April 11, 2013

Awakening S.C. Entrepreneurship

The State

Charleston, S****C–In 2005, heeding the advice of his mentor, Adam Witty decided to start a publishing business from the spare bedroom of his apartment on James Island. At a time when most book publishers were experiencing declining sales amid technological innovations and the growth of self-publishing, Witty grew Advantage Media Group Inc. into a globally operated company based in Charleston.

Witty shared with Phil Noble his perspective on making the state a "globally connected" success story.

Q: You in many ways personify what Envision South Carolina is all about in demonstrating what it takes to use homegrown talent to be world class ... Talk about your business.

Advantage Media Group is a leading publisher of business, self-improvement, and professional development books and online courses. Our business is helping entrepreneurs, business leaders, professionals, share their stories, their passion, and their knowledge in a book, or an online course to help other people learn and grow.

Q: How big is your company in people, revenue and reach?

This year we'll do $4 million dollars in revenue, so we're still a baby, climbing. There's been no venture capital; outside investors. ... We have 16 full-time people in Charleston and 12 outside Charleston who work from home.

Q: Have you followed any of what they're doing at USC with The Palmetto College; the online, stand-alone "college."

I'm vaguely familiar with it and would say they're going in the right direction. The cool thing about online learning is there really aren't any rules ... it gives you a lot of freedom to be creative and invent it as you go. When you look at education, whether it's Clemson, USC, or College of Charleston, or whether it's professional development ... it's still education. When you look at education in general, the problem for most people and most companies is it's inaccessible, and it's becoming increasingly unaffordable. So what the internet does is it completely levels the playing field, and it allows you to make it available to more people at a much more affordable rate. ... I think it's a game changer.

Q: I always thought there was an opportunity for a real competitive advantage if South Carolina said, "We're going to become the leading state in online learning." Do you see any barriers or any reason why we couldn't do that?

Not at all. The cool thing about South Carolina is that it's still a small enough state where if you got the right stakeholders together ... and in this state you could probably get all of the key ones in one room, and say, "We want to own this. ... You could do it. ... South Carolina by nature has to be more entrepreneurial. If we don't want to, just because of necessity we have to. So I think certainly when it comes to online learning, but also entrepreneurship and innovation, I think South Carolina has all of the pieces to be a leader in that, if they want to; not only for necessity but also because I think a lot of the right elements are in place here.

Q: What are the barriers to our being able to attain that?

I would say the biggest barrier to South Carolina is a psyche, and a mindset people have that South Carolina's 48th. I can't tell you how many people have that attitude about education in South Carolina. They expect to be number 48 or 49 (in education ranking), and know by the grace of God that Alabama or Mississippi will be beneath us. So we're programmed that we're going to be 48th and if you say, "Hey, we're going to be 40. Or we're going to be 35," they can't even fathom it.