GROWING SODA CITY: Five Points innovation center hopes to become tech hub for Columbia entrepreneurs
COLUMBIA, SC (WOLO) — How do you start a business? How do you keep entrepreneurs in the Midlands?
A new center in Five Points plans to grow local business while making Columbia a hub for high-tech entrepreneurs.
“Founders grow by knowing there’s other founders out there. We’re showing people in Columbia, you can do it,” said Columbia mayor Daniel Rickenmann.
“You can’t go it alone. You can’t do it at a desk by yourself,” said Joe Queenan, GrowCo volunteer and entrepreneur.”You need that community. That’s what this place does for us.”
The Boyd Foundation Community Innovation Center hopes to bring future entrepreneurs to the new space in Five Points to learn about how to grow their idea into a business.
With the help of the group GrowCo, the building will be a meeting place for those future business owners to meet with current ones.
“Talk about what they need if they need other employees. We’ve had college students come in and get jobs after one cup of coffee. We’re showing that we can do this here,” Queenan said. “Over the course of the next couple months with our executive director in place, we’ll start adding layers of programming. These are all things to help founders and entrepreneurs through that journey.”
The building is made possible by a million dollar donation from The Boyd Foundation.
“I love being in Columbia,” said Susan F. Boyd of The Boyd Foundation. “There are bigger places, but I have certainly had a wonderful time being right here.”
The members of GrowCo hope for college students in Columbia to feel the same way. They say that not enough OF the city’s talent is staying after graduation.
“We’ve gone into some classes and talked to students. We’ve asked for a show of hands about how many are going to stay after graduation. It’s crickets,” Queenan said. “We ask, ‘Why not?’. They don’t feel like they can start a business here, don’t have support here and the incubator doesn’t work for them.”
Columbia has the space for new businesses. The entrepreneurs of GrowCo want to replicate in Soda City the success they’ve helped bring to Durham, North Carolina.
“Old abandoned tobacco spaces now have thousands of high-tech, high-growth entrepreneurs every day rubbing shoulders. We think that with the same kind of runway, in 10 or 15 years, we can do the same thing here,” Queenan said.
For local leaders, it’s about diversifying Columbia’s economy while growing it.
“Columbia is about to get into it. We’re about to chase Raleigh, Chattanooga and Tampa as the best place for innovation and tech. We want to grow our little economy here,” said City of Columbia councilman Will Brennan.
“We’ve planted a seed,” the mayor said. “We’re working with people to make innovation, investment and opportunities easy. This is what you’re seeing.”