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Peter Woodhull, Modus 21 CEO

For Modus 21's Woodhull, Tech Consulting Is About Solving Puzzles

The Charleston Digital Corridor's Leadership Profile series is focused on the individuals who are driving Charleston tech scene forward. This series is brought to you with support from Charleston Southern University.

Peter Woodhull is president and founder of Modus21, a 30-person business technology consulting firm in Charleston founded in 2004.

Where did you grow up? What was life like and your memories from there?

My parents moved a lot when I was a kid, up and down the East Coast. I was actually born south of the Mason-Dixon Line, in Richmond, Va., so officially I'm allowed to be here. But just because of various work things, we moved up and down the coast and settled in southern New Hampshire. I went to high school in New Hampshire.

There was lots of snow. Nobody shovels snow in New Hampshire. A guy comes and plows your driveway. Every year, sometime in late January or early February, the snowbank next to the house would be taller than the house. So you would climb the snowbank and step onto the roof of the house. Then you could do silly things like sled off the house, down the snowbank and across the driveway.

How did you come to be in Charleston?

I married someone who said, "I am moving to Charleston."

My wife's family runs a hospitality company here in downtown Charleston. She spent her summers and her holidays here. We met in college and lived in Chicago for a couple years after we graduated. It was inevitable that she was going to come down and work for her father's company. So one day she came home and said, "I am going to go take a job with Dad." That was in '99.

I came down and spent a couple years working for Blackbaud, and then was recruited to go work for a government contractor and spent a couple years working for a company called PDIT, which is now referred to as Modulant. I worked for them for a couple of years and then decided to start my own firm. I started Modus21 in 2004.

What drew you to your current business, or inspired you to start it?

At Modulant, we built technology for a government customer that you could loosely equate to a contemporary business process management suite, a BPM suite. Which is pretty common today, but in 2001, 2002, that thing did not exist. A small team of us had literally built one from the ground up because we had a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force who said, "These are my requirements." He didn't know what he wanted, but we built it, and it turned out to be this business process management suite.

Modulant didn't want to continue to support it and maintain it, so I said, "OK, I think this is really cool. I am going to go out and start a company and we are going to work in this emerging space."

I stepped out and started the organization, partnered with a couple of then-emerging BPM products, and have spent the past 12 years working in that space and venturing into service-oriented architecture, business intelligence, data analytics, software development – the core capabilities of a technology consulting firm.

What was your first job, or most memorable early job? What did you learn from it?

My father ran paint companies. When I was 14, I started working at the paint factory. The thing I really took away from that was I really don't want to work in a factory for the rest of my life. Now it's good, noble, honorable work – don't get me wrong. But it was hot in the summer, it was cold in the winter, it was dirty, and literally it was that stamping-out-widgets thing. You were evaluated based on how many gallons of paint did you made, or how many gallons of paint did you filled and boxed that day.

It instilled in me the thought that, alright, there has to be a better way. That was what drove me in going through college and into masters programs and ultimately into starting a company.

Did you have an entrepreneurial drive early on, or did you acquire it through experiences?

I've always been the kind of person who takes stuff apart and puts it back together, and I like to do puzzles. It's just intellectually stimulating. I find a problem and I will inherently try to come to a solution for it.

I would argue that's really what has driven my entrepreneurial bent, if you will. I have never really started a business just because I wanted to start a business. It has always been: I'm interested in this and I need to solve this problem. Well, we have to start a business to make that happen.

In your own words, what does your company do?

We are a technology consulting firm that does business process management, SOA, business intelligence, data analytics, software development. Mostly for the government, but also for some Fortune 500 firms. All of that stuff, when I boil it all down – what we do is solve problems that customers have tried to solve in the past, but not very successfully.

We have been able to do that time and time again because we decompose a problem into its constituent piece parts and then build a solution comprised of people, process and tools. Most organizations, unfortunately, have a tendency to focus on the tooling side of it. Tools are just enablers, so if you don't get the people to do the right things, then you are wasting time and money.

For me, and for my staff, it's almost always a function of there is a problem, and we have to decompose this problem and come up with an elegant solution. That's why I find the job intriguing. It's like solving a puzzle.

How would you describe your organization's culture?

I would describe it as pretty professional. We don't have a foosball table. We don't have a Ping-Pong table. My people come to work because they want to solve problems, and then they want to get their jobs done, and then they want to go home and do whatever else they are doing, whether that's being a parent, or philanthropy, or academic study, or whatever. I try to emphasize that we are all there to get a job done, and then I want people to go off and do whatever else makes them complete as an individual.

We are pretty professional around the office. Business casual. I am the only one who wears a bow tie.

What is your management style? Why is that your approach?

I like to give people challenges and see them rise to the occasion. I provide mentoring and counseling to people, but I am not an active, hands-on manager. I will sit down with someone and say, "Here's a problem," or, "Here's something that needs to get done. Are you interested in taking this on?" And then I will ask, "How do you think you could do this?" or, "How do you think you need to approach this problem?" What I like to do is come back and check on that on a regular and consistent basis, but not every day.

I have worked for people who were concrete task managers, where they wanted to see a work-breakdown structure and they want to know what is the status of line three and what is the status of line four. That is arduous and time-consuming. I have also worked for really laissez-faire managers who have said, "You know, somebody needs to do this," and then they just wait for it to happen. Or if it doesn't happen, then they get all upset and complain bitterly to the team.

For the most part, the people who work with us are self-driven and motivated individuals. They like a little bit of guidance, but they also like the ability to kind of bounce back and forth between bumpers, if you will, and come to the right conclusion.

What lessons have you learned from good bosses? Bad bosses?

From good bosses, I think it really comes down to respect and treating your people well, like you'd like to be treated. I am a big proponent of that. I try to treat Modus21's resources like they are adults. They are intelligent human beings. They may stumble every once in a while, but everybody does. As long as you learn from it, that's fine.

From some bad bosses, I've learned the opposite of that. I also have realized that I cannot and will not work for people who I don't trust or don't respect. That also goes to clients, by the way. Working for good or bad bosses also correlates to good or bad clients. Life is too short and business is too difficult to work with or for people you don't respect or like. It's just not worth it.

What's the hardest or most important lesson you've learned in business?

I should probably get a placard made and hang it on the wall in my office that says, "Everything costs twice as much as it should and takes three times as long as it should." What business has taught me is you can sit down and decompose a problem and come up with a solution pretty readily. It's the implementation of that solution where you always run into the hurdles. It's the minutiae and the details of that implementation that always impact the cost and the schedule for execution.

Early in my career, I was always so frustrated by, "Why is this taking so long? This shouldn't take so long. It's easy. You do this, you do this, you do this, and you do this." It has taken me a while to get my head wrapped around the fact that, yes, if it was just me operating in a vacuum, you could do those four things and it would take you 37 and ½ minutes, no problem. But you try to do those things in the real world, where you've got other people, you've got decision criteria, you've got budgeting, you've got other projects that are being implemented – all that stuff adds up, and all of a sudden you have a six-month effort.

It's kind of contrary to my entrepreneurial spirit, because I constantly go back to, "This should be simple."

What's the biggest misconception about being an entrepreneur?

People will say, "It must be great to be your own boss, or to have a company." I will respond, "Yes, until you realize that I am responsible for paying 30 mortgages. I am sending kids to school, to college, that aren't my kids. I am paying for graduate programs for people that aren't me."

If you think of it that way, it really gets to become daunting. But at the end of the day, you kind of have to. You have to accept that there is some sort of responsibility there. So I would say that being an entrepreneur is great. It can be a lot of fun. But as you grow in scale, it comes with some obligations and responsibilities, and you have to take those things seriously.

Do you have a routine that's important to your day? A morning ritual, meditation, etc.?

There are some things that I do on a fairly consistent basis, but I wouldn't say that it's routine on a daily basis. For example, every morning I will get up, and I make coffee, and I drink my coffee. The kids will get up, all in a flurry, and the kids go off to school. And then either I will walk the dog, or my wife and I will walk the dog.

Invariably that 20 minutes together in the morning walking the dog is very cathartic. If it's just me and the dog, that's great. I don't take my phone. It's just me and the dog walking around the neighborhood. It takes about 22 minutes to do it. I can plan my day. I can think about things that my brain has digested overnight. I can try to solve problems, whether they be business or personal. And if I'm with my wife, then we will talk about planning for the weekend or the next week or whatever, and we will also talk through whatever is going on.

That probably is the best example. It's certainly not meditation, but I get back to the house and I have a game plan for what is going on for the next 24 hours.

What obstacles have you faced building your business? How have you overcome them?

One of the biggest obstacles we've had is that we are a small consulting firm out of Charleston, S.C. Simply the fact that we are based in Charleston, S.C., is something I have had to deal with. I spend a lot of time in an airplane going to see people. There was a time not too long ago where you couldn't fly in and out of Charleston for under $700. Now, I can fly back and forth to D.C. and it's $136 each way. That's reasonable.

The other part of it is having to convince people that we're a small firm out of Charleston – but that doesn't mean anything. We are all professionals. We are intelligent. We are highly skilled. We've got great capabilities.

Now, we can say we have worked around the world for multiple Fortune 500 companies, some of the largest defense agencies in the world. We've got the capability to do this. But I will say that back in the day, I really had to sell the fact that we may be from Charleston, but we are still capable.

What do you look for in the people you hire?

I like to hire smart people. Generally speaking, skills are things you can give people. What I have found to be really telling is, is this a smart individual? And more importantly, is this individual willing to work?

That has been one of the hardest things to determine. When you sit down and do an hour-long discussion or a half-hour interview with a person, how do you really determine what that person's work ethic is? It's really hard to get to that.

I explain this to my kids all the time. I say, "You can be the smartest person in the world. But if you're not willing to work, you are of no practical use to anybody."

What is your biggest pet peeve in business or amongst colleagues?

I really don't like working with people who treat others poorly.

What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs?

They are going to get this from everybody, or at least they should. Fail fast. Absolutely. When you start, nobody knows what they are doing. The successful people are the people who are willing to fail, brush themselves off and then start running again. The best thing that you can do is just know that going in.

What advice would you give new graduates seeking to work in the tech industry?

I would encourage people entering the workforce to consider that we are still in an age where corporate entities are kind of a requirement. Not everybody can be a freelance developer or an independent consultant.

What people need to understand is that the organization has needs, too. Young people entering the workforce need to understand that the organization exists to provide value to its stakeholders – that's both internal and external. But external customers, they reciprocate to the organization by virtue of money, payment. The internal stakeholders, the employees, need to remember that they are responsible for the care and feeding of the organization.

While they give their time and their skills and their talents to the organization to provide value to the external customer, they also have to remember that the organization needs nurturing. All of that is to say that they shouldn't look at it as, "What can the organization do for me?" They need to say, "How do I help the organization achieve its goals? Which, in turn, helps the organization do good things for me." It really needs to be a symbiotic relationship.

What do you see as the future of your company?

My goal is to grow the organization organically and slowly over time. I have been doing this for 12 years, and I'm in my mid 40s now. What I don't think I want to do is try to run a 500-person organization. I want to grow the organization over a period of time and get it to a reasonable size, and then we'll figure out what to do with it.

But right now, I am having fun continuing to run this little organization out of Charleston, S.C., expanding the client base, doing work for law firms, insurance companies, accounting firms, manufacturing firms, and then doing a lot of defense work. You get to solve some really interesting problems. And I am going to try to do that for as long as I can, or at least as long as I continue to be interested.

Are you a Mac or a PC? iPhone or Android?

I'm an Android. I have my little Samsung right here. I use it and my PC computer. But I'm a closet Luddite. If it were up to me, I would still be using a mainframe. Which is funny, because you can't really do distributed computing on a mainframe. But I am always one of the late adopters of technology.

What is your usual Starbucks order?

Grande Pike Place, black.

Outside of work what keeps you busy?

I'm married. I have two kids. So outside of work, I spend as much time as possible with the family. We travel a fair bit. Both of my kids are year-round swimmers, so I spent this past weekend in Rock Hill at a swim meet.

What has it been like building your technical team in Charleston?

It's gotten significantly easier over the last couple of years, I will say that. There are now a fair number of masters in computer science floating around who have gotten their graduate degrees from The Citadel and the College of Charleston. Back when I started Modus21, that wasn't the case. The program at that point was still relatively new and they just hadn't built up a corpus of people who had been through it. But now you can find them.

I will also say that the expansion of the tech sector in Charleston has made younger professionals pretty readily available. So, it's gotten significantly better than it was 10 to 12 years ago. That being said, I still believe that there's probably not enough people floating around that really know what they're doing.

What are your thoughts on how Charleston's technical landscape has grown?

When I started Modus21, other than the technology firms that support exclusively SPAWAR and the Navy, really the only two tech firms in Charleston that anybody knew were Blackbaud and Benefitfocus. Now, thanks to the Charleston Digital Corridor's work, there are dozens and dozens of tech firms in Charleston.

It's not just the academic side of it. It's also the fact that there are people who say, "Well, I can do that." Another component of that is there was no funding here 10 or 12 years ago. So the fact that there's actually opportunity to find capital or angel investment has helped a lot as well.

Ultimately, the community has just had to take a while to grow. There's a question of whether we are at a critical mass or not. I don't know the answer to that. But I think if we're not, we're getting pretty close.

If you go to other places in the country, I don't think people think of Charleston as a hotbed of technology. But if you survey the landscape, you pretty quickly realize that we have some really talented people and some organizations that do some really cool things. The nice thing is the technology has evolved to the point where you can pretty much do those things anywhere. The fact that everybody is aggregating in Charleston to do it – it has established a really cool dynamic environment.

What do you see as some of the challenges recruiting tech talent to Charleston?

The biggest challenge is not stealing a good person from somebody else. As a business owner, when I have a demand, I want to fill that demand as quickly as possible. But as an invested participant in the community, filling my demand shouldn't cause angst or concern somewhere else. And often I find literally that's what happens.

It's also backward for the economics of the environment. Because the other thing you don't like to see is people just job-hopping from firm to firm to firm and getting a little raise each time, and then ultimately putting themselves in a position where they are economically backward, and it gets hard to deal with that situation.

The community needs to be cognizant of the fact that we all have a responsibility to each other, as much as anything else. What we should collectively be trying to do is bring an influx of fresh, new talent into the community and not try to solve short-term problems by picking people who are willing to jump from firm to firm.

South Carolina Commerce Plans Marketing Push To Grow Tech Sector

Charleston's technology sector has quietly grown larger than one of the region's largest and most prominent employers, Boeing Co. In the Upstate, tech workers outnumber BMW's headcount.

But in both cities, the big-name manufacturers get more attention. And both were attracted here with big incentive packages from the state government. Read More:

ENGAGE Talent Surpasses 100 Customer Milestone and Appoints Industry Pioneers to Its Board

ENGAGE Talent, a leading provider of predictive recruiting solutions, today announced that more than 100 organizations have selected the ENGAGE platform. Appropriately named, ENGAGE provides everything a recruiter needs to make their passive candidate outreach efforts more impactful – including knowing when it is time to engage.

In the nine months since its launch, ENGAGE has rapidly built its customer base across multiple industries, including healthcare, financial services, executive search, manufacturing and professional services, by delivering the industry's only data source that provides both candidate and company intelligence along with predictive insights.

Organizations such as, Roper St. Francis Healthcare, Allen Austin, Colonial Life, Premier, Inc. and more have utilized ENGAGE's valuable data and analytics to grow their teams.

"The momentum we are seeing with customers across all industries proves that today's modern enterprises are increasingly relying on data and predictive analytics to drive smarter candidate engagement and recruiting practices," said Joseph Hanna, Founder and CEO of ENGAGE Talent.

In addition to reaching this significant milestone, ENGAGE continues the momentum by electing two industry veterans to join the organization's Board of Directors, Robert Habig and Mark Hamdan.

Hamdan is one of the pioneers of the cloud talent solutions industry. He founded HRsmart in 1999 and led the company to become a multi-national cloud provider of talent management technology. HRsmart had serviced thousands of enterprise clients in over 30 countries by the time it was acquired by Deltek in February 2015.

Habig formerly served executive tenures at both Fortune 50 companies, such as PepsiCo, AlliedSignal and Honeywell, and early-stage technology companies, including Levante and Avistar. He most recently served as CFO to an emerging big data analytics company, Alpine Data Labs.

"I am honored and excited to join ENGAGE's innovative team, that is breaking ground in a new product category altogether," said Hamdan, "I've been in this space for decades, and ENGAGE's capabilities and offering are leading the industry to a higher level of sophistication."

"We are delighted to welcome both Bob and Mark as Directors," said Hanna. "Guided by their expertise, the sky is the limit. We will have many more milestones to celebrate this year."

Charleston's Growing Tech Sector Focus of Purdue Workshop

A handful of civic leaders and economic development-types will travel to Charleston next month and ask a simple question: What happened here? They'll look at the Lowcountry's technology sector and how it became the region's fastest-growing industry, after being little more than an idea 15 years ago. They'll talk about how a handful of companies at the start of the century sprouted into a few hundred. Read more HERE.

Managing the Departure of Sensitive Employees

Few events are more disruptive to a business than the departure of a key employee. In the digital age, such departures are more dangerous than ever, as survey after survey shows that departing employees regularly take the company's digital information with them. In fact, the Ponemon Institute, an information security think tank, recently found that 50 percent of surveyed employees admitted to taking company information with them when their employment terminated and 40 percent admitted that they intended to use that information in their new job. Properly handling the departure of employees with access to sensitive intellectual property and other information requires careful planning before the event and quick action when the departure is announced. Below are a few of the critical steps employers should take before, during, and after a sensitive departure.

Before the Departure

  • Protect intellectual property with strong, enforceable agreements. Perhaps the most critical component of a robust program for protecting a company's intellectual property is a strong, enforceable agreement signed by each employee with access to the company's intellectual property. Such an agreement should include:
    • Broad (but not overbroad) confidentiality provisions. The agreement should have a confidentiality provision tailored to capture all of the information that the company legitimately attempts to keep confidential. Because South Carolina law is skeptical of overbroad confidentiality provisions–-sometimes construing them as de facto unenforceable non-competes–-the agreement should minimize boilerplate language concerning types of information that the company either does not maintain or does not actually keep confidential. In addition, the agreement should contain an express disclaimer stating that general skills and knowledge gained through the employee's employment are not considered confidential under the agreement.
    • The Defend Trade Secrets Act disclaimer. In light of the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA), every confidentiality agreement should now contain a clear disclaimer stating that the employee will not be held liable for disclosing confidential information (1) in confidence to a government official, either directly or indirectly, or to an attorney, solely for the purpose of reporting or investigating a suspected violation of law; or (2) in a filing that is made under seal in a lawsuit or other proceeding. Without this disclaimer, an employer cannot recover exemplary damages or attorneys' fees in a subsequent lawsuit under the DTSA.
    • Non-compete and customer non-solicitation provisions as needed. If the employee could cause significant damage to the business by competing and/or soliciting customers, consider non-compete and customer non-solicit provisions. Again, South Carolina courts look disfavorably on these provisions, so carefully confine them to the company's legitimate business interests. Non-competes must contain reasonable geographic and temporal limitations, and the employee should only be prohibited from engaging in truly competitive work (not merely working for a competitive enterprise in a non-competitive division or position). Note that South Carolina courts will not reform an overbroad non-compete; the most they will do is strike an unenforceable term, and even that is not assured. Thus, companies should take special care in selecting a geographic restriction that actually comports with the employee's scope of work and potential harm. Likewise, customer non-solicits should only apply to customers with whom the employee personally worked. As opposed to customer non-solicits, the enforceability of agreements prohibiting the solicitation of other employees is unclear in South Carolina; thus, any such agreement should also be limited in time and limited in scope to current employees.
    • Work made for hire and intellectual property assignments. If there is any possibility of the employee having involvement in the creation of work that is copyrightable or patentable, then work-made-for-hire and intellectual property assignment provisions should be part of the agreement. These provisions should broadly assign intellectual property rights in work created by the employee related to the company's business. While there are no South Carolina decisions on the potential overbreadth of such assignments, North Carolina has a statute expressly precluding employers from taking assignment of inventions developed entirely on the employee's own time and without the employer's equipment unless the invention (1) relates to the employer's business or actual or demonstrably anticipated research or development, or (2) results from any work performed by the employee for the employer. Because South Carolina courts tend to look disfavorably on overbroad provisions in employment agreements and often look to North Carolina for guidance on undeveloped legal issues, it would be prudent to incorporate these kinds of limitations in a South Carolina intellectual property assignment.
    • BYOD provisions. If employees are permitted to use their own devices for work purposes, and particularly if any of those devices will be provided access to a company e-mail or exchange server, it is important to include provisions giving the company access to any such devices for purposes of ensuring that company information is permanently deleted if the employee departs.
    • A clear severability provision. Because South Carolina courts will not reform an overbroad agreement, it is critical that employee agreements contain clear severability provisions permitting the court to strike any portion of the agreement (including individual works, phrases, and sentences) that it deems unenforceable.
  • Protect company IT systems with clear policies, consistent enforcement, and proper security measures.
    • Limit employees' access to information needed to perform their job duties. To the extent practicable, use security settings or password protections that prevent employees from accessing company information that they do not regularly need to perform their job duties. Even with clear security policies, employees often assume that they are entitled to access any information that the company's security settings allow them to access. Preventing that access from an IT angle substantially reduces the risk of data theft and provides the employer a clearer case of misappropriation if the employee overrides or circumvents the security settings to access information.
    • Have clear IT policies against improperly accessing, using, copying, or disseminating company information. It is important for companies to have clear policies prohibiting employees from accessing any company information that is not needed to perform their job duties. Likewise, these policies should clearly prohibit using, copying, or disseminating company information for any purpose other than to perform the employee's job duties. In addition, the policies should prohibit copying or sending company information to unsecure or unapproved devices, such as e-mailing company information to a personal e-mail account or copying it onto a personal flash drive. To ensure that employees are aware of these policies, they should be physically or electronically signed by each employee. These policies are important both in terms of preventing theft and because the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) may give employers a powerful remedy in the event that an employee exceeds his or her authorized access.
    • Be realistic in IT policies, and enforce those policies consistently. Often, companies have IT policies written more broadly that the company ever intends to enforce. This includes policies that purport to prohibit all personal use of company computers, which are often not enforced. The better course is to write realistic policies that the company will enforce, such as policies that prohibit excessive personal use and focus on improperly accessing, using, copying, or disseminating company information. Such policies should be consistently enforced, including through IT audits of employees' use of the IT system.
  • Maintain the secrecy of confidential information and trade secrets. The Achilles' heel of many trade secret claims is the company's own failure to take reasonable steps to maintain the secrecy of the claimed trade secret. To avoid this defense, companies should rigorously employ the security measures listed above, and, depending on the employer's business and the nature of the trade secret, should perhaps impose additional protections, such as limiting premises access, security badges for sensitive areas, etc. In addition, trade secrets should be clearly identified and marked confidential, even in internal communications. Anything the company can do to clearly communicate to employees that the information is confidential will be helpful in subsequent litigation.

When the Departure Is Announced

The company should have a written protocol for handling the departure of key employees so that HR managers and others have a clear plan to execute when a departure is announced, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel each time. The primary goal of such a protocol is to lock down the company's IT systems and prevent, to the extent possible, the employee leaving with any confidential company information. This protocol should include:

  • Conduct exit interviews and obtain information from the departing employee. Exit interviews, when properly conducted and documented, can greatly assist in determining the level of risk posed by the departure. The company should obtain as much information as the departing employee will give on his or her plans, including the name of the new employer and the employee's role at that company. This will serve as starting place for evaluating the danger that the employee's departure poses to the company's business.
  • Carefully evaluate any offer to work through a notice period. The employee may, as a professional courtesy, offer to work through a notice period. Before accepting such an offer from an employee with access to sensitive information, be sure that it is in the company's best interest to have the employee continue to work. Often, in the interests of minimizing the risk of information loss, it is preferable to decline the offer and end the employment relationship upon the employee's announcement.
  • Terminate the employee's access to IT systems. Unless the employer agrees to the employee working for some period of time after the announcement, the employee's access to all IT systems should be terminated immediately. Be sure the IT department maintains a list of all IT systems and subscriptions to which each employee has access so that they can all be terminated at the same time.
  • Delete the information contained on BYOD devices. Assuming the employee signed a strong, clear BYOD agreement, have the employee provide all devices that contain company data to the IT department so that all company information can be removed. Do this quickly to minimize the inconvenience and reduce the risk of litigation. If the employee did not have all such devices with him at the time of the announcement, send the employee a formal letter demanding that any devices containing company information be provided to the company for review and potential deletion within a short timeframe.
  • Demand the return of confidential information and remind the employee of his or her obligations. Upon announcement, send or give the employee a formal letter demanding the return of all confidential information within a short timeframe. This letter should also remind the employee of his or her contractual obligations to the company–-such as confidentiality, invention assignment, non-compete, etc.–-and provide the employee a signed copy of the agreement reflecting those obligations. The goal of this communication is to avoid any claim that the employee was unaware of his or her obligations.

After the Departure

Once the company has taken the initial steps to mitigate the risk of the employee leaving with confidential information, the company's focus should turn to evaluating whether the employee violated any obligations to the company and taking steps to remedy any such violations. The key tasks as this point include:

  • Formally advise the new employer of all relevant obligations. It is difficult to hold a new employer liable for any violations of the employee's obligations if the employer can plausibly argue that it was unaware of those obligations. Therefore, in any case where there is risk of the employee causing damage, one of the first steps after locking down the company's IT system should be formally advising the new employer of the employee's obligations to the company. This communication should be sent to the new employer's registered agent by certified mail so that there is a record that the communication was received. The content of this letter will vary somewhat depending on circumstances but should contain enough information to clearly put the new employer on notice of the employee's obligations and demand that the employer not participate in any breach of those obligations. At the same time, communications should be carefully worded so as not to defame the departing employee.
  • Audit the employee's use of the IT systems to determine the risk of misappropriation. If there is any reason to suspect than the departed employee may have misappropriate anything, have the IT department audit the employee's use of the IT systems in the weeks or months leading up to the departure. Often, it can be determined whether the employee copied data to flash drives or e-mailed substantial data to a personal or other third party account.
  • Preserve evidence until any issues are resolved. Once a company is on notice of an issue that may be litigated, the company has an obligation to preserve any potentially relevant evidence. Thus, when a key employee leaves, the best practice is to preserve all evidence related to that employee until any issues are resolved or the company determines that there are no issues related to the departure.
  • Begin negotiating / litigating any breaches of obligations. Finally, if it appears that the employee has breached any obligations to the company, work with counsel as quickly as possible on the appropriate next steps. If the company needs to seek injunctive relief, one of the key issues the court will consider is whether the company faces a risk of irreparable harm, and, in determining that issues, courts regard any on the part of the company as evidence that irreparable harm is unlikely. It is therefore important to move as fast as possible once it appears that an obligation has been breached.

Conclusion As digital information continues to proliferate, it is likely that departing employees will continue to be a primary source of risk to a company's intellectual property and confidential information. With rigorous preparation and planning, however, companies can significantly reduce the risk that a key employee walks out the door with sensitive information and gets away with it.

Beaufort Announces BASEcamp Business Incubator In Effort To Grow Lowcountry Tech Economy

The Beaufort Digital Corridor formally opens its doors to the BASEcamp business incubator on January 12, 2017. This recently renovated facility, located at 500 Carteret Street in downtown Beaufort has been developed to help early-stage technology and knowledge-based companies take flight. The ribbon cutting is set for January 12th from 5:30-7:30 pm.

"The Beaufort Digital Corridor is the right idea at the right time and certainly the right place," said Beaufort City Councilman Stephen Murray, the driving force with setting up the new project. "Our Lowcountry lifestyle, our outdoor environment, our history and our determination all make us a perfect location for tech start-ups.

"With high speed Internet and all the ways to communicate that didn't exist 20 years ago, it's not necessary for most technology firms to be located in Atlanta, New York or other big cities. They can enjoy the Beaufort lifestyle and still get the job done," Murray said.

The Beaufort Digital Corridor follows the lead of the Charleston Digital Corridor, which in 15 years has seen its tech economy grow from 18 companies in 2001 to 375+ companies at the end of 2016. With an average wage of $88,066, pay at tech companies in Charleston is almost twice the regional and state wages.

"We think there is absolutely a need for this type of incubator, not only to help new Lowcountry tech firms and people operating out of their homes get a good start, but also as a way to attract start-ups from other areas of country where it might be below freezing this time of year," Beaufort City Manager Bill Prokop said.

"New businesses often need support and guidance to survive and thrive, and that's what the Beaufort Digital Corridor team will provide," he said. "Their work in Charleston has been tremendously successful."

The Beaufort Digital Corridor recently hired Karen Warner as Program Manager . Learn more about the Beaufort Digital Corridor HERE

2016 Best Performing Cities

Charleston-North Charleston, SC, inches up one spot to 16th. From 2010 to 2015, its high-tech economy grew 20 percent faster than the nation overall, resulting in a regional high-tech concentration roughly equal to the national average in 2015. The metro performed strongly on the one- and fiveyear job and wage measures, ranking in the top quarter of cities in all five job and wage indicators. 

With major auto manufacturers and aerospace firms located in the region, the Charleston-North Charleston metro added 3,700 jobs in the transportation equipment manufacturing category from 2010 to 2015. Firms are continuing to invest in the region. In 2015, Daimler announced its plan to build a $500 million plant in North Charleston that will manufacture Mercedes-Benz vans and add 1,360 jobs. The availability of training for the local workforce, proximity to the Port of Charleston, and financial incentives were cited as reasons for selecting the site.70 BMW announced that its exports from the Port of Charleston were valued at $9.8 billion in 2015.71 The completion of the Panama Canal expansion is expected to drive up movement through the Port of Charleston. 

Home to the Charleston Digital Corridor, the Charleston-North Charleston metro has seen 2,300 jobs added in the professional, scientific, and technical services sector over the past five years. Startup firms like BiblioBoard, a digital publishing platform that helps libraries improve the quality and scope of patrons' online experience,72 have expanded significantly in recent years. 

Public-sector employment has also increased in the metro, with local government adding 700 jobs in 2015. The number of federal employees has increased by 7 percent over the past five years, ranking seventh in the nation for the number of new jobs added. 

Read the full story HERE.

Upcoming Events

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AWS Athena and IoT

Join us for an awesome presentation on IoT and Amazon Web Services new product, Athena! Sure to be a HOT topic and a super speaker, Jason Losh- VP Cloud Transformation @ Blue Sentry.

Jason has nearly 20 years of experience in the software business. He started his career in the QA division at SAS Institute writing test automation software. He then transitioned to the engineering organization where he wrote installation aawsnd configuration programs for the SAS product line. Jason started working with the AWS platform in 2007 building proof of concept SAS servers in EC2. In 2014 he moved to the SAS Customer Intelligence division and was responsible for migrating one of the largest product lines at the company to AWS while establishing a DevOps culture.  Learn more and RSVP HERE.

AWS Learning Day

Cloud migration and managed services experts Blue Sentry, in association with Alert Logic and Amazon Web Services, is pleased to offer this Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud computing learning day – for those new to, or interested in, the benefits of the cloud. Meet AWS experts and learn how AWS can help your business. Choose from four sessions or, the entire day!

In addition, companies may remain after the sessions and receive a complimentary one-on-one needs assessment regarding their desired cloud migration journey.

For full session descriptions and RSVP please visit this page.

BIZcamp

BIZcamp is day-long event developed in collaboration with Digital Corridor companies and Charleston's professional community to increase the success of tech companies in Charleston by providing practical and actionable business intelligence in a workshop format. Stay tuned for details.