Technically speaking, Myrtle Beach has grown a new arm in industry growth: technology.
Our area continues to prove that we’re more than just a pretty place to stay and play and boost tourism. Myrtle Beach and Horry County are also standing out as a magnet to attract technology businesses. We’re going to reveal some of the powerful technology initiatives pulsing through the county that are the reasons why.
Robotics Program in Horry County Schools
What better way to ensure technology is here to stay than to train your technical workforce early – while their fresh minds are still enrolled in school? The Horry County Schools’ Robotics program does just that, garnering consistent national recognition in robotics competitions. In fact, a team from Horry County Schools (Carolina Forest High most recently) has gone on to the FIRST Robotics National Championship in St. Louis, Mo., every year for the last three years.
The robotics team is just one of the initiatives supported by the Grand Strand Technology Council (GSTC), which realizes the importance of robotics education infiltrated into the school system, so they equip the team with the right skilled mentors and financial resources.
“We really have a diverse and well connected technology community, facilitated by the GSTC, that has a great interest in innovation, collaboration, and community engagement,” says Jason Green, GSTC president. “As a major tourism destination in the country, we also have incredible amenities and resources that appeal to a wide variety of people and personal interests that are available year-round.”
The GSTC started up in 2007 with the hope of a hub for technology and innovation to grow and thrive right here in Myrtle Beach. Founder Dr. John Sanders had just moved here from D.C., saw great tech potential, like that of the capital city, and knew it all starts with quality education in the school system. So he invested $5,000 into setting up technology fairs at the schools to connect tech companies, resources and ideas. The Robotics Support Initiative was born from that, starting with 125 volunteers each year.
The folks at GSTC firmly believe Myrtle Beach is a place where students have access to a cutting-edge tech education. On gstechcouncil.org: “The great ecosystem of technology makes it a sought-after location for high-growth tech startups, and local business and government are seamlessly leveraging tech for a better community experience.”
“We want to enhance the science, technology, engineering and mathematics education of our local students,” says Greene.
Two more initiatives to accomplish that: TechConnect, a way to connect local businesses with technology professionals and provide an avenue to provide supportive technology education to the area’s business leaders. And Tech After School, to help enhance the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. GSTC provides skilled mentors, financial resources, and leadership assets within the community to students to develop marketable business and technology skills to make them competitive in the digital age.
Another initiative spawned from GSTC is this nonprofit that all started with a co-working space in Myrtle Beach in 2012 called Cowork MYR. Budding entrepreneurs used the common office space to gather great minds, share ideas and collaborate as a small tech community. But Mike Schroll and Paul Reynolds, two leaders in the tech community, saw a bigger opportunity here as a tech startup incubator, so they founded Startup.SC in 2014 through the GSTC.
Startup.SC acquired a new office space in Litchfield Beach last July, where they work from grants and donations from the SC Department of Commerce, Georgetown Economic Development and the Frances P. Bunnelle Foundation, as well as monthly rentals from those who use the co-work space. In June, Startup.SC received a $35,000 check from Frontier Communications and $15,000 from Boeing as a quarterfinalist of the America’s Best Communities competition. Georgetown County, one of 50 out of 300 quarterfinalist communities, partnered with Boeing for the Adopt-a-Community program, and now Startup.SC not only benefits from the funds, but the corporate sponsorship and valuable mentorship on Boeing’s staff. This month, Startup.SC will find out if their revitalization plans make the cut for the next round to receive an additional $3 million.
The incubator provides an entrepreneurial program, which features community events, educational programs and viable resources for scalable startups. Every Tuesday, they host a free Tech Talk at 11 a.m., when a guest speaker from the community gives insight into some aspect of the technology trends and entrepreneurship. Anyone can attend Startup’s monthly socials via Meetup on the Startup website. And bimonthly, interested entrepreneurs can attend the Startup co-lunch. For those who are more serious about their startup, 1 Million Cups is a pitch practice event every Wednesday at 9 a.m., when folks can throw out their idea and see if it sticks with local business owners and Startup mentors. And then there’s Startup’s annual Pitch Night in November, like the TV show “Shark Tank,” where aspiring entrepreneurs pitch their big ideas to an audience of invited business guests, friends of Startup.SC and local investors in Myrtle Beach. Based on people’s choice and Startup’s final say, the nonprofit selects a handful of those startups to mentor and provide the necessary business resources to make millions – or $10 million and beyond.
Startup.SC then guides soon-to-be-businesses through basic training of sorts over the course of 16 weeks. There’s a Business Model canvas and a required 54-hour Startup Weekend. Startup evaluates the competition in each business’s marketplace and how to make their pricing, product and sales strategy stand out. Mentors, investors and donors will then take their businesses by the hand to guide them through creating a Minimally Viable Product, understanding the software development process and hiring the right technical staff.
Conway Innovation Center (CIC)
The CIC is another tech business incubator, with office space in Conway, but also offers consulting, mentoring and research support from its academic and economic development partners to a select number of entrepreneurs in order to launch their business. The main partner is Clemson University and its Clemson Technology Villages program, which has centers throughout South Carolina that run on a proven business development methodology that involves:
-evaluating the commercial or licensing potential of their idea or business
-aiding in preliminary assessments of commercial viability, risk evaluation, prototype and modeling of development costs over 6 to12 months
-working with key stakeholders to develop successful strategies, including partnerships or creating a de novo company
-providing professional and graduate-level assistance from Clemson and Coastal Carolina University in market research, business planning, funding strategies and launching technology-based startup ventures
-access to databases to assist and promote new product development and research; patent research expertise; and technology commercialization services, like alliance formation and licensing
To get an early start on this Myrtle Beach culture of tech startups, two alternative high school education options are based here in Myrtle Beach. The Academy for the Arts, Science & Technology on International Drive in Myrtle Beach is a 9-12 STEM school that’s organized into actual technology-based career majors, like computer science, entertainment technology, and web and digital communications.
The Academy for Technology & Academics in Conway is also centered on technology majors in business, engineering and more. Students are enrolled in a curriculum that has both a rigorous academic and career instructional focus so they’re self-directed learners.
“We let students know that technology is the key to any career,” says school principal David Stoudenmire. “Students are equipped with one-to-one digital devices for many courses so they’re prepared.”
Stoudenmire is proud of the school’s 99% job placement after graduation. “And a majority of the students stay here in South Carolina to go onto secondary education or work because of the intern connections they’ve made while here at school,” he adds.
The GSTC agrees – that technology-based businesses tend to “cluster with similar type businesses in geographic regions,” as well as technology professionals with similar tech-based professionals to share and strengthen knowledge and ideas, even develop potential partnerships. I
The bodies and businesses in technology only continue to grow and thrive here in Myrtle Beach, thanks to these initiatives and the minds behind them.
By Ashley Daniels