The Upstate’s startup scene continues to grow.
A new report shows the 102 companies supported by NEXT in Greenville and across the Upstate region created 261 new full-time jobs in South Carolina last year. NEXT is the economic development program launched by the Greenville Chamber of Commerce in 2006.
“Momentum for NEXT and the high-impact ventures we support continued to build in 2017 as we experienced significant growth on numerous fronts,” said founder and CEO John Moore.
In addition to the increased job creation, the payrolls of entrepreneurial ventures at NEXT grew significantly in 2017 with the average salary reported at $69,443, or 1.6 percent higher than the average salary in Greenville County. That amounts to an annual payroll of $52.3 million.
NEXT companies also continue to attract significant investments, raising $22,888,944 million in new capital during 2017 alone, according to the report. In total, companies at NEXT have raised about $169.6 million since the program’s launch.
Additional highlights from the report:
- NEXT companies occupied more than 599,000 square feet of leased and owned real estate across the Upstate in 2017.
- Venture Pitch, a conference held in downtown Greenville, welcomed 225 attendees from across the Southeast in 2017. The conference, which aims to connect startups with venture capitalists and angel investors, includes live pitches and panels.
- Seventeen companies participated in the NEXT Venture Mentoring Service, which was launched in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2015 to provide unbiased, conflict-free advice to startups.
The Upstate Business Journal recently sat down with Moore to discuss the history and goals of NEXT and what the future might hold for the economic development program. The following transcription has been edited for brevity and clarity.
How would you describe the role of NEXT in the Upstate business community?
The role of NEXT is to build the entrepreneur ecosystem and support the high-impact ventures in it. Think of us as the “center of gravity” for innovative entrepreneurs and their companies in the Greenville/Upstate area. We champion the cause of innovative entrepreneurs and work collaboratively with all types of organizations and individuals to build a better community for high-growth startups as a means for significantly improving the economic vitality of our area today and in the future. … At NEXT, we work hard each and every day to help entrepreneurs launch and scale their innovation-based businesses here. We do this to further strengthen and diversify our economy by growing our own globally impactful headquarter companies. So, at our core, we’re an economic development organization. In fact, we’re a subsidiary of the Greenville Chamber where we were born in 2006 as a part-time economic development program. Since our founding, the number of high-growth startups has risen steadily in the area and NEXT has grown accordingly. We’re funded by the local business community through the chamber’s Accelerate initiative, which I helped launch in 2009, plus direct investments by the city of Greenville and Greenville County as well as grants, membership dues, and event income.
What are some services that NEXT provides for member companies?
We support entrepreneurs and their ventures two ways: by building the supporting ecosystem and by providing ongoing services and programming. On the ecosystem side, we work to fill the gaps in the community’s startup support infrastructure and are guided by the two Ecosystem Summits we’ve held through the years where over 50 entrepreneurs and community leaders came together to debate and prioritize ecosystem projects for NEXT going forward. These projects focus on needs like facilities, access to capital, talent, and more and often take years to plan and implement. We spend the majority of our time and resources providing direct services and programs to entrepreneurs on a daily basis. The first service our founding entrepreneurs asked for in 2006 remains core to NEXT today, and that is to be on-call for ad hoc requests for assistance. We sometimes refer to this as our Concierge Service where we handle all types of support requests from our entrepreneurs such as strategic introductions, PR assistance, talent recruiting assistance, and more. In a typical year, we’ll address over 250 such requests, which we call the “blocking and tackling” of NEXT.
Can you give some examples of the projects NEXT has spearheaded?
The first ecosystem project we tackled was the formation of a local angel investor network. This was the first gap identified by our founding entrepreneurs, and we sought training on launching such an effort and then began incubating what we now know as the Upstate Carolina Angel Network or UCAN. Under Matt Dunbar’s leadership and that of his board, UCAN has been a resounding success for over a decade now and has recently launched a larger angel network across S.C. and N.C. called Venture South. Our second project was to create an entrepreneur facility where innovative new ventures could locate and thrive together. With help from the city of Greenville staff, we pitched the idea of a “NEXT Neighborhood” to our entrepreneurs and then to the local developer community, resulting in Bob Hughes and Hughes Development partnering with us in 2009 to open the award-winning NEXT Innovation Center on Church Street. That facility continues to thrive as the largest startup space in the state today, and its success was the catalyst for the launch of our second location, NEXT on Main, in downtown Greenville in 2015, also in partnership with Hughes, and our third location, NEXT Manufacturing, on Birnie Street on the west side of downtown Greenville, in partnership with Dennis Braasch and his firm IPI Group. All three locations are at or near capacity today and serving well as the hubs of entrepreneurship in our area.
What is your background – did you start out in economic development?
I’m a Greenville County native who studied accounting at Clemson University. Upon graduating Clemson, I moved to Charlotte to start work in banking and accounting, which I did for five years. I was given a marketing project by the bank where I was working, and my eyes were opened. I realized I’m a marketer at heart and so I pivoted and saved up money for graduate school, moving with my newlywed wife, Lucynda, and our dog to Minneapolis to pursue an MBA from the University of Minnesota. From there I went on to serve in brand management positions with Kimberly-Clark and The Coca-Cola Co. at their respective headquarters in Wisconsin and Georgia before returning to Greenville to launch a startup with friends from Minnesota. Looking back on my roles at large companies, I realize that I was what we now call an “intrapreneur” as I gently but methodically challenged the status quo from my various positions in order to produce greater results. I guess that’s what happened when I agreed to work at my hometown Chamber of Commerce for one year to help the then-struggling organization set up a small business program. Less than 18 months later, I found myself as the interim president for several months, during which time we created a foundation on which innovative new efforts like NEXT could form.
When did you begin working with the Greenville Chamber?
Following the tragedy of 9/11 and economic downdraft that came after, I found myself wrapping operations of our business, Smoothie Zone, and researching possible brand-marketing positions in the region. As I searched for connections to send my resume to at Michelin, Dunlop Sports, and other brands here locally, I invited my college roommate, Jody Bryson, to lunch as he was the VP of public policy at the chamber at that time and knew everyone in town. Toward the end of our discussion, he asked me if I would consider working at the chamber, as they were looking for someone to restart their small-business efforts there. I remember thinking that I didn’t even know what a Chamber of Commerce was or did, though I’m proud to say my business was a chamber member at the time. Little did I know where that conversation would lead and that I would stray far from my brand-marketing career path to the most rewarding and challenging chapter of my working life to date.
What projects are next for NEXT? What are the most pressing needs?
Based on the priorities coming out of our Ecosystem Summit last year, NEXT is working on several strategic projects. First, we are currently developing greater virtual and physical incubation support for early-stage startups. Through a grant we were just awarded from the S.C. Department of Commerce and support from the local community, we’re looking to implement a virtual incubator online later this summer and a structured, entrepreneur training/incubation series in the fall. The other top priority requiring our attention is the need to market this area to targeted talent pools such as software programmers and to better aggregate the number of innovative companies here and their job/internship openings. We’ve been studying best practices for implementing such a marketing program and will be meeting with possible sponsors over the summer.
For more information, visit nextsc.org.