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Incubator finishes 2012 with added services, more companies

By James T. Hammond
Published Jan. 25, 2013

The USC/Columbia Technology Incubator ended 2012 with 39 resident start-up companies, an addition of about 19 companies during the year, and Executive Director William Kirkland said he has at least 10 more in the pipeline.

William KirklandOn the horizon is the creation of a $500,000 seed capital fund for incubator and affiliated technology companies, a feature that Kirkland (pictured, left) believes will make the incubator and the Columbia region more attractive to start-up companies.

“If there’s a perception that there are infrastructure investment dollars to catch them, you’ll see more interest in our area,” Kirkland said.

The Incubator Seed Capital Group would seek to respond quickly to an entrepreneur’s investment request. Plans call for the seed capital group to offer investments between $20,000 and $50,000. Part of the agreement would be advice, counsel, contacts and ideas offered to the entrepreneur as needed.

“I’m delighted that we have found sufficient interest to launch a seed fund here at the USC/ Columbia Technology Incubator,” said Don Tomlin, president of Tomlin & Co., and chairman of the board of the incubator.

“Early funding is so critical to startups and startups, if they are nurtured within a professional incubator, have a significantly enhanced chance of survival,” Tomlin said. “The seed capital funds have been privately raised and will be committed on an investment by investment basis to companies in the incubator or who are affiliated with it.”

“This is an important additional tool that Bill Kirkland and his team will use to nurture and grow companies here in the Midlands, continuing their decade-long track record of success in creating high impact how wage jobs,” Tomlin said.

The business incubator’s mission is to foster the early-stage growth of new companies that may flourish in this sheltered environment and eventually move out into their own quarters, grow and thrive in the Midlands, and create jobs.

The incubator operates on an annual budget of about $400,000, which Kirkland describes as a bargain for the services it provides.

Kirkland says that 2012 brought new strategies as well as new companies to the incubator, including stepping up recruitment of new companies, holding office hours at the University of South Carolina College of Engineering and Computing for people to pitch ideas, and working with Midlands Technical College on new initiatives.

Help for aspiring entrepreneurs

The incubator also hired Greg Hilton to head up the new Center for Entrepreneurial and Technological Innovation, or CETi, a USC Innovista-funded program to educate, connect, and accelerate companies into the market place by helping aspiring entrepreneurs turn their innovations into high growth ventures.

“CETi has increased excitement and engagement with the public,” Kirkland said. “And USC is more involved than a year ago. President Harris Pastides is really emphasizing entrepreneurship.”

“Being more integrated into the university helps the incubator recruit entrepreneurial students and faculty,” Kirkland said.

The incubator’s new operations and communications manager, Laura Corder has created an affiliate program for entrepreneurs and start-up companies that do not need to become residents at the incubator. For a low monthly fee, affiliates would have available business consulting services, invitations to events, and facility amenities.

“Ron Loewen (the former incubator director) used to say that an incubator is an empty swimming pool and the services are the water,” Kirkland said. “Over the last 12 months, we’ve been developing mentors and other services. We’re putting water in the swimming pool.”

The mentors available through the incubator can help young companies and managers clean up their financial books and develop real business strategies so that they are more attractive to potential investors.

"We have a CPA volunteering now with plans to expand our third party service providers to include attorneys and human resources experts in the near future." Kirkland said.

Start-up companies that take up residence at the incubator have a growing list of services available to them. One recent addition is an internet development cloud service available to software developers at the incubator. The cloud computing option offers early-stage companies a no-cost environment for server services, Kirkland said.

James T. Hammond can be reached at 803-401-1094, extension 201.