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The Mind Of An Entrepreneur

The Mind of an Entrepreneur- How does the City of Columbia and Area Colleges Drive Entrepreneurship?

By: Agata Chydzinski, Program Logistician USC Columbia Technology Incubator

Dr. Richard Robinson, Professor Emeritus at USC's Moore School of Business says that entrepreneurship is a phenomenon that continues to excite the imagination of people interested in entering careers in which they must adapt to rapidly changing environments. He has known inventors looking for ways to commercialize their discoveries; government leaders undertaking economic development, and CEO's of large firms seeking to remain competitive in a global marketplace using entrepreneurship as a way to help them with their endeavors. Since the early 1980's, when entrepreneurship was identified as a driver of economic growth, both the term and field of study have rapidly evolved.


So what is entrepreneurship? Entrepreneurship is a mindset or way of thinking that is opportunity-focused, innovative, and growth-oriented. Entrepreneurs recognize opportunity, gather the resources required to act on the opportunity, and drive the opportunity to completion.


So how does the University of South Carolina and the City of Columbia along with Midlands Technical College, Benedict College, Allen University, and Columbia College help drive entrepreneurship?


Following the City of Columbia's "Regional Technology Strategic Plan" the City 's Office of Economic Development began working with the University of South Carolina and USC's Research Foundation to implement three key goals of the plan: 1.) Embrace a culture of innovation; 2.) Mobilize higher education and 3.) Facilitate business creation and growth. The initial strategy focused on a new business incubator formed at USC's College of Engineering in 1998.


The first incubator facility, outside the USC campus, was located at 1233 Washington Street in Columbia's City Center. After just twelve months of operation, the incubator had raised $160,000 in local support for operations, occupied 5,000 square feet of office space and was home to 6 new technology-focused companies where 115 individuals were employed in high-tech jobs. As new companies continued to be accepted into the incubator, an additional 10,000 square feet was leased at 1334 Sumter Street. By 2004, the incubator had grown to 23 new companies and had graduated 12, for a total of 35. These companies had created 302 new jobs, and $18.5 million in new operating capital had been raised from venture capital firms, angel investment groups, as well as individual investors.


The incubator was now completely out of space and needed a larger facility. Again, working with the City of Columbia's Economic Development Office, a plan was approved by Columbia City Council to make available a city-owned building that was being vacated. A lease ($1/year) was executed, and today a 40,000 square foot office building at 1225 Laurel Street is home to the USC/Columbia Technology Incubator. The incubator also shares this space with the Columbia International Business Center where foreign-based companies can enter the U.S. market for very little up-front costs and receive incubator business assistance. The building is being up-fitted with private donations, and the rent paid by the companies in the facility ($10 per square foot), plus contributions from organizations in the community, both public and private, provide funding to operate the incubator.


The USC/Columbia Technology Incubator (USCCTI) project is a wonderful example of how public and private entities, individuals, and business can work together, to succeed in making a significant difference in the local economy. To date 27 companies have graduated from the incubator program. They have created 512 new high-paying jobs in the Columbia market with average salaries exceeding $60,000. The average per capita income in Columbia, SC is $35,000. The incubator's nine graduation ceremonies have been highly publicized in the local media and nationally in the "Wall Street Journal" as innovative success stories. To date the incubator program has created 723 jobs, 210 of which are held by minorities. Currently 66 companies, including 18 minority-owned companies, are in the program.


Statewide, the incubator has been recognized as a cutting edge business incubator and has been selected by the South Carolina Department of Commerce as a "Best Practices" model to assist other South Carolina communities and institutions in developing their own incubators. So far our best practices as well as our successful journey have brought many rewards. For our work, in 2007 the USC/Columbia Technology Incubator with the Columbia Office of Economic Development received a State Award for "Innovative Economic Development" from the Municipal Association of South Carolina and the International Economic Development Council's 2007 award for Technology Based Economic Development.


USCCTI has actively participated in the creation of a network of Incubators throughout the State by working in collaboration with both Clemson University and the Medical University of South Carolina.
We have created a bridge between the business community and the university. Through our program we constantly seek effective ways to use partner colleges, universities, colleges students to help our clients achieve sustainability and financial stability.


The management team of USCCTI has been training with the National Business Incubation Association to improve the services delivered to the client companies.