast, is the latest recipient of the Innovative Spirit Award from the Spiro Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership at Clemson University.

He got a standing ovation from a packed auditorium during a special presentation of the award in the offices of Clemson’s MBA program in downtown Greenville.

Attendees also came to hear remarks by Rich Wong, a well-known Silicon Valley investor.

In the audience were at least two former Datastream employees who started or built Greenville software companies of their own: John Sterling of Foxfire and Scott Millwood, who helped found Customer Effective and sold it to Hitachi Solutions.

Also on hand was Alex Estevez, a Greenville resident who was Datastream’s chief financial officer and president and is now a venture partner with Accel Partners, the California-based venture capital firm where Wong is a partner.

The Innovative Spirit Award recognizes the achievements of Clemson alumni.

Blackwell’s journey began in Philadelphia, Miss., where his father owned a Piggly Wiggly grocery.

He got a civil engineering degree from the University of Mississippi and worked as a Navy lieutenant before getting a doctorate in environmental systems engineering at Clemson in 1971.

After a stint as an engineer with Amoco, Blackwell moved to Greenville and founded an environmental services company with partners that was eventually sold to Wisconsin Power & Light.

Blackwell founded Datastream in 1986 and took it public in 1995. Its software helped companies and other organizations with maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO). Datastream also operated an e-commerce exchange for ordering spare parts.

The homegrown company employed more than 600 people, including about 250 at its headquarters along Interstate 85 in Greenville, when it was sold to a bigger software company from the Atlanta area called Infor Global Solutions. Blackwell’s shares in Datastream were worth nearly $24 million at the time of the sale.

Greenville software entrepreneur Andy Kurtz, an observer of the local business community for 30 years, said Datastream remains the most successful software startup to ever emerge from Greenville.

It was “the face of Greenville software development,” Kurtz recalled, adding that Blackwell built “an amazing team of developers, an amazing management team.”

After selling Datastream, Blackwell left the company and became an investor in startup ventures. He said he invested about $6 million in 12 firms, including a Greenville data backup firm called Servosity.

Asked whether he had any advice for Greenville, Blackwell said he’d like to see its business community invest more in the technology sector.

“We don’t do a lot of tech investing,” Blackwell said about Greenville. “We invest in restaurants. We invest in real estate. But we don’t invest in tech, and yet there’s where the leverage is. So if I could encourage people to invest in technology I think you would see some real opportunity to change the baseline of the economy of Greenville.”

Wong, who led investments in tech companies that were later sold to Twitter, Google, Microsoft, and Motorola, gave his own advice for Greenville from the stage.

He encouraged the local business community to “continue to invest in becoming technical, in computer science capability” and “learn from the people who have taken the journey as entrepreneurs before.”

Wong also encouraged the audience to expose Greenville to “people like me” who have access to capital that is “trying to find good ideas.”

Rich Wong, a partner with Accel Partners of Palo Alto, Calif., was special speaker at the annual Innovative Spirit Awards hosted by Clemson University’s Spiro Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership.

Wong over the years has led Accel’s investments in numerous tech ventures, including:

  • Airwatch (acquired by VMWare)
  • MoPub (acquired by Twitter)
  • Admob (acquired by Google)
  • (acquired by Cox)
  • Parature (acquired by Microsoft)
  • Swiftkey (acquired by Microsoft)
  • 3LM (acquired by Motorola)


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