Launching and growing globally impactful companies is critical to the economic success of any community, including ours. Headquarter companies that start and grow locally provide many important benefits to the area, including greater job creation, higher quality job creation, and wealth generation through ownership.
Attracting and supporting high-impact entrepreneurs is an aggressive economic development sport, and we have our work cut out for us to be competitive in that arena. That said, we have many of the ingredients necessary for a healthy ecosystem of entrepreneurs here.
One of the most pivotal is a strong history of entrepreneurship. Since Greenville’s founding in 1770, we have been home to a steady stream of entrepreneurs who have built thriving businesses that transformed the region economically and culturally.
In the earlier years, many of our top entrepreneurs were in textiles and engineering. Here are a few examples:
Four brothers, David, Edward, John and Robert Woodside took a leap of faith and created what would become the largest textile mill under one roof in the U.S. Though none of the founders possessed experience in the textile industry, their new venture prospered to the point that they also started a bank and helped finance construction of the Poinsett Hotel in downtown Greenville.
Charles Daniel left stable employment at Townsend Lumber Company in 1935 to launch Daniel International, which went on to build many of the textile and industrial facilities across the southeast as well as Donaldson Air Base in Greenville.
Daniel International became one of the largest construction firms in the world and was acquired in 1977 by Fluor Corporation, which remains a major employer for the area. The Daniel-Mickel Foundation, named for Charles Daniel and Buck Mickel, Mr. Daniel’s nephew who went on to lead the company for many years, has provided over $46 million in grants to support education, the arts and the environment locally.
John D. Hollingsworth on Wheels
Founded by Pinckney Hollingsworth in the late 1800’s, Hollingsworth on Wheels went on to become one of the largest textile machinery companies in the world under the leadership of the founder’s grandson, John D. Hollingsworth, whose passion for innovation and customer service drove the company to unforeseen heights of success and provided jobs for thousands of local citizens. Created from Hollingsworth’s estate in 2000, Hollingsworth Funds and has since invested over $42 million in local organizations including Furman University, the YMCA of Greenville, and many other non-profit organizations working on behalf of the community.
Our legacy of successful entrepreneurship continues today, though some of the industries have changed. Here are some more recent examples of local entrepreneurial success:
Greenville entrepreneur Larry Blackwell launched Datastream in 1986 with $55,000 in investment and grew the software firm to more than 1,000 employees and a valuation of $1 billion at its peak.
The company was acquired in 2006 by Infor and remains a significant employer in the area. Much of the senior leadership team that Blackwell built at Datastream remain in the area and have gone on to launch and invest in other new ventures locally. Blackwell himself remains engaged mentoring younger, less experienced entrepreneurs.
In 1992, co-founders Steve Owings and Mike Baur launched Scansource with six employees. Today, the company employs over 1,500 people worldwide and posts annual sales of $2.9 billion, making it one of the largest companies headquartered in S.C. In just its second year of operations, the Scansource Charitable Foundation was created and has invested millions of dollars in the community. Also, Scansource provided a major gift to Clemson University in 2009 to help move its graduate business program to downtown Greenville.
Bill Masters created a company that would change the kayak industry forever, Perception Kayaks. Starting with just a $50 investment, Masters began an entrepreneurial adventure that would lead to Perception becoming the industry leader leveraging its unique process of building rotationally molded plastic kayaks.
Perception was sold in 1999 and Confluence Watersports continues leading the kayak market from Greenville today, while Masters remains heavily involved in the entrepreneurial ecosystem mentoring young CEO’s.
Now the largest advertising and marketing firm in South Carolina and one of the largest in the southeast, Erwin Penland was formed in 1986 by co-founders Joe and Gretchen Erwin and now serves as the agency of record for Verizon Wireless, Denny’s and other major accounts. The agency employs over 200 individuals in its two offices in Greenville and New York and is very involved in the local community, providing marketing support to numerous non-profit organizations and leading the annual Food for Thought Conference. In 2012, the Erwins announced a gift of $1 million to found the Erwin Center for the Study of Advertising and Communication at Clemson University.
Fortunately, our public and private sector leadership recognize the importance of growing new entrepreneurial ventures for the future of our community. They support organizations like NEXT, the Upstate Carolina Angel Network, and others that provide critical services to entrepreneurs, and they engage directly with many of our promising new ventures.
With continued commitment to high-impact entrepreneurship as an economic development strategy, Greenville and the Upstate region will see our historic roster of successful entrepreneurs continue to grow – for the enduring benefit of all of us.