Thursday, September 5, 2013
Georgetown, SC — Silicon Valley; Redmond, Wash.; Research Triangle Park; and Georgetown.
Only one of those communities offers a laid-back attitude with sea breezes and a small-town feel, yet with the high-tech opportunities of the big-name areas.
You can put that to the test starting Sept. 27 when Georgetown is the host city for South Carolina's first Startup Weekend, a 54-hour event that shows people how to take an idea and turn it into a company. The weekends typically bring together developers, designers, business people and students, although there really are no limitations.
It was a meeting between representatives of the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce, the Alliance for Economic Development of Georgetown County, and Paul Reynolds and Mike Schroll, the brains and brawn with Cowork MYR that led to the creation of Georgetown Startup Weekend, which runs through Sept. 29 at the South Carolina Maritime Museum.
Brian Tucker, president of the chamber said he, other chamber representatives and people from the alliance had gone to Greenville, to tour the NEXT facility, which is a great incubator operated out of the Greenville Chamber of Commerce. We “wanted to see if we could bring that to Georgetown County,” Tucker said.
He added that he had read a small article about Cowork, and “it was hip and cool.” Tucker said they had long conversations, and a month after that conversation, they came down and met with the same group that had toured Next.
“We needed to know where our entrepreneurs are and where our investors are,” Tucker said.
Cowork, which essentially encourages collaboration of “really smart and talented people” by offering budding innovators and entrepreneurs a central space to work. Memberships range from $25 to $250 a month and include 24/7 access to Cowork's Myrtle Beach location.
“Brian Tucker was really interested in the coworking aspect,” said Reynolds. “He came and asked how do we set up a coworking space in Georgetown County.”
Reynolds and Schroll suggested that they build the community first and then develop the space. As the company and chamber officials talked, they looked at creating a “pop-up cowork space” where Cowork would come to Georgetown a couple days a week to kickstart the community.
We actually have two or three people who drive up from Charleston pretty regularly, just to work up here, and we do have some members from the Pawleys Island area,” Reynolds said. “We went a little further and thought we should have a weekend event to start this - to bring the whole community out.”
“We wanted to see who is out there,” said Tucker. “We know there are entrepreneurs and tech-savvy folk here. We need to identify them.”
Reynolds said that while he tends to look at tech companies because that is his background, the Startup Weekend is not limited to high-tech companies.
Schroll, who has been to five or six Startup Weekends and will run his first in Georgetown, likes to cite one company that created a woman's shoe with a screw-in heel. “It went from a flat to high heels with a turn of the screw,” he said.
All three men stress the collaborative effort, bringing together people with ideas and those with experience to implement them. “It's pretty intense,” said Schroll. “You want to mix the youthful enthusiasm with the experienced guidance,” Reynolds added.
The cowork concept, however, is less intense. “People come in as they want,” said Reynolds. In the Myrtle Beach location, for example, there are 25 paying members, but they have had more than 100 people come through the doors - people on vacation, people from the area.
Things are pretty quiet in the morning, and the activity picks up about lunchtime.
“It's social, too. People can work together in groups or independently,” Reynolds said. They also can use the main area or a private area for conferences.
In addition, cowork has become a community resource. Companies often contact Reynolds and staff if they are looking to hire people.
Cowork also has been building a network of investors and people with skills, but the idea is more to build the talent pool. “We want to keep things as low-cost as we can,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds and Schroll are not discouraged by the area not having a tech reputation. “We look at it as an opportunity,” Reynolds said. “Our opinion is that it's a great place to live, the cost of living is so low, it's the perfect opportunity to create the entrepreneurial community. It's why I moved back here, why Mike moved from Boston.
“If we can get that community to grow, we can get those people with money to move here,” Reynolds said. Think, if you have $500,000, that might last you three months in Boston. Here, it could last years.”
The first challenge, though, is bringing it all together, which is why the Startup Weekend has all three men enthusiastic.
“I'm excited about the opportunity to throw in my two cents,” said Schroll. “I've participated, but never run one.”
Already people from Columbia and Charleston have shown an interest, said Schroll. “We really like the location - we looked at Pawleys but it wasn't right. [The museum] is eclectic. We're startup guys. We want it kind of raw.”
The weekend begins at 5:30 p.m. with registration, followed by dinner, speakers and then the real work begins. The idea people have a short time to present their ideas for a startup. The entire group votes and chooses 10 projects that will be the focus of the weekend. The attendees join teams - with the goal of actually presenting a “finished” startup by the end of the weekend.
Saturday, after a light breakfast, the teams get down to work, putting their plans into effect. Coaches are on hand to answer questions as well as offer ideas. There's a break for lunch and another for dinner, and then it's back to work.
“We kick people out each night at 10-ish,” Schroll said, although he acknowledged that it is not unusual for teams to keep working or go down the street to the local pub.
Sunday things get tense. Another light breakfast, more work and a serious gut check follow. By 3 p.m., the final presentations start being formulate, and, after an early dinner, each company makes its case to the group.
Cost to register is roughly $75, although costs vary depending on status — student, for instance — and area of expertise. Registration costs include meals and the chance to see a plan come to fruition.
“It's a very compressed, very intense,” said Tucker. “It's going to be a cool weekend, even if you don't have an idea.”
And, he added, even if your idea is not chosen, it doesn't mean you won't get suggestions on how to make it work.
For more information, see the website http://georgetown.startupweekend.org/
By Anita Crone
For The Times