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Greenville, SC, Boasts a Strong Ecosystem for Entrepreneurs of All Levels

Greenville offers an ideal environment for entrepreneurs to thrive.

By Kelly Rogers on October 17, 2022

NEXT Innovation Center
John Byrum

NEXT, an organization supported by the Greenville Chamber of Commerce, has a two-fold mission: Support the greater entrepreneurial ecosystem and provide direct support to entrepreneurs in Greenville.

On a macro level, this means bringing Greenville’s entrepreneurial resources into conversation with each other to build a network of support. This way, when individual entrepreneurs come to NEXT looking for support, NEXT can connect them with the right organization for whatever stage of business they’re at.

Measuring and Gap-Filling

Part of supporting Greenville’s entrepreneurial ecosystem includes conducting research, gathering data and making it accessible to other organizations so that economic development goals can align.

“We want there to be more support, more entrepreneurs, and then we want to measure the impact,” says Eric Weissmann, NEXT executive director. “We want to know where people get lost in the ecosystem and where they are flourishing.”

NEXT regularly publishes an Impact Report that contains valuable information about its efforts and Greenville’s entrepreneurial activity on a macro level. In the process of quantifying this data, NEXT looks for gaps and needs that aren’t being met.

For example, NEXT observed that there was a need for a co-working space for companies at a certain stage – those that had outgrown working from home or a small private office but weren’t yet big enough to need (or afford) a much bigger space. To fill that gap, the organization opened the NEXT Innovation Center, a co-working space where small- and medium-size businesses rent out the space that they need for as long as it makes sense for their business.

NEXT Innovation Center's satellite location at 103 Main Street in downtown Greenville. Photos taken on July 13, 2022 by John Byrum.  ©Journal Communications/John Byrum
John Byrum

Entrepreneur Events

NEXT has also pioneered two major events that are held annually: NEXT Launchpad, which is held in the spring and geared toward early entrepreneurs, and NEXT Venture Summit, which takes place in the fall and is geared toward more mature companies.

The first Launchpad event took place in 2022 and invited early-stage entrepreneurs to apply for assistance. Applicants were presented with a list of categories with which their business might need help, including human resources and team building; finance and accounting, legal, valuation, seed capital; and design and branding. These applications were then passed on to corresponding service providers in each category – providers that had agreed to donate time and resources to each selected winner.

Erin of Livi Lou Laine
Courtesy Livi Lou Laine

Launchpad Success

Local full-service creative agency Brains on Fire selected Launchpad applicant Erin Mehagan and her company, Livi Lou Laine, as the winner of the Design and Branding category.

Mehagan couldn’t have been more thrilled.

“It’s just so incredible,” she says. “We’re so excited to work with Brains on Fire and do a comprehensive brand audit to figure out our message, our core values and our style.” Brand cohesion is especially important for Livi Lou Laine, which produces a bra-insert system for women who have experienced breast tissue loss. Mehagan started the business after giving birth to three girls (Livi, Lou and Laine) and found that the only available option to regain the shape she had lost would be plastic surgery.

Livi Lou Laine
Courtesy Livi Lou Laine
Livi Lou Laine

That wasn’t the right path for her, so she got to work Local full-service creative agency Brains on Fire selected Launchpad applicant Erin Mehagan and her company developing her own product, knowing that she couldn’t be the only one struggling. It’s important to Mehagan that the messaging of her company is clear: “It’s not about the way you look, it’s about the way you feel,” she says.

“We are in such a special city that’s so open to new perspectives and ideas and really rallies behind us.”

Erin Mehagan, Livi Lou Laine

Working with an experienced agency like Brains on Fire is a game changer for a new business like Livi Lou Laine, which launched in January 2021. Resources that might otherwise have been put toward branding and design can now go toward expanding the team, product planning, and gearing up for the next stage in the business, which will involve looking for angel investors. Mehagan, who found out about Launchpad through working with another organization, GVL Starts, is looking forward to continuing to grow her business in Greenville.

“We are in such a special city that’s so open to new perspectives and ideas and really rallies behind us,” Mehagan says. “They want you to succeed. They know that when you succeed, Greenville succeeds.”

Other Greenville Entrepreneur Resources

Village Launch

The nonprofit works with minority entrepreneurs to advance their business strategies, and one of its main programs is a 10-week Business Entrepreneur Academy that provides in-depth training on how to launch a business and raise capital.

villagelaunch.org

CommunityWorks Carolina

Since 2008, this nonprofit remains committed to helping underserved families and communities by providing resources to support small-business growth, entrepreneurship, affordable housing and homeownership.

communityworkscarolina.org

GVL Starts

Affiliated with Furman University, this eight-week program is open to anyone looking to elevate their entrepreneurial startup business chances in Greenville. Highlights include access to training, marketing tips, raising capital and much more.

furman.edu/innovation-entrepreneurship/programs/gvl-starts

Upstate SC LGBT+ Chamber

Founded in 2020, the organization supports LGBT professionals and entrepreneurs as they grow their individual businesses, offering programs and insight into marketing strategies, networking and financial resources.

upstatelgbt.org

Founder Institute

Based in Silicon Valley with chapters across 180 cities – including Greenville – the Institute helps entrepreneurs with funding via a support network of startup experts who invest in the success of each high-potential entrepreneur.

facebook.com/FounderInstitute

Greenville Greenville Chamber Minority Business Accelerator

Born from the Greenville Chamber’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion initiative to advance economic inclusion in 2012, the Minority Business Accelerator started in Greenville in January 2022 to support high-potential minority entrepreneurs and small business owners.

greenvillechamber.org/mba

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