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Resources, Infrastructure Draw Talent for SC Tech Companies

South Carolina has built a strong innovation ecosystem with resources that promote research and private-sector partnerships to get breakthrough ideas to market.

By Katie Kuehner-Hebert on January 8, 2014

As Chief Technology Officer at SPARC, Bob Williams does not find Charleston a tough sell when he’s recruiting talent.

A growing tech community, an attractive cost of living, proximity to other urban centers, great hospitality and education sectors and an open attitude about software development align. The beaches help, too.

“It is really easy to sell a candidate, and it is really easy to keep a candidate,” Williams says.

SPARC should know. The software development firm is on a tear, growing exponentially in the last three years. With roughly 200 employees in late 2013, SPARC plans to hire 300 more in the next four years – sooner, if Williams has his way.

The company develops software for the government and commercial sectors and develops and markets its own commercial software products for executive leadership, human resources, green energy, analytics and mobile markets. An $11 million expansion involves buying one building and adding a second, for 80,000 square feet in all.

And SPARC is only one of many Palmetto State tech innovation success stories.

Wealth of Resources Support S.C. Tech

South Carolina has built a strong innovation ecosystem, with resources that promote research and private-sector partnerships to get breakthrough ideas to market. The South Carolina Research Authority, for example, offers applied research and commercialization services in the advanced energy, biomedical and bioinformatics, collaborative technologies, and e-commerce arenas. SCLaunch, an SCRA affiliate, supports creation of knowledge-based companies and high-wage-earning jobs.

In higher education, the University of South Carolina, Clemson University and Medical University of South Carolina provide research, facilities and commercialization services that support tech innovation.

But the proof is in the products and services from companies that have come up or grown up in South Carolina. Two of them are giving the state a major role in the burgeoning health-care information technology (HCIT) segment.  

Benefitfocus, a major player in health-care and benefits technology, opened a design and engineering center at its Charleston headquarters in 2012, where it is adding 200 associates. Its cloud-based platform serves more than 20 million consumers and supports enrollment for more than 100 benefit types. The company added a San Francisco office in 2012 and has operations in Tulsa, Okla., and Greenville, S.C.

Greenville is also home to CareCam Innovations, an SCLaunch company. Founded by a registered nurse, CareCam’s patented video documentation system creates a specific and complete electronic point-of-care health record. Connecting payers, providers and patients in a way that verifies care, protects privacy, reduces costs, enhances coordination and increases patient and family engagement is the goal.

In digital media, Columbia-based Pandoodle allows dynamic brand placement and native advertising for content producers and distributors. Voolio, Pandoodle’s platform, creates a new type of ad unit that allows content owners to embed and sell brand-customized placement slots within their videos.

Global UV LED Manufacturer Expands

Sensor Electronic Technology Inc., the world’s leading maker of ultraviolet light-emitting diodes (UV LEDs), made South Carolina home more than a decade ago.

President and CEO Remis Gaska, an electrical engineering Ph.D. and former Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute research professor, had spent time in four other states – none for more than three years.

Sensor ET established collaborative programs with the University of South Carolina that provided access to labs and other facilities, contingent on contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense, a strong supporter. Midlands Technical College, also in Columbia, has trained at least 30 employees in a joint program with the National Science Foundation.

The company tailors solutions for fields such as R&D, drug development, environmental monitoring, military applications, space exploration and, more recently, disinfection and personal health care. One new application, in refrigerators, will greatly extend the life of produce.

Manufacturing the tiny, semi-conductor UV LEDs is an expensive enterprise, requiring state-of-the-art clean rooms and lots of power.

“I can’t imagine having this operation in Palo Alto,” Gaska says. “We would go bankrupt just with the utility bill.”

With a $20 million investment from a Korean semiconductor manufacturer, Sensor ET now has a six-acre campus and a second building with capacity to grow.

“We were able to attract talented people from around the world and form a very good technical team at the senior scientist level,” Gaska says. “That is key.”


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