Knight Foundation Grant

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Coastal Carolina University, in partnership with the City of Conway and Clemson University, is launching a technology incubator in downtown Conway. The Conway Innovation Center (CIC), to be located at 1119 Third Ave., will attract and assist in the development of local commercial enterprises. While activities are beginning in the center, the CIC is scheduled to formally open later in the fall of 2014.

The center will be administered by the 5thT Innovation Group, a nonprofit corporation formed by Coastal Carolina University, Horry Georgetown Technical College and the Conway community. “5thT” refers to the enterprises that have driven the Grand Strand region’s economy through its history: timber, turpentine, tobacco, tourism and, most recently, technology.

A $150,000 grant from the Waccamaw Community Foundation will support the project, thanks to the generosity of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Donor Advised Fund.

“The Knight Foundation’s commitment to innovative funding in partnership with local community foundations has allowed Waccamaw Community Foundation to invest heavily, alongside Coastal Carolina University and others,” says David Bishop, Waccamaw Community Foundation board chairman and interim executive director. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s focus is on informed and engaged communities through investment in attraction, retention and harnessing of talent, and the 5thT Innovation Group is working toward that goal. Additional support has come from Coastal Carolina University, and other supporting partners are being sought.

A critical component of the partnership is Clemson University’s Technology Villages program, which supports the formation and development of new technology companies in non-metropolitan areas. The technology village model is a hybrid program that combines real-time internet-based distance learning with hands-on consultation. The program has established successful downtown incubators in three other South Carolina communities (Bluffton, Hartsville and Rock Hill).

“Based on a fundamental tenet that non-urban locales have the same creative business abilities within the community as larger metropolitan areas, CIC will provide access to resources that are typically found in larger markets,” says Michael H. Roberts, president of 5thT and dean of CCU’s College of Science.

Conway is a good location for a storefront incubator for several reasons, according to Roberts. The city government has specifically identified business and technology innovation as a key element in its downtown strategy. The resources available through local higher education partners CCU and HGTC, as well as other community organizations, are integral to the project. Clemson’s technology village network will provide links to a range of services including business mentorship, product development, entrepreneurial assessment, seed financing and recruiting.

5thT officials anticipate that the CIC may generate up to 10 new businesses annually once it is established. Technology sectors represented by the incubated companies may include energy, Internet and web ware, life sciences, environmental sciences, water resources, defense and agriculture, according to Roberts.

“The Clemson technology villages program is a strong match for the City of Conway’s strategy because it explicitly supports entrepreneurship in nonmetropolitan areas and has a strong track record in bringing new sustainable businesses to South Carolina communities,” says Roberts. “Through its network of resources, the program has the capability to reduce the cost of technology company incubation by 50 percent. It is a proven platform for local economic development and the creation of high-value jobs.”

The 5thT Innovation Group consists of a governing board and an advisory board drawn from representatives of CCU, HGTC, the City of Conway and the broader community. In addition to Roberts, the 5thT officers are Kevin Shea, executive director, and Thomas Mullikin, secretary/treasurer. Other board members include Becky Boone, associate vice president for academic support at HGTC; Suliban Deaza, head of the Department of Engineering & Construction Technology at HGTC; James Vinson, president emeritus at the University of Evansville; Chet Hosmer, founder and chief scientist of Wetstone Technologies Inc.; and Barbara Ritter, interim dean of CCU’s Wall College of Business.  Additional board members will be added in the coming weeks to ensure a diverse and representative decision-making body.

For more information, contact Michael Roberts at 843-349-2282 or Kevin Shea at 843-902-8253.