March 25, 2013

Charleston Tech Scene Attracting More Capital

Ask anybody about the main obstacles facing the Charleston tech community, and one of the top responses likely will be "capital" or "funding."

Not enough seed money to get firms off the ground, not enough venture capital to help them grow. But thanks to the recovering economy and Charleston's maturing profile, that seems to be changing.

Perhaps most visibly has been the continued ability of King Street-based PeopleMatter to attract major money to grow its human resources software platform. The company announced its latest venture capital infusion, $19 million, this month, bumping its total outside investment, most recently from Silicon Valley, to $47 million.

A month earlier, another downtown firm, PhishLabs said it had landed $1.2 million from a group led by Internet security veteran Tony Prince and his Frontier Capital.

Those deals brings the total outside investment in companies that are based in or have passed through the city's Flagship incubators to more than $66 million, said Charleston Digital Corridor director Ernest Andrade.

On a smaller scale, entrepreneurs Patrick Bryant and Mark Richards have launched Seed Charleston, which will invest up to $50,000 in up to four companies a year.

The first investment, a crowd-funding website, kicked off last month, and now has 16 projects. As of Friday, only one had reached its goal –- a school trip to the Columbia Zoo –- but others, like the Coast Brewery expansion, had received decent support.

"I think entrepreneurs roll a very heavy rock up a hill, and our goal is to make that rock a bit smaller or maybe attack a different side of the mountain," said Bryant, a 39-year-old serial entrepreneur who lives in Mount Pleasant.

In Columbia, there's the High Growth Small Business Job Creation Act that would give so-called angel investors a tax credit for putting money in local start-ups. A similar bill died in the Senate last year after passing the House. The new proposal passed the Senate and is now under consideration in the House.