Since 1983, the South Carolina Research Authority (SCRA) has worked to fund the Palmetto State’s most innovative start ups and to support innovative growth across the state.
“Our official mission is to fuel South Carolina’s innovation economy,” says SCRA’s executive director Bob Quinn. “We do so by accelerating technology-enabled growth in academia, entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship, and industry.”
The nonprofit organization “fuels” this innovation through four programs:
SC Academic Institutions
SCRA’s Academic Institutions program connects commercial entities with academic research projects. The organization can offer grants to help support new technologies and produce academic engagement within South Carolina industries.
Grants include developing prototypes for academic start ups and for supporting gaps in funding.
Sohail Malik, the director of the program, says they work to bring the inventions from researchers into the market.
“We are trying to strengthen our innovation ecosystem and knowledge-based economy, where people can get benefit from the university or academic institutions research directly,” says Malik.
Randy Cutts, director of SCRA’s Facilities, says this aspect of SCRA started due to university researchers not having some of the equipment necessary to take their work to the next level.
Facilities runs the nonprofit’s Innovation Centers that can be used by start ups and universities. These six centers located in Charleston, Summerville, Columbia and Anderson offer wet labs, collaboration space and a host of other needs and equipment for these companies.
“We make sure that they’re safe. We make sure that they’re secured. We make sure that they’re very well maintained,” Cutts says. The locations have 24-hour badge access, security cameras and backup generators.
SC Industry Solutions
Industry Solutions serves as SCRA’s matchmaker. Led by Cole Dudley, the program builds relationships with companies and researchers to build innovative solutions. It also works to bring in companies from outside of South Carolina to become South Carolina companies.
“We work with South Carolina industry or corporations,” says Industry Solutions program director Cole Dudley. “Basically, what we’re trying to find out is what are [the corporation’s] needs that we think could be solved through application of technology, and then we become a technology scout for them.”
They’ve been able to generate six to eight technology demonstration partnerships per year, according to Dudley. These companies have included Rolls Royce, Caterpillar, Bosch, Milliken & Company and Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System.
With South Carolina becoming a more attractive location, Dudley says, they’ve seen more inquiries to help bring companies into the Palmetto State.
“What we’re trying to do is bring a company here that we think has good growth potential so that it will continue to grow and hire more technology people in South Carolina,” he explains.
SC Launch (grants)
The final program of SCRA is SC Launch — not to be confused with SCRA’s start up investment program, SC Launch, Inc. That program, formed in 2006, came out of SCRA and SC Launch to provide seed investments — such as equity, loans and convertible loans — that then expect a financial return, according to SCRA’s website.
As the name implies, SC Launch helps early start ups with initial seed funding to get off the ground. They do this with a variety of grants.
“We’re also looking at ways to support those startups beyond the funding,” says program director Matt Bell.
They do that by providing mentorship with experts and other entrepreneurs that can help the start up grow.
The directors of SCRA say the organization is unique not only in the region but nationally.
“If you look at organizations of this type I’ve played at the national level, and you don’t see organizations of this type out there,” says Bell. “This is a special program. And I think it’s something that South Carolina should be really proud of going forward.”