by Allison Walsh | Contributor
Craig Kinley made a name for himself in the telecommunications industry and then tried his hand at early retirement. It didn’t take him long to realize he wasn’t cut out for sitting still, so he returned to Anderson and put his talents to work for his hometown.
These days he is beating the Upstate bushes for entrepreneurial types who have a solid idea and are in need of support through the various stages of getting a new business off the ground. That’s the idea behind e-Merge @ the Garage, a business startup environment housed in a downtown Anderson parking facility.
As a prelude to e-Merge, Kinley opened Growler Haus, a purveyor of craft beers with locations in Anderson and Spartanburg. In addition to tapping kegs of sought-after brews, Growler Haus plays host to Grain Ideas, an informal think-tank session where local folks can pitch their business ideas and get feedback on next steps.
What are you currently working on that you are the most excited about?
We’re working to build the entrepreneurial ecosystem in downtown Anderson through programs we’ll be rolling out in 2015 and 2016. Cyber Saturday is a collaboration with IT-oLogy that exposes students to technology and technology careers. Through the LemonADE stand we’re working with Clemson’s bioengineering staff to take high school students through the process of designing a product or service and launching a startup. And the Startup Business Boot Camp at e-Merge @ the Garage is a 12-week program that will match entrepreneurs with scalable business concepts with local and regional entrepreneurial mentors.
Why did you choose to launch your businesses in Anderson?
For four or five years, I had to spend a lot of time driving down the interstate to Greenville to play with the cool kids. I looked at Anderson and saw it needed a freshness, a coolness. Growler Haus was created out of that as a proxy to teach myself as well as the community that you can do some neat things that are boutique, but they can be very much embraced if you hit the right market.
One of my mentors told me, “You can make an impact to the Upstate and the state, but you can make a greater impact in your hometown and then grow from there.” Because I’m from Anderson, I wanted to give back to the community and to the younger generation here. We want to embrace and keep those younger generations here so they don’t move to Silicon Valley or New York or Chicago.
Why is it important for Anderson, Greenville and Spartanburg to work together?
We absolutely need to work together. We want a specific identity of the Upstate. The more cohesiveness we get between Anderson, Greenville and Spartanburg and work together as a whole, the more we can embrace our synergies and move things forward to really become a metropolitan area.
Anderson has a lot of great small manufacturing facilities and a great learning environment with Tri-County Tech and what they’re doing with their industrial technologies program. Spartanburg has some pretty big catalysts in the professional world that have made it big, and they’re putting their money back into Spartanburg. It’s very a much a sleeping giant – it will look like Greenville in another five to 10 years. Greenville has been on track for about 15-20 years, since they built the Peace Center. Hayne Hipp has invested in Greenville with the Liberty Fellowship and the Liberty Bridge that has really revitalized the West End, and Greenville has become a world-class community that people come to visit, to live and to play.
I think when you put all those elements of Anderson, Greenville and Spartanburg together, with the corridor of I-85 being the transportation catalyst and Clemson University in our backyard, we’ve got a lot of great things we need to embrace together and see how we carry forward as a collective community.
What is the biggest topic of concern or excitement in your industry now?
The biggest challenge we have is building the talent pool we need in the ecosystem to advance what we’re trying to accomplish in the Upstate with the right skill sets and right culture to move South Carolina forward.
What keeps you up at night?
There’s not a whole lot that keeps me up at night, although people ask me if I ever sleep, and, yes, I sleep approximately six hours a night. What keeps me up at night is thinking about how we can build something our children and future leaders can take care of.
What was a game-changing moment in your career?
About 10 years ago I had a set of mentors in Chicago and across the Midwest in wireless telecommunications, and when sitting down with them I always asked, “If you had it to do over again, what would you do?” The answer was always that they would spend more time with their family. I asked one gentleman that question and he broke down and started crying and told me that his children were in prison and rehab. I was 37 at that time, and the clock stopped. I said I was going to do something I enjoyed and raise a family and enjoy my family down South.
Where do you see yourself in five or 10 years?
In five years I’d like to be an advocate for younger leadership in the community. In 10 years I hope we’ve built a foundation of entrepreneurial activity in the Anderson area that collaborates with people in the Upstate and across the state of South Carolina.
What do you still have to learn about your business?
That’s a daily task. I’m constantly wanting to absorb from other folks in the industry of entrepreneurship or economic development. Staying around smarter people, learning from their mistakes, and building a great entrepreneurial ecosystem in South Carolina.
Who do you rely on as a mentor?
That’s a hard question because I’ve got a slew of good mentors I’ve been working with in South Carolina. When I came back to South Carolina I really focused on working with Chris Przirembel, the gentleman who started CU-ICAR. I’ve been mentoring with him a couple years. Jerry Barber is my Liberty Fellowship mentor. Toby Stansell is a great accelerator guy in Greenville and the Upstate. Those are probably the three I go to on a regular basis, outside of some of my peers like Zach Eikenberry and Jason Premo.
What has been your best business decision?
My best business decision was to jump out of the wireless telecommunication corporate world – where I spent 20 years – and jump into small business by starting the Growler Haus in downtown Anderson. Growler Haus was a proxy for e-Merge @ the Garage, which is my Liberty Fellowship project. Transitioning from corporate to small business – to get outside my comfort zone and really embrace the local community – has been my biggest challenge in the last five years.
What inspired you to make that change?
The Liberty Fellowship. When you are engaged in this class you go through 18 months of leadership boot camp and philosophy, how to be a great leader, how not to be a bad leader. And when you graduate, that’s when the hard work really begins. Getting outside of that comfort zone and working with the mosaic Hayne Hipp and Jennie Johnson have built at Liberty Fellowship is really probably the biggest change in my life.
You’re involved in so much. How do you prioritize?
Family first, but everything outside of that I look at from a business perspective. If I spend my time and effort doing this, what am I going to yield for myself and the community? Return on investment, return on time. I’m not chasing money at the end of the day now, I’m chasing relationships. Relationships are a lot more important to me as a leader.
Who outside of your professional circle has the most influence on your work?
Francis “Bubba” Marchant. He’s my grandfather; he’s 95 years old this year. He ran Coca-Cola Bottling Company for 25 years in Anderson. He owned RC Cola in Greenville, sold it and moved to Anderson. He really helped me in early life, and I mentored with him at an early age. He introduced me to a guy named J.J. Mahoney, an early entrepreneur in Charleston. I see [my grandfather] a couple times a week; that’s the reason I moved back to Anderson, to spend time with my grandparents.
Describe a time when you were sure you were about to fail. Did it happen?
Failure is always a challenge for anyone. I think you have to learn to embrace failure and understand it’s okay to fail. The point in my career where I jumped off the corporate ladder and walked away from having a really cushy salary and job, jumping out to create my own brand, my own business, was really scary; it still is every single day. But as you embrace the community and the people that support you, it becomes something very magical.
What do you see as the Upstate’s most underutilized asset?
Our natural surroundings. We don’t really appreciate it as well as we should, but then when people come from other areas of the United States, they kind of enlighten us when they say, “You guys have a great place to live, work and play.”