If you’re among the 12% of our 500,000 annual site visitors … with Carolina plans that include taking action on your entrepreneurial aspirations, this article’s for you!
Grant Jackson, unveils the Carolinas business friendliness that includes genuine resources for those about to launch their ideas and products to local, regional and global markets. Just ask the 20 something’s piling into The IRONYARD career development centers in Charleston, Charlotte, Greenville, Columbia, Raleigh and Durham. Or quiz the 66-year-olds wondering what-in-the world they’re going to do, after a year of 7:05 AM tee times on Hilton Head Island, Brevard or Charlotte.
Follow the IQ talent and passion for business success. As demonstrated by the Carolina business starts chart below, you won’t be alone.
When Jennifer Maier and her husband moved to Lake Wylie, SC, they intended to retire. Eight years later Ms. Maier found herself named to Inc. magazine’s Impact 50, a list of the Top 50 Women Entrepreneurs in America.
Ms. Maier started WDS, short for Women’s Distribution Services, in 2007. And although the warehousing and distribution company is shuttering, during its eight years it saw phenomenal growth. At its peak, revenues were north of $200 million and the company had more than 200 employees at 22 locations in the U.S. and Canada.
Three other Carolina entrepreneurs, two from South Carolina and one from North Carolina, also were named in September 2015 to the Impact 50 list. Their success is a testament to the thriving entrepreneurial ecosystems spreading across the Carolinas.
The Carolinas not only are great for women entrepreneurs but also for Millennials. Thumbtack, an online marketplace that matches service providers with consumers, in a survey of 18,000 small business owners nationwide, found that Charleston, SC, and Durham, NC, ranked among the “Top 10 Cities for Millennial Entrepreneurs.”
State officials in both Carolinas say entrepreneurs can find a whole range of services and resources to either launch or grow a business.
“In terms of entrepreneurship, I think SC’s Innovation Nation is strong,” said Amy Love, who directs the Office of Innovation at the South Carolina Department of Commerce.
To jump start entrepreneurial programs in the metropolitan and rural areas, the S.C. Commerce Department launched the Innovation Challenge. Five million dollars, made available through the General Assembly, were given out in two rounds of Innovation Grants. The department solicited proposals for projects focused on fostering technology-based economic development, entrepreneurship and innovation in South Carolina communities through university collaboration, local government participation or public-private partnerships. What has resulted has been the growth of a network of “Innovation Centers” around the state.
“They were invested in the communities around the state and I’m seeing, after two years now, that was the right strategy,” Ms. Love said.
In North Carolina, which has long had an entrepreneurial culture, the North Carolina Small Business Technology Development Center helps lead efforts to connect entrepreneurs with resources. At 16 centers across the state, the agency provides in-depth counseling and services to about 6,500 business owners and entrepreneurs a year, said Scott Daugherty, state director.
North Carolina’s community college system has a small business center network with offices at each of its 58 campuses. Their primary role is to provide short courses and educational seminars to help people get better prepared to launch a business.
“So between the two of us we kind of complement the spectrum from those who are really thinking about it to those who are actually in business and growing,” Mr. Daugherty said.
Help for entrepreneurs is also available through Business Link North Carolina, which is a division of the Economic Development Partnership of NC and offers a central source for consultations, information and referrals. The EDPNC is a nonprofit corporation that oversees the state’s efforts in business and job recruitment and retention, international trade and tourism, film and sports development.
Each state has a broad array of resources available to entrepreneurs – from state agencies to community colleges, to universities, to regional economic developers, to local government agencies, to private entities such as chambers of commerce. When Tim Goldman, a young attorney, had an idea to develop a new water bottle system for cyclists, he turned to the University of South Carolina/Columbia Technology Incubator for guidance. “I knew I had to do it myself. I couldn’t afford help. I looked to the USC incubator.”
Connecting his company, Koala Bottle, with the incubator, gave him credibility and access to university expertise, Mr. Goldman said. His company was used as a case study for a marketing class project, and from that project he learned how to better and more efficiently market his product, he said.
Koala Bottle sells internationally, and has gotten assistance through the S.C. Department of Commerce‘s international division and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Columbia U.S. Export Assistance Center, which is located in the USC Moore School of Business.
Mr. Goldman launched his business in 2012, and the Millennial said he is getting close to making it his full-time career, with plans to move Koala Bottle from a cycling product to a lifestyle product.
For help in launching her business, Ms. Maier reached out to women’s organizations and organizations that support women in business. The Center for Women, which is based in Charleston, but has Columbia and Greenville organizations, is a great resource, she said. That led to other connections, such as the nonprofit Women’s Business Enterprise National Council and the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce.
Many of the resources available to entrepreneurs emanate from local communities. In North Carolina, Mr. Daugherty said, “I think the exciting thing is that in our larger cities other than the Triangle – the Triad Region, Charlotte, and communities like Asheville and Wilmington and Greenville – there are very refreshing locally grown entrepreneurial initiatives, some represented by co-working spaces. We are seeing more and more communities looking at creating that kind of space, essentially designed to help retain the talent that is thinking about starting up and making it comfortable and affordable to launch. It also makes it easier for places like ours to serve, because we know where to go looking for those folks, so they don’t have to come find us, we can go find them.”
Miss Jenny’s Pickles of Kernersville is one of those Triad success stories. Business Partners Ashelee Furr and Jenny Fulton were laid off from the financial services industry in late 2009 and early 2010. The two women decided to turn Ms. Fulton’s passion for pickles and her grandmother’s recipes into a “mompreneur,” their word.
Miss Jenny’s Pickles has become a huge success. The company’s gourmet pickles can be found in retail stores in 2,000 locations in the United States, as well as in Canada, the United Kingdom and China. The company was named the N.C. Exporter of the Year for 2015 by the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The two former stockbrokers had help along the way. “The very first place we went to was SCORE in Greensboro and pitched our idea,” Ms. Fulton said. The nonprofit counseling service for entrepreneurs and small business helped them with a business plan and other essential information for launching a business. SCORE also suggested they talk to some people who were in the food industry. “They made those introductions to us and I would say that was very crucial,” she said.
Counselors from the North Carolina Small Business Technology Development Center helped the company with an export strategy and facilitated the company’s first export sale to China.
ERD Ltd., Inc., in Kernersville, an entrepreneurial engineer-owned and operated commercial and industrial repair company formed in 1995 by Glenn Flaherty, “restarted” itself about five years ago. The company saw that its future lay in international markets. Tom Robinson, executive vice president for ERD, said the company “leaned heavily on state and federal resources” to help execute its new strategy.
The North Carolina SBTDC had been very helpful from the company’s beginning in 1995 with developing a business and marketing plan and helping obtain an SBA loan. For its restart, ERD went to SBTDC partner agencies, the North Carolina Economic Development Partnership and the U.S. Commercial Service, Mr. Robinson said. ERD now exports repair services to more than 65 countries and has more than 5,000 clients in the U.S.
The company has received awards for exporting excellence and now shares its expertise with other companies. Mr. Robinson serves on the North Carolina District Export Council and is a frequent guest speaker on global trade.
IMPORTANCE OF HOME
A sense of place, and particularly a place where entrepreneurs want to live, is becoming more and more important. Because of mobility fostered by technology, entrepreneurs often first ask, “Where do I want to live?” and then say, “That is where I will put my business.”
Brevard in Transylvania County in Western North Carolina is one of those towns attracting entrepreneurs.
What makes Brevard special for a certain type of entrepreneur is its small town feel and incredible amenities and activities, said Clark Lovelace, executive director of the Brevard/Transylvania Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Development Authority. The area blends a rural community and a walkable downtown with the beauty of Western North Carolina and a thriving arts and culture scene. “It’s rare that you find those two things in the same community,” Mr. Lovelace said.
That has brought two types of entrepreneurs to Brevard and Transylvania County.
One is the solopreneur. “Basically it is individuals who can pretty much live wherever they want. Whether it is working from their homes or from a small office, technology allows them to choose wherever they want to work. Once you take all of the other parameters off, it simply comes down to, ‘Where do you want to live?’ And we have a lot folks that chose this area,” Mr. Lovelace said.
And then there are those who basically want the area where they and their employees live to be a desirable location. They could probably produce their product in any number of markets. “And in that vein we get a lot of folks who choose us,” he said.
Mr. Katechis’ brewery in Colorado was the first craft brewer to put beer in a can. When the company decided to grow its East Coast operations the decision really came down to where Mr. Katechis, who is an avid mountain biker, wanted to spend time.
“OskarBlues is a different kind of company with a different kind of culture,” Mr. Lovelace said. “You’ll see on their steps as you walk up to their tap room it says, ‘Drink, Ride, Repeat.’ ’’ Katechis told him, “The most important thing is wherever this place is, I’m going to spend a lot of time there. I better be able to do some killer mountain biking while I’m there,” Mr. Lovelace said. “Literally that is what led him to build his brewery in Brevard.”
Dempsey, owner of SylanSport, the creator of the “GO” camping trailer, fell in love with the area while rock climbing when he was in college, and wanted to live there. “It took him awhile to end up here. He was in the kayak manufacturing business for awhile, but when he decided to create his own company, this is where he wanted to do it,” Mr. Lovelace said.
More and more that sense of place – Where do I want to live and I’ll put my business there -- has become important for entrepreneurs. “I think that is something that exists more now that it did years ago. People just have the ability to do it,” Mr. Lovelace said.
CONNECTING ACROSS NETWORKS
With all the array of resources available to entrepreneurs, connecting them to the right resource can be challenging.
North Carolina has tried several times to create a funnel for resources, but it has not worked very well, Mr. Daugherty said. “Our best hope is the people who work in our network and community colleges are very involved in their communities. They are highly visible. They’re not just hanging out in their offices.” They try to play catalytic roles in community-based entrepreneurial activities, he said.
In South Carolina, the Commerce Department’s Office of Innovation recently brought on a manager to build a real and virtual connectivity network for entrepreneurs. “The idea is to create connectivity both in and among the community, but also provide sort of a one-stop shop for the outsider coming in to see who, what, when and where, and see some of the success stories,” Ms. Love said.
The Carolinas can benefit a lot from each other in the entrepreneurial space, Ms. Love says. “There are a lot of assets in both states and people in the private sector who are very interested in that. That can be tough for governments, but investors and entrepreneurs are working very collaboratively. Entrepreneurs don’t see the borders that government sees.”
RESOURCES FOR ENTREPRENEURS
South Carolina Resources for Entrepreneurs
The South Carolina Department of Commerce promotes economic opportunity for individuals and businesses. The department provides a Business Resource Guide which you can find here .
Additional information can be found through the Office of Innovation, which aims to help make South Carolina a top state in the nation to start and build a high-growth business.
North Carolina Resources for Entrepreneurs
Business Link North Carolina, a service of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, is a collaboration of state-wide, state-funded business resource providers who offer services from business start-up to expanding your multi-national corporation. Link to all of the Business Link North Carolina resources.
Business Link, a service of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, provides access to an extensive network of experts who can help businesses succeed. BLNC business counselors are available to answer your questions during regular business hours by calling 800.228.8443.
U.S. Commercial Service Export Assistance Centers
The Commercial Service has a network of export and industry specialists located in more than 100 U.S. cities and over 80 countries worldwide. These trade professionals provide counseling and a variety of products and services to assist small and midsized U.S. businesses export their products and services.
District Export Councils
District Export Councils are organizations of business leaders from local communities, appointed by various U.S. Secretaries of Commerce, whose knowledge of and expertise in international business provides a source of professional advice for their region's local firms.
South Carolina | North Carolina
Global Opportunities Center
Planned for downtown Greensboro, the Global Opportunities Center will link resources from local colleges and universities, businesses, non-profits and government organizations to create new international opportunities for businesses.
S.C. Women's Business Center
The Center for the South Carolina Women’s Business Center program provides free, confidential one-on-one business coaching, training workshops and networking opportunities for women entrepreneurs at all levels.
Women's Business Enterprise National Council
The Women's Business Enterprise National Council is the largest third-party certifier of businesses owned, controlled, and operated by women in the United States. A national 501(c)(3) non-profit, partners with 14 Regional Partner Organizations to provide its world class standard of certification to women-owned businesses throughout the country.
Women's Presidents' Organization
Women’s Presidents’ Organization, Inc. is a nonprofit membership organization for women presidents of multimillion-dollar companies. Members take part in professionally facilitated peer advisory groups in order to bring the “genius out of the group” and accelerate the growth of their businesses.
Vistage brings together successful CEOs, executives and business owners into private peer advisory groups guided by expert executive coaches, known as Vistage Chairs.
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