UCAN celebrates 10 years in the Upstate

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By Matt Dunbar, co-founder and managing director, VentureSouth; managing director, UCAN

When Ernest Shackleton set out to complete the first land crossing of Antarctica in 1914, he was well prepared for the challenges he expected to encounter in one of the most inhospitable places on earth. However, he didn’t expect his ship to get stuck in the ice and have to spend the next 15 months fighting an epic battle for survival, faced with a relentless sequence of obstacles that seemed impossible to overcome.

Miraculously, Shackleton not only managed to survive the incredible ordeal, but his leadership helped the entire crew of 27 survive along with him. The story is literally one for the ages, and it is chronicled in the gripping account by Alfred Lansing in his book titled after Shackleton’s appropriately named ship: “Endurance.”

The subtitle of the book is “Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage,” and I often think about that desperate journey as we work with entrepreneurs who are locked in epic battles for the survival of their ventures, willing their teams forward against tremendous challenges and unexpected obstacles, driven by a vision of creating something of enduring value.

I also think about their stories of endurance in relation to our own enterprise — the Upstate Carolina Angel Network — that brings those intrepid entrepreneurs together with local investors who provide capital and guidance for the journey. This month marks the 10th anniversary of UCAN’s first official meeting in April 2008, so we have learned a few lessons of our own about endurance over the last 10 years.

Of course, 2008 is most remembered for the financial crisis that gripped the world economy, but out of that turmoil, our fledgling startup has survived to help grow a more efficient and sustainable marketplace for early-stage capital in our region — our enduring vision. Since most startup companies never live to see their fifth birthday, much less their 10th, we’d like to take a moment to celebrate our milestone.

The best way to mark the occasion is to pay tribute to the investors, entrepreneurs, and partners whose support helped us reach our 10th birthday. While there is not enough space here to adequately thank them all, I do want to specifically say thank you to a few contributors without whom our startup would have long since been sunk.

First, our co-founders J.B. Holeman and Tim Reed. The two of them led the charge to bring together local investors to formalize an angel investment network. Their experience as angel investors and their broad connections in the community were vital for attracting a critical mass of investors to launch the group.

In addition to Tim Reed, Michael Cinquemani and Mike Smith have served as UCAN chairmen who have provided great leadership to guide the organization, along with help from other tremendous board members including Christopher Brotherton, David Ellison, Tom Govreau, Dan Haight, Tee Hooper, Sandy McLean, Jim Morton, Joe Swann, Sydney Taylor, Chuck Tutterow, Sharon Wilson, and Peter Waldschmidt.

UCAN has been privileged and honored to include more than 200 member investors over the last 10 years, individuals willing to risk their time and hard-earned capital to support our group and our portfolio companies. They have been the lifeblood of our group, and although I can’t thank them here by name, I am grateful for each one.

Paul Clark and Charlie Banks were crazy enough to quit their jobs in 2014 to join me on this journey as we began to scale up our startup from Greenville (UCAN) to now a dozen markets across the Carolinas (VentureSouth). Their partnership, vision, and tireless work have helped us build a more sustainable organization that can keep making an impact for the next decade to come.

The Greenville Chamber and NEXT, led by John Moore and Brenda Laakso, were critical players who helped marshal support and organize and fund initial interest meetings — and they have been stalwart partners as they continue to do great work developing the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Greenville.

The support of many sponsors has also been vital to UCAN’s growth, including the Clemson University College of Business, the Wyche Firm, Nelson Mullins, entrepreneurs law group, Wells Fargo, Palmetto Bank, RealOp, U.S. Trust, Elliott Davis, SC Launch & SCRA, and the S.C. Department of Commerce.

Last, but not least, I want to thank the entrepreneurs who have been willing to take on the greatest risk and the hardest task — starting and growing companies that are working to create value and jobs in our region. In the words of Nassim Taleb in his book “Antifragile”:

“Heroism and the respect it commands is a form of compensation by society for those who take risks for others. And entrepreneurship is a risky and heroic activity, necessary for the growth or even the mere survival of the economy. Most of you will fail, disrespected, impoverished, but we are grateful for the risks you are taking and the sacrifices you are making for the sake of the economic growth of the planet and pulling others out of poverty. You are at the source of our antifragility. Our nation thanks you.”

And I thank you as well. Your endurance has helped inspire our own.

Like the leaders of Greenville who set out decades ago to play the long game of making our city great, we aspire to look back and see that our first 10 years was just the beginning of helping entrepreneurs and investors “make money, have fun, and do good” here for decades to come.

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