Harbor Accelerator in Mount Pleasant offers boot camp for startups

By Liz Segrist
lsegrist@scbiznews.com
Published May 20, 2014

Sean Stewart and Brian Tice, the co-founders of a new software company in Charleston, are looking to be the next big thing in tech.

They were introduced through CoFoundersLab, a site that pairs up entrepreneurs. Stewart needed someone with a business background, and Tice was looking for a technical coder.

Brian Tice (left) and Sean Stewart are launching their software company, Snapcastr, from Charleston with the hopes of taking it global. (Photo/Liz Segrist)
Brian Tice (left) and Sean Stewart are launching their software company, Snapcastr, from Charleston with the hopes of taking it global. (Photo/Liz Segrist)
They met for coffee last August and have been working together since then to launch Snapcastr, a SaaS, or software as a service, platform that enables an audience to share photos and comments on a big screen during an event.

Snapcastr’s software searches social media sites for hashtags and keywords associated with an event. It aggregates the tweets, posts and photos, allows the event staff to approve everything, and then displays the interactions on a large screen.

Snapcastr is one of eight teams of entrepreneurs that were chosen from 150 applicants for the first round of the Harbor Accelerator, which ran from January to April.

The accelerator is a 14-week intensive entrepreneur boot camp of sorts that pushes companies to stop planning and start selling.

“We knew we would have access to great mentors, a creative environment and a rigorous curriculum that would make our company bigger and better in a much faster timeframe,” Tice said.

John Osborne, founder of Funding Charleston, and Patrick Bryant, a serial entrepreneur, launched the accelerator after visiting similar operations in Richmond, Va., Raleigh, N.C., Nashville, Greenville and San Antonio.

They share a mission: to help local entrepreneurs build scalable businesses in Charleston. They recently launched The Harbor Entrepreneur Center, a nonprofit focused on supporting entrepreneurs in Charleston, and they are accepting applications through June for the second round of the accelerator.

The Harbor Accelerator runs out of a 2,500-square-foot space in a building owned by the town of Mount Pleasant at the intersection of Houston Northcutt Boulevard and Ann Edwards Lane. Osborne said he and Bryant are seeking a permanent location for the program in Mount Pleasant. The accelerator was originally funded by 47 founding sponsors.

As for The Harbor Entrepreneur Center, Bryant and Osborne envision having several locations around the region that would potentially have coworking space, as well as space for monthly “founder forums” where company executives could share their experiences and challenges.

The S.C. Commerce Department recently awarded them a $250,000 grant for the Harbor Accelerator. It was one of 14 organizations across the state that received funding to foster high-tech developments.

“As a region, we want to be supportive of Silicon Harbor and entrepreneurship. If we really want to do that, existing businesses have to give startups a chance with short-term contracts or pilot programs,” Osborne said. “If we remove those barriers to entry, we could develop a process to attract more capital to the region to grow businesses faster.”

A day in the accelerator

When asked to describe daily life at the accelerator, Osborne grins.

“Electric. Awesome. So much fun,” Osborne said. “It’s such high energy and everyone is working on cool, innovative stuff and they’re all at the same stage so we’re all celebrating each other’s wins.”

Entrepreneurs must come into the accelerator with a product that’s near completion so they can immediately seek market validation in preparation of pitching to investors.

On the first day, each team presents an idea and is paired up with three mentors, whom it meets with weekly. Osborne said all mentors have built companies from zero to multimillion, or sold companies of that scale.

“We want people who have actually jumped off the cliff and blazed the trail to get from zero to revenue,” Osborne said of the mentors.

Entrepreneurs work from their space in Mount Pleasant, which the nonprofit leases for $1 a year from the town of Mount Pleasant. The space, originally called Biz Inc., was the town’s brainchild for incubator space that never took off.

Teams have access to that office space for free all day, every day. Working in side-by-side cubicles, the entrepreneurs learn from one another.

The teams spend all day making sales calls, defining price structures, seeking market validation, researching competitors and evaluating their ideas.

“We want to get these companies to a sustainable operation. What they do from there is up to them,” Osborne said. “We do envision the next Blackbaud or Benefitfocus coming out of this program.”

Working from zero to revenue

Tarian Orthotics
Chelsea Ex-Lubeskie (left) and Riley Csernica work on their startup, Tarian Orthotics, from the Harbor Accelerator in Mount Pleasant. (Photo/Liz Segrist)

Riley Csernica and Chelsea Ex-Lubeskie, another team in the accelerator, developed a shoulder brace to lower the risk of dislocations for athletes returning to their sport post-injury.

They launched Tarian Orthotics while earning bioengineering graduate degrees at Clemson University. After graduating last year, they returned to Charleston and spent their days trying to launch their company from local coffee shops.

“It was the two of us free floating on our own trying to make this happen and it was challenging to operate that way,” Csernica said.

They were accepted into the accelerator program, which pushed them to get their brace onto a South Carolina Stingrays hockey player during a game this year. Currently, they are working on production with manufacturers and sales with athletic trainers, while also considering licensing an ankle brace.

“This forces you to go from planning mode to execution mode,” Csernica said.

Snapcastr co-founders Tice and Stewart are back to working remotely from their homes in Charleston as they prepare to pitch to angel investors. They recently secured the College of Charleston’s basketball program as a customer.

For them, the biggest challenge has been defining a business model that’s competitive on a global scale. Snapcastr aims to have its software in every music festival, college campus and sports arena across the country and beyond.

“It’s one thing to go sell a product to 10 or to 50 people. But can you build a product that’s competitive enough and scalable enough to sell to a million people? Or to 2 million people? That’s our goal,” Tice said.

Reach staff writer Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119 or @lizsegrist on Twitter.

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