Bluffton-Clemson business incubator board holds first meeting

astice@islandpacket.comNovember 16, 2011 

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A new board appointed by Bluffton Town Council to guide an incubator for start-up technology companies met for the first time Wednesday to chart the project, a partnership between the town and Clemson University.

The nonprofit board -- called the Bluffton Technology Corporation, Inc. -- will select the fledgeling companies with the goal of creating new jobs for the Bluffton region and new products for the rest of the world.

The seven members, which include Mayor Lisa Sulka as chairwoman, met at CareCore National's headquarters at Buckwalter Place.

In several months, entrepreneurs selected for the program will be housed at the CareCore building.

There, they will fine-tune their business plans and share ideas, likely fueled by cheap pizza and plenty of coffee, according to Clemson's Karl Kelly.

"I personally believe if we're going to change the economy in South Carolina, we need to do it one company at a time," said Kelly, a commercialization and technology incubation director at the university. "The entrepreneurial spirit that built our country is alive and well."

Clemson has been developing the "storefront incubator" model for five years and has spent nearly $1 million studying it.

The incubator represents a shift from traditional economic development, which focuses on recruiting existing companies instead of cultivating new ones, Kelly said.

The start-ups will have access to the university's resources, including research and professionals at the Regional Entrepreneurial Development Center in Columbia. Young companies stay between four and eight months before moving to their own offices as they grow.

Five non-metro areas have been selected to test the program over three years.

Bluffton is the first to announce the project, according to Mac Horton, director of the Clemson Institute for Economic and Community Development. The four other sites have yet to be announced.

The town has committed $50,000 over three years to pay for it.

It will also hire a consultant with a salary range of about $65,000 plus benefits. The board will help select the consultant, who will undergo an intensive four-day training at Clemson scheduled for January.

Despite that financial commitment, the town wants investors to begin funding the project, Sulka said.

"There are many thoughts that the governments needs no role in this... and the sooner we can get out of it, the better," Sulka said.

While taxpayer money is being spent, however, the town needs to keep an eye on it, councilman Mike Raymond said.

The board will soon begin selecting the companies by identifying risks and rewards in their business plans.

Board member Matt Green, a developer of Buckwalter Place, said he has already received more than a dozen inquiries from start-ups interested in being part of the project.

Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/BlufftonBlogIP.

Related content:

CareCore expands, partners with veteran aid program, Nov. 15, 2011

Local government officials stress regional approach to bringing jobs, Oct. 12, 2011

Bluffton sets up nonprofit to guide start-up incubator, Oct. 11, 2011

CareCore names current corporate strategies VP as chairman, Sep. 19, 2011

CareCore CEO Donald Ryan dies at 64, Sept. 19, 2011

Bluffton incubator to groom technology start-ups, Sept. 17, 2011

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