What We Do

The Digital Corridor is a creative effort to attract, nurture and promote Charleston's tech economy through a combination of technology-enabled initiatives and business incentives, private business support and member-driven programming.

Talent

Opportunities Abound
"Attending courses at CODEcamp allowed me to hone my web development skills while giving me the opportunity to interact with professionals that are driving Charleston technology community."
  • Ryan Barrineau
  • Developer
  • Blue Acorn

Spaces

Get Working
"As an early stage software company, it was not only important to have a location to grow in but also the means to mature as an organization. The Flagships afforded this flexibility and infrastructure."
  • Earl Bridges
  • Co-founder
  • Good Done Great

Community

Peer Networking
"The Charleston Digital Corridor serves as the central hub for technology companies in the area and what that has done is create a sense of community around the companies that are a part of it."
  • Grier Allen
  • Founder & CEO
  • Boomtown

Capital

Accelerating Growth
"While there are many opportunities for investment, our fund is happy to make growth capital available for Charleston’s tech companies. Michael Knox, Managing Partner, Silicon Harbor Ventures."
  • Michael Knox
  • Managing Partner
  • Silicon Harbor Ventures
STATS

Latest News

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Annmarie Fini, SVP of Platform Strategy at Benefitfocus

Embrace Change and Find Your Way Through it, Says Benefitfocus’ Fini

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

Annmarie Fini is senior vice president of platform strategy at Benefitfocus. Fini joined the Daniel Island-based maker of workplace benefits software in 2000. Benefitfocus connects employers, brokers, insurance carriers, specialty suppliers and consumers on a single platform to make benefits easier and more efficient.  

As a new graduate of Trinity College in Connecticut, Annmarie Fini took a chance on Charleston. Her college roommate suggested that Fini, a native of East Longmeadow, Mass., join her in Charleston for the summer.

Fini, who had just earned a degree in public policy, had no job lined up in Charleston and nowhere to live. She had no car. But she came anyway, rented a rundown apartment and found a job in benefits in North Charleston. She took the bus to work that first summer. By the summer's end, she purchased a car and decided to stay.

"I found my way and figured it out," Fini said. "And I've loved Charleston ever since."

Several years later, in 2000, Fini became the 16th employee at what was then a benefits software startup in Mount Pleasant called Benefitfocus. She traveled the state, working with clients to implement the company's software.

Thirteen years later, Benefitfocus went public. Now, 19 years later, it has about 1,400 employees, with roughly 1,000 of those based at its Daniel Island headquarters. Benefitfocus has more than 150,000 employers as clients and 23 million consumers using its platform.

Fini has held various client-facing roles with Benefitfocus over the years, including most recently leading the company's customer success organization. In 2018, she assumed her current position as senior vice president of platform strategy, focusing on consumers using the Benefitfocus platform to manage and maximize the value of their workplace benefits.  

Back in 2000 when you joined Benefitfocus, what attracted you to the company?

I was actually a customer of the two founders, Mason Holland and Shawn Jenkins. They had a pension/401(k) business. I was familiar with what they were doing with 401(k) pensions, and then when they decided to start Benefitfocus, I was very excited to join them.

How would you describe the organization's culture?

It starts from the foundation of an entrepreneurial company, and it's maintained a lot of that. Last year, we took a look at our values on the back of our badge, and we crowdsourced them. Many of the values that were part of the original ones had just a slight tweak to them: Community, together, respect, anticipatory service, and – probably my favorite – own it, which is really, "Just get in there." To me, it means just take it, run with it, figure it out, and own it till it's done at the highest quality.

Have you learned any lessons from good bosses? Bad bosses?

I've always had really great people that I've worked with and worked for. As far as lessons – a few of them are attention to detail and making sure that all of the details work. The little things make a difference. How we present information and how we conduct ourselves, people notice those things. So being professional at all times.

Another lesson I learned early on from an entrepreneurial standpoint, is never giving up. Being passionate and being about what you believe in.

Ray August, as our new CEO since 2018, has done a fantastic job with communicating and staying transparent. He's been holding Q&A sessions every couple of weeks for all associates. One of the things I've learned from him is no matter how many times you communicate, it's never enough. People hear different things from messages, and it helps to evolve what we're talking about and how we talk about it. And making sure that we've got the right point of view up front, whether it's the audience of our customers or our associates or our shareholders.

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

One of the big things is that we're always changing. Business is always changing. It's very dynamic. Whether it's a new customer, a new project, a new role in the company.

It's important to  embrace that and finding your way through it. Staying true to yourself, but fully jumping in and making the most out of it, because you never know what it's going to do for you professionally, but also personally.

I have so many great experiences that I can look back on. Not everything is easy. Usually, the harder it is, the more personal gain you get from it.

Women make up 26 percent of the computing workforce, and they hold only 11 percent of leadership roles, according to one study. What would help bring more women into the tech industry and to leadership posts?

I think it starts early on in terms of women getting computer science and even math degrees. I think encouraging that early on is important. My husband is in the teaching world, so he speaks to it all the time. There are some inherent areas that, as a country, we need to really promote and have more opportunities for girls to study in fields that they may not know anything about, but once they get into them, they thrive.

In terms of leadership style, I have spent my career working with women, men, different varieties. My voice may not be the loudest voice, but when I speak, people do appreciate my point of view. I've become more confident with that over the years. There are still a lot of stereotypes about women and about how they handle themselves in different work environments. You just need to keep going. And have an environment of inclusion. I think that's really important. Every voice needs to be heard, whether it's somebody who might be more introverted than others – and that's male or female. Just taking the time to hear different people and different audiences.

One of the things that I appreciate about Benefitfocus is the variety of people. Sometimes, we'll have 40 people come together just to hear the different points of view in all different levels of the organization. There's not really a hierarchy. Some of the strongest, most informed people are early in their careers, and they are confident to not be afraid to speak. Just some really fantastic women that I've had the pleasure to work with.

How do you think about work-life balance? How do you find fulfillment both at work and at home?

I don't work well in "life balance." I just work with what's good for me. I put my heart and soul into something. I'm in balance in terms of my schedule and accessibility for the company. I love what I do, and I have a very supportive family. I would probably be miserable if I had sort of a more balanced life, I guess. It's just who I am. I don't ever turn myself off. There's a lot of exciting things going on, and I just get into it.

What's a book you always recommend?

I would recommend the Harvard Business Reviewmembership. I get the daily management tips and other things. Inevitably, at least a few times a week, it hits exactly what I'm thinking about or struggling with. It's just got some really awesome articles or areas of focus, and it's a great search engine for things that you might be interested in.

Outside of work, what keeps you busy?

Two kids, one who just started at Carolina, and the other lives locally here in Charleston. Anything that is outside. My husband and I love to play golf. I love to hike and just be outdoors.

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

We've had some really fantastic people, and I would say even more now that there are so many other technology options in town. It's attracting just a whole level of expertise from other parts of the country.

Do you find any challenges recruiting talent here?

Really, we don't. We have a lot of people who've moved here to join Benefitfocus, but also people who are out of college that are starting their jobs.

In what ways do you see the workplace evolving?

It's become a very diverse situation in terms of where people want to work, how they want to work, when they work, what they do. There's just a lot of other ways that people can pursue their passions and do whatever they want to.

When we look at it from a benefits standpoint, we are seeing a lot of people who need to have a variety of benefits. There are five generations in the workforce now, and so there are people who are early in their careers and just starting out and maybe are getting their first apartment, first car even, or have student loans that they're worried about. There are benefits that didn't even exist as benefits before.

So it's a very interesting time for people in the benefits community to be able to offer an array that fits every person in their workforce. That's something that we as a company have become ultra-focused on: that consumer experience and providing what is a best suitable benefit package for everybody. It's very individualized and personalized. People are working up until their 70s now, and so it's a dynamic space in terms of having different experiences and skills and being able to attract and retain them. 

Charleston Tech Firm is a New Top Backer for the Cooper River Bridge Run

With about two weeks to spare before the start of the 2019 race, Cooper River Bridge organizers have lined up one of Charleston's top software businesses as their newest top-tier financial backer.

Daniel Island-based Benefitfocus Inc. was announced Wednesday as a "co-presenting" sponsor for the annual 6.2-mile dash to be held April 6. The technology firm joins the supermarket chain Harris Teeter in that role. Read the full story HERE.

Charleston Digital Corridor Offers Summer Camp For Middle And High Schoolers

The Charleston Digital Corridor is pleased to announce CODEcamp Kids - CS Upstart, a summer camp for middle and high school students. CS Upstart is a week-long, half-day camp designed to promote an interest in computer science and tech careers while expanding on the core STEM concepts from their other classes. Students will have expanded options for 2019 with three class offerings – Robotics and Hardware Programming, Intro to Web Development and Intro to App Dev.

The class is once again being taught by high school seniors, Nicholas Ermolov of Glenbrook South High School, outside of Chicago and Parker Thompson of Charleston School of the Arts. The sessions, limited to 12-15 students, will be offered the weeks of July 8, July 15 and July 22, 2019.

The camps will be held at the Charleston Digital Corridor's Flagship – Bridge Incubator at 385 Meeting Street in Downtown Charleston. Equipment required for the class will be provided and students will receive a snack and drink each day.

"We're really working to reach students who are at the prime age to learn about computer science," Ermolov said. "With programs like CS Upstart, we believe we can have a meaningful impact on how students view STEM," Thompson added.

"It is no secret that a career in the technology industry is exciting and lucrative," said Digital Corridor Director, Ernest Andrade. "Today, more than ever, students need to be introduced to the basic concepts of computer software, robotics and app development to discover the challenging and exciting world of software development."

Scholarships for under-represented students are available from the Digital Corridor's annual iFiveK race.

Charleston’s Benefitfocus Goes To Wisconsin For Its 1st Acquisition In Nearly A Decade

A large Charleston software business has made its first acquisition in nearly a decade, buying a Wisconsin firm in a deal aimed at increasing its customer base.

Benefitfocus Inc., which makes a cloud-based platform that helps millions of workers buy and manage their job benefits, said it paid $24 million for certain commercial assets of Connecture. It's the Daniel Island-based company's first buyout since it went public in 2013. Read more:

Keith Meany, President of Skubot and Owner of Global Coast Survey.

Meany: Family Plumbing Parts Company Inspired Skubot

Keith Meany is owner of Global Coast Survey, a Charleston-based seafloor mapping company founded in 2012. He is also president of Skubot, a system that uses 3D scanners to identify plumbing parts. Skubot, which Meany began work on about three years ago, debuted two new products at the Consumer Electronics Show 2019, winning an IHS Markit Innovation Award. This series is brought to you with support from Charleston Southern University.

Where did you grow up? What was life like?

I grew up in Myrtle Beach. I was always drawn to the ocean and could never really leave it. My mother and father were amazingly engaged in my childhood. I basically had everything I needed and then some. I was extremely fortunate, and I understand that. My folks enabled me to chase my interests, specifically sports and surfing and baseball.

I wasn't an extremely academic person when I was young; school was just kind of a means to get to recess and afterward. Myrtle Beach was an interesting place to grow up. It was a lot of fun as a young child because you're so close to the ocean and it's a tourist destination.

How did you come to be in Charleston?

When I was in high school, as my interest outside of school, I chose surfing over baseball. I had played baseball coming up. Surfing really struck my interest, and I decided pretty quickly that I never wanted to leave the ocean. Parallel to that, as a child, a couple of my really good friends lived down here (in Charleston). I used to spend a lot of time in the summers just running around downtown and had a blast doing it.

So Charleston was always a really special place, and with in-state academic scholarships, it kind of limited my options of where to go to college. I didn't want to leave the ocean, so College of Charleston was really the only school that I applied for, and it was the only school that I really wanted to go to. I was fortunate enough to get in, and the rest is really history. I just came down and never left.

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

I worked in an ice cream shop as my first job. I recall vividly how little money I was making relative to the time I was sacrificing. I think I was around 13 or 14 years old.

Right around that time, my mother and father's maintenance repair parts company, called Palmetto Parts, was really starting to thrive. That definitely caught my eye, as they were self-employed. They never let me work for the company growing up. They wanted to just kind of throw me to the fire and experience the thrills of joining the workforce. My parents' company was really good at identifying and sourcing a variety of different repair parts, better than other companies. I was always really fortunate through my childhood to see the success that they built with that. That left a lasting impression with me, and I think it really shaped the direction that I was going to take. It was pretty clear that, "Hey, I'm not so fond of being the ice cream worker."

So you had an entrepreneurial drive early on?

Yeah. I think that the entrepreneurial spirit was definitely buried in me early on. Like I said, the benefits of self-employment were really evident to me, because I saw it.

Whether it was chores or early jobs, my focus was always on getting things done as quickly and efficiently as possible, while still maintaining the quality of work that was required so I could do things like enjoy surfing, baseball or hanging out with friends. I think my school work paralleled that. I was never really the best-scoring student. It was always a balance of doing what was required in the most efficient, time-saving manner. School, for me, was about efficiency until I found seafloor mapping at the College of Charleston. Leslie Sautter, director of the BEAMS program, took me under her wing and really channeled my focus.

I started to develop a passion for seafloor mapping, focusing my efforts on a unique software called CARIS. Part of my attentiveness was the prospect of traveling globally and surfing a variety of world-class waves, combined with the reality that the pay was pretty solid. So I graduated and traveled the world from 2008 to 2012 as a CARIS data processor, making deep-water maps of the ocean floor from data acquired via remotely operated vehicles and a sensor called a multibeam echosounder.

The skillset was valuable to a variety of industries. My clients were typically in oil and gas, fiber optic cable, wind farm, archaeological and charting. The work was amazing, but the frequency wasn't enough. I began seeing a high volume of requests from personnel agencies for people competent in software other than CARIS, and I grew tired of not winning those bids.

Eventually, I called a specific software company out of Denmark that seemed to always be on the requirement list, and I enticed that company to set up a training at the College of Charleston. Within three weeks, we held the course. It was the first institutional training course for the company in the U.S. at a time when their market share was skyrocketing. I think I was on a plane for a job overseas within a week of the training course, and I disclosed to the personnel agencies that I had a half-dozen other recent grads who participated in the training course who might be interested in project availabilities. My first company, Global Coast Survey, was born out of that demand. GCS has now been in business for six years and is busier than ever with the recent economic surge.

In your own words, what does your latest company, Skubot, do?

My newest venture, Skubot, revolves around an invention that took skills that I acquired from my subsea mapping company, Global Coast Survey, and applied to the problem that my mother and father solved with their maintenance repair parts business.

The best way to describe it is this way: We have all walked into a big-box store with a specific screw, nut, bolt, hinge or faucet valve that is broken and needs replacing. Oftentimes, that part doesn't have any discernable name on it or ID. Big box doesn't have the resources to identify or source anything other than the high-frequency items. Skubot is a 3D scanner that scans the physical shape of these parts and puts digital models in a database registry in the cloud. We then put 3D scanners in the stores, and when you bring the part in, it is scanned locally where a quick digital model representation is recorded and sent to the cloud where it is matched against the database.

When the product is identified, it returns options like whether it is on the shelf or whether it needs to be drop-shipped. As far as I know, we are the first globally to deploy a 3D product identification system in a wholesale/retail environment designed to identify hardware parts without barcodes or obvious tagging.

What inspired you to start this business?

My mother and father's company has thrived because of their ability to identify the obscure stuff that the big-box stores can't. My mother runs Palmetto Parts from a books, logistics, personnel and accounting perspective, and my father has the deep product knowledge. His ability to identify the obscure parts only by sight clearly had a tremendous value. Big-box retailers like Lowes and Home Depot in the Horry County area had maps to my folks' store, which they handed out to people when they brought in these hard-to-identify repair parts.

It became very apparent that the deep product knowledge that my father had in the faucet repair parts category was extremely valuable, but very difficult to teach. I needed to clone my dad or find another way to make it obtainable. My experiences working with the subsea spatial data used to make maps of the ocean floor and understanding difference models led me to the idea to build a 3D scanner that identified objects based on the physical shapes.

I was pretty confident it could be done several years before we started working on it. Around three years ago, I made some calls and began working with an industry leader in the object-detection space, playing with the idea and testing a variety of datasets. We succeeded and built a prototype that worked more accurately than my wildest dreams.

Ferguson Enterprises happened to be very interested in my father's website at the time, so he already had their attention. We simply built out the system plugged it into my father's database and pitched it to them. Ferguson jumped onboard pretty quickly at the opportunity, and we had our first global customer within a few months of the buildout. To my surprise, our approach to the problem was unique enough that Hewlett-Packard noticed us and pretty quickly jumped into a partnership with the desire to take over production of our hardware.

What do you see as the future of Skubot?

Despite our new partnership with Hewlett-Packard, we are still working hard independently on software/hardware development. Our pilot system was large, heavy and slow, and it was clear from the very beginning that in order to effectively scale, we needed to improve the footprint and speed up the time it takes to match an item. We have managed to make dramatic improvements on all fronts.

In addition to the developments on the system side, as a business we recently concluded our first round of raising funds from private equity. We debuted two new systems at the Consumer Electronics Show 2019. We are anticipating two more venture capital/private equity rounds after CES in the form of an auction.

Skubot will deploy one of our scale systems in late 2019, hopefully, and add value to the stores by adding additional product lines into the identification database. With every positive match on an item by a retail store system, Skubot takes a percentage of the sale of the item in the form of a match fee. It is in our best interest to deploy and create enough depth in the matchable databases that the systems run all day long – lots more parts from a lot more industries. Parallel to that, we are working on research and development of a handheld version.

The interesting thing is when we launched Skubot, our focus was really on stems and cartridges. I knew that if it was done right, it could be replicated. I didn't realize the implications of how striking and important it was to a company like HP. The reality of the situation is they've gotten involved and they don't care about plumbing parts. It's not about that. It's about all the other potential verticals that could pile onto it, and then setting up systems that run like the cell phones used to run where every time you make a call, the cell phone company gets a percentage of a dollar, or whatever it is. That potential for an annuity is, I think, really what got HP's focus.

If this is executed properly, we can plug it in with retail point of sale and maybe someday do away with barcoding. It started as stems and cartridges, but it has wound itself into a whole lot more potential.

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

My biggest challenge over the years has been to go against my gut – which is efficiency – and slow down when it comes to personnel issues and avoid knee-jerk reactions. Efficiency almost always is counterproductive when you're handling personnel issues. The thing that I have to keep emphasizing is hear the problem, step away, gather thoughts, solve it. And for the real big issues, sleep on it, because it's good for the perspective.

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

Good bosses listen. Bad bosses sometimes have issues with this. Additionally, trust your personnel's talent.

What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs?

Be opportunistic. And when you encounter that moment where your whole business plan all of a sudden blows up in front of you, remember that it isn't all that uncommon to have to adapt and change paths. I have seen my business plans go up in flames many times. It's just part of the process.

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

Tech is the new frontier, but do not pigeonhole yourself into one specific direction. Add as many skills as possible and always take the time to learn a new software, hardware, code, course, etc. Multifaceted skillsets will long outlast the here-today-gone-tomorrow technologies that litter the tech landscape globally.

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

PC, Android.

What's a book you always recommend?

"The Innovators Dilemma" by Clayton M. Christensen. It was recommended by one of the guys at HP, and it was really good for what we were going through. It was almost like a guide, and it really helped put a lot of things in perspective.

What is your usual Starbucks order?

Iced coffee, splash of skim.

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

The foresight of Mayor Riley and Ernest Andrade to develop the Charleston Digital Corridor back in the early 2000s was well timed. Charleston is a very easy place to recruit talent to, regardless of the industry. It is clear that this model has worked very well for Charleston's tech scene, and the term "Silicon Harbor" certainly has some staying power. I am very impressed by the resources that the CDC provides to the emerging tech scene.

It's amazing that the city, county and state embraced it. It's easy to recruit talent to this city, but if you don't have a mechanism to recruit, then how's it going to come? If you don't have all levels of the government in stride with the recruitment process, how do you do it? It's nice to see it instituted and running so effectively.

That access to institutions and people and advice and tax recommendations and everything – to have one portal where as a business owner, you can go to it, it's great. Ultimately, it saves money. It's an effective mechanism to grow the industry, there's no doubt about it.

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

I think more direct flights to the major tech hubs would help. Specifically, direct flights to LAX, San Francisco and San Diego. Direct flights to these tech markets is essential at some point, sooner than later. West Coast accessibility is a bit of a hindrance currently, and many of these West Coast tech companies would love an East Coast presence. These companies most certainly are going to be hesitant to set up sister hubs anywhere where they cannot hop a direct flight to. 

Upcoming Events

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One Place Conference

Every year Benefitfocus convenes leading HR, Benefits and Insurance executives in Charleston for One Place. Focused on the trends shaping employer sponsored health care, and the technology shaping how employers of all sizes engage their employees, the conference provides the perfect forum to generate conversations and build pipeline. Learn more and register HERE.

Career Fair with Scientific Research Corporation

Seeking candidates that meet the eligibility requirements for a DoD Security Clearance in the areas of: Cyber Security, Software Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Network Administration, Information Systems Security, Network Engineering, Field Service Engineering. 

Scientific Research Corporation was founded in 1988 to provide innovative solutions to the U.S. Government, private industry, and international markets. Since its inception, SRC has continued to successfully meet emerging challenges in the marketplace and consistently deliver the highest quality products and technical services to its customers.

Learn more about SRC and view current openings HERE.

The Charleston Supply Chain Meetup

#TCHSSCM01 will feature a Keynote Presentation, followed by two panel discussions. The theme: Supply Chain, Innovation, and Disruption in South Carolina.

Keynote Speaker: Jim Newsome - President and CEO of The South Carolina Ports Authority.

Learn more and register HERE.

iFiveK

The iFiveK race is a favorite run and networking event for Charleston's tech professionals. Since its 2007 debut with 250 participants, the iFiveK grew to 1,047 registrants in 2018. Proceeds from the iFiveK support the Charleston Digital Corridor's talent strategy. Learn more and register HERE.

DIG SOUTH

DIG SOUTH connects leading global brands like Oracle, IBM and Salesforce to the top tech leaders and entrepreneurs in the South. We gather in gorgeous Charleston to make deals, share the latest digital trends and build relationships. Curated tracks include technology, marketing and business. Learn more HERE.