July 23, 2012

Another Tech Incubator in Charleston?

Brendan Kearney  /  Post & Courier

The Charleston area already has several active business incubators, and thanks to the state Legislature, it could soon boast one more.

The brainchild of College of Charleston computer science department chairman Chris Starr, the "Interactive Digital Technology Pilot Project" would recruit software companies to the Holy City as well as provide a place for the college's programmers to start their own businesses.

"I'd like digital media to be the new hub of excellence for the Lowcountry," Starr explained in an interview.

The idea caught on with several Charleston elected officials, Starr said, and the city's delegation to the House of Representatives convinced their colleagues to include $2 million in matching funds in its proposed budget.

But earlier this month, Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed that outlay along with dozens of other line items.

In the wake of that news, Starr was clearly disappointed but pledged to press on with the money he was going to have to raise anyway.

"She's doing what she thinks is best for the state of South Carolina, and I am too," Starr said.

Then the tide turned again when the House overrode the previous veto this week and the Senate followed suit. So now, if Starr can raise $2 million, he can count on the state to match that amount.

Ernest Andrade, who runs the Flagship incubators as the city's business development director, welcomed the prospect of another tech-centric, small-business hub.

"I'm delighted that the Legislature saw the wisdom to invest in the technologies of tomorrow," he said.

Other incubators or co-working spaces include the SCRA MUSC Innovation Center, the privately owned Lowcountry Innovation Center in North Charleston, and Mount Pleasant's Biz Inc.

Starr didn't return calls last week –- it is summer vacation –- but earlier this month he said there's already a fundraising team in action looking at potential local and federal government funding as well as private monies and that he hopes to launch the center early next year.

Starr foresees the college and the Medical University of South Carolina potentially investing in some of the companies, which would help them grow and hire more people, including his students who want to stick around after graduation.

"That's huge brain trust for the Charleston area," he said.