Of all the attempts I have heard through the years to summarize what makes Greenville and the Upstate area such a special place to live and work, I have a favorite quote that says it best for me.
Several years ago, Jim Clinton, then the Executive Director of the Southern Growth Policies Board – a regional economic think tank in Raleigh, N.C. – spent a couple of days in Greenville seeing the development projects underway here and meeting with community leaders to understand the action behind the scenes.
As part of his remarks to a Greenville Chamber business leaders group, Clinton captured what I believe to be the core essence of this place when he said, “Greenville is a community too restless to be content with its own success.”
Bingo. To this day, I’ve never heard a better summary of the character of our home community than this one – with the emphasis on the word “restless.” That one word captures best what I have sensed in my various economic development roles since I joined the Greenville Chamber in 2001 right up through today. Let me give you a few examples of the restlessness in my world of supporting high-impact entrepreneurship.
First, NEXT itself was born from a period of restlessness in the economic development arena here almost 10 years ago, a period that saw the creation of Innoventure, our region’s first venture capital conference, the emergence of the Spiro Center for Entrepreneurship at Clemson University as a research and education leader in the entrepreneurial arena, and numerous benchmarking trips by area leaders to top entrepreneurial communities like Austin, Texas, and Dublin and Galway, Ireland.
Despite the creation of a burgeoning entrepreneurial ecosystem here including the creation of the nationally-recognized Upstate Carolina Angel Network (UCAN) and launching the award-winning NEXT Innovation Center, the restlessness here continues to build when it comes to supporting high-impact entrepreneurship.
For instance, two new entrepreneur-focused facilities are in development today: the new NEXT on Main co-location space that will open in June of this year and a new NEXT manufacturing facility that would be home to a growing pool of high-growth manufacturing startups in the region. As if that wasn’t restless enough, a fourth facility centered on life science entrepreneurs is on the drawing board for future implementation.
With capital, it’s obvious that having one of the top-rated angel groups in the country isn’t enough for our region. NEXT companies raised over $40 million in growth capital last year, but this area is too restless not to work on improving access to capital for our entrepreneurs. To that end, UCAN recently launched new angel investor groups in Spartanburg, Anderson and Asheville as well as a new statewide entity, the S.C. Angel Network or SCAN, that has already begun investing in early-stage ventures across the Palmetto State.
In addition to improving angel capital access through UCAN’s strategic efforts, NEXT partners with a number of organizations in the region to promote our ecosystem and the growing pipeline of innovative ventures to external investors including venture capital principals from around the country. Eventually, we hope our capital restlessness will lead to a regional or statewide venture fund that can fund entrepreneurial growth here at a whole new level.
Finally, we are seeing a proliferation of new entrepreneur support programs and organizations that are springing up to help fill remaining ecosystem gaps in our area. Here are just a few examples of new efforts that have arrived on the scene:
- NEXT Venture Mentoring Service – Team-based mentoring program for early-stage entrepreneurs operated in partnership with Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
- The Founder Institute – The world’s largest entrepreneur training and startup launch program, helping aspiring founders across the globe build enduring technology companies.
- Clemson University Design Entrepreneurship Network (DEN) – Seeks to bring together students from any major to transform student ideas into student companies.
- NEXT High School – The name says it all. An innovative new public high school started by local entrepreneurs to “prepare students for life after school.”
- Openworks – A community-run work and event space in the middle of downtown Greenville focused on providing an open environment for creation, collaboration and action.
The restlessness of Greenville and the Upstate manifests itself in many ways beyond the entrepreneur-centric examples listed here. It’s obvious that we are restless about education, about the arts, about outdoor spaces and much more.
Thomas Edison once said, “Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.” Fortunately, we are not satisfied as a community. Instead, we are restless… in fact, too restless to be content with our own success. Thank goodness.