Charleston organizations proudly received grant funds from the South Carolina Department of Commerce in its opening round of innovation-related grants during what’s been named the South Carolina Innovation Challenge. Of the 14 organizations selected across the state, four of them hail from Charleston.
The Department of Commerce launched the state’s first Office of Innovation last fall as part of its larger effort to support and grow an innovative, technology-based and entrepreneurial business environment. Grant funding awarded this year totals $2.4 million, all of which aims to further high-tech and entrepreneurial economic development across the state. These diverse projects focus on IT training, entrepreneur support, fostering startup companies and agribusiness.
The Challenge issued a notice of funding opportunities in January, allowing proposal submissions from projects formed as a result of synergy between communities, universities, local government participation or public-private partnerships. Projects, with a focus on fostering technology-based economic development, entrepreneurship and innovation, were required to address one or more goals of the South Carolina Innovation Plan.
The maximum grant fund award a project could win, $250,000, was required to have a match from a non-state source. With $2.5 million available in first-round funding (a second round will likely be announced later this year), competition was fierce as the DOC received more than $6.8 million in proposals. Requests came in from cities, county offices, chambers of commerce, universities and startup incubators and accelerators.
Such strong support from the state for economic development and entrepreneurism really bolsters Charleston’s emerging tech-scene. The four Charleston recipients of the grants are Charleston Digital Corridor Foundation’s CODEcamp ($247,000), College of Charleston’s I-CAT ($250,000), The Harbor Entrepreneur Center ($250,000) and Lowcountry Local First ($100,000).
College of Charleston’s I-CAT (the International Cross-Curricular Accelerator for Technology) won the maximum award of $250,000. This technology accelerator provides students a unique opportunity to develop their business, computing and entrepreneurial skills leading to business creation and placement in emerging technology businesses within South Carolina.
Mount Pleasant’s Harbor Entrepreneur Center also took home the maximum allotment. The Harbor Entrepreneur Center provides high-value programs such as Accelerator and Forum that are designed to create collision among high-impact entrepreneurs, founders and investors.
CODEcamp, from Charleston Digital Corridor Foundation, is a software education initiative focused on developing new talent and providing students with the skills they need—including hands-on training, mentorship and networking- to enter the workplace and develop high-tech software skills.
The fourth organization, Lowcountry Local First, Charleston, combines resources somewhat differently than the others in that they encourage entrepreneurship and innovation through small business and agriculture. They foster a diverse entrepreneurial economy with programs like Local Works (the community co-working facility) and Dirt Works Incubator Farm. They offer resources of mentorship, educational opportunities and connecting to capital in the Charleston metro area. They walked away with $100,000 in funding.
The other ten organizations outside of Charleston to win funding came from Anderson, Beaufort, Charleston, Darlington, Florence, Greenville, Horry, Pickens, Richland, Spartanburg and York counties.
“I’m excited to see the energy and impact that South Carolina’s startup community has created, and we hope to help continue that momentum through this new program,” said Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt. “The knowledge economy represents a vital part of South Carolina’s present and future. Through the Office of Innovation, we want to create a business environment in South Carolina that is ideal to start and build a high-growth company.”