As the new executive director of NEXT Upstate, Eric Weissmann brings passion — and a playbook — for helping carry Greenville’s entrepreneurial ecosystem into the future.
Weissmann comes from Cincinnati, Ohio, where he helped found and served as vice president of external relationships at Cintrifuse, an entrepreneurial ecosystem similar to that of NEXT Upstate.
While there, Weissmann launched “StartupCincy,” an online portal that, quite literally, gives entrepreneurs a roadmap to success through four phases of business development: imagining/incubating, demonstrating, market entry, and growth.
Now about five months into the job, Weissmann tells the Upstate Business Journal he’s ready to harness Greenville’s genuine excitement — and desire — to move the needle on an already-thriving entrepreneurial scene.
Q: What’s next for NEXT in 2022?
“I want to broaden the scope of what it means to be an entrepreneur and who is an entrepreneur — and be more inclusive — in that definition,” he says. “NEXT will never get away from entrepreneurial support of the ones that are at the tip of the funnel — the ones that need that customized help and attention. But, we also have to be concerned with the middle of that [entrepreneurial] funnel and the top of that funnel. In other words, where are the next successful entrepreneurs coming from?”
And, Weissmann says, as new entrepreneurs come through accelerator or incubator programs, the idea is to stay with them through their journey.
“We need to have a journey map for what entrepreneurship looks like. And it’s never one way … an entrepreneur’s journey is jagged. It goes in one direction, then maybe backwards, then maybe over here … we need to develop those pathways to get them to the next ‘lily pad’ in their journey. I say that frequently because it’s non-linear – a lily pad can be straight ahead of you, beside you, even behind you — but we want to get you to the next lily pad in your journey. NEXT is really going to bring a collaborate-first mentality.”
To that end, he’s planning monthly touchpoint events to put fledgling or even mid-phase entrepreneurs in touch with the local resources — maybe a local venture capitalist or a local founder who’s seen success — that can offer advice, wisdom, technical knowledge.
“We’re going to be much more deliberative about growing our database of those requesting help and do a better job of pinpointing who’s in the mix, who wants to be in the mix, and help them get to the next [step].”
Q: So, you’re reloading a little bit – what are some key hires you’re making this year?
“Coming out of the gate, we’re in the midst of hiring for a startup success director. This is going to be someone who wakes up every day thinking about our startups — who’s identifying them? Who’s drawing them out of the woodwork? This person is going to be looking for patterns, opportunities to connect these people to other resources and help move them forward.
Quickly after that, we’re going to also hire a program manager, someone who is responsible for those touchpoint events I mentioned and doing some of the onboarding and listening to the stories, identifying how we think we can help these entrepreneurs.”
Q: What about Greenville attracted you to leave what you’ve helped build in Cincinnati?
“That’s great question because you’re digging at my passion. When I took my role at Cintrifuse I wasn’t a ‘startup’ guy — I wasn’t even an ‘economic development’ guy! I was a marketing guy and there was an opportunity here in Greenville to make an impact, to transform this region — yes, the focus must always be on economic development and jobs — but, we’re going to do that by focusing on this group of the population that isn’t normally in those traditional, ‘economic development’ conversations.”
“In the end, you’re betting on the underdog and putting this legion of superheroes behind them asking, ‘What do you need? We’re gonna clear the path for you.'”