As Charleston’s startup community grows, entrepreneurs are seeking to link up with other like-minded pioneers in the local area to learn from one another. Annual conferences and networking happy hours have helped connect them throughout the year, but there has been a growing need in Charleston for a regular meetup solely focused on bringing them together. Jeremy Berman and Daniel Drolet both recognized what Charleston was missing and set out to bring it to the city as directors of Startup Grind Charleston, a community and event series designed to educate, inspire, and connect local entrepreneurs.
Startup Grind is a global startup community founded in 2010 by Derek Anderson and Spencer Nielsen. Powered by Google for Entrepreneurs, it now has chapters in 125 cities and 55 countries. The monthly events aren’t meant to be incredibly large but rather an intimate “fireside chat” session with a featured speaker that enables a casual, fun and interactive discussion. The speakers consist of successful local founders, innovators, educators and investors who share personal stories and lessons learned on the road to building great companies. The format of the event usually consists of a one-hour interview with the speaker between two networking hours.
Berman and Drolet launched Charleston’s first chapter in March 2014, and registrations have steadily grown since. They have hosted five featured speakers so far this year covering a wide range of topics in launching, building, operating and scaling successful companies:
Jeremy Berman, originally from Connecticut and a Virginia Tech and UNC graduate, experienced his first Startup Grind event while working at a startup in New York City and felt the power of being surrounded with other entrepreneurs. “For someone new to the entrepreneurial ecosystem in a new city, it was a great platform to collaborate with other people building innovative companies and to learn from other entrepreneurs who have been successful – that collision of everything at one event impacted me in a powerful way.” As he progressed in his consulting career, Berman became more interested in startups, particularly those making a positive impact on society. Soon after attending business school, he fell in love with Charleston and moved to the city to start his first company. He immediately saw the need for a community focused on connecting entrepreneurs. “When I first moved to Charleston, it was my reaction to first seek out these groups. I found small niche entrepreneurial organizations, but I couldn’t find one that focused exclusively on startups,” he recalls.
Daniel Drolet, a Charleston native attended the College of Charleston and understands the value of entrepreneur mentorship. He launched IPG in the early 2000’s and focused on managing innovations and technology projects for companies like Bell Labs, Sony Pictures and others. Through IPG, he launched PCN Technology, a leading Industrial Internet company. He eventually left Charleston for California to raise additional venture funding in order to scale PCN. With the success of PCN, he recently returned with a personal goal to give back to Charleston, grow its entrepreneurial base, develop new private equity access, and help startups get to the next level. “There was no core place for entrepreneurs to share ideas and highlight what you were doing. Back when we were starting companies in the early 2000s, trying to grow a company and raise money after 9/11 and during the financial crisis was difficult as a startup. We were successful at it and if you can bring the knowledge to entrepreneurs on how to scale even in the hardest of times – that’s what we want to do; give back to Charleston and help grow the entrepreneurial community.”
Many attendees have affirmed they have found inspiration and connection through the networking of their event series. “We have speakers and guests later tell us that they’ve followed up with 15 people from their event already. Building the tech community one relationship at a time, we’re able to create the settings where all of this happens,” said Drolet.
Berman adds, “What I love most about our events is helping to connect the early stage entrepreneurs with those that can help. It’s such a collaborative environment and so important for any young entrepreneur to get the support they need to be successful. It’s a trickledown effect that starts with the speakers and filters down to the attendees, and even to me as a director.”
Drolet attributes the success of the events so far to the critical values of Startup Grind: Making friends not necessarily contacts; giving not taking; helping others before helping yourself; being truly passionate about helping founders, entrepreneurs and startups succeed; make the startup journey less lonely, more connected and more memorable.
He emphasizes that Startup Grind has a focused mission and ideals but is an open forum and supports the entire startup community of events, “We are open to absolutely everyone and want to help other entrepreneurs no matter who it is. A lot of events are in competition with each other, we’re not.”
The company is accepting local sponsorships and charges a small fee for attending its events, which goes back to the organizers to help cover costs and future goals. The long term vision for Startup Grind Charleston is to focus on supporting and driving growth in critical core markets at the local, regional and state levels. “We’re going to align our strategy and support the efforts of the CRDA, Digital Corridor, and South Carolina Commerce,” says Drolet.
In addition to the valuable networking and education of the monthly events, local entrepreneurs get the added benefits of connecting and learning from the world’s best entrepreneurs, educators, and investors at the Startup Grind 2015 Conference held February 9-11 in Redwood City, CA. As a chapter member, they will receive discounts and can apply to be a sponsored startup which allows them free travel and introductions to the top investors and mentors at the conference.
Startup Grind adds a new dimension to Charleston’s startup community and will continue to grow one connection at a time. Says Berman, “We want to continue to create a collaborative environment that helps young founders learn from successful entrepreneurs and investors. And most importantly, we want to create friendships within the Charleston startup ecosystem. That’s what Startup Grind is all about. “