Summerville’s Harbor Accelerator to offer different programs from Mount Pleasant’s

By Jenny Peterson
Published July 10, 2014

The Harbor Entrepreneur Center, a 9-month-old, Mount Pleasant-based incubator site for budding entrepreneurs, is set to open an expansion site in Summerville in September at the former SCBT bank building adjacent to the Summerville Visitors Center.

The Summerville space will not house the next class of startups for the center’s 14-week Harbor Accelerator program. Instead, it will house two new types of programs for startups and offer open-air work space for rent to entrepreneurs who work from home.

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John Osborne, co-founder and director of the Harbor Entrepreneur Center, gave the details to a group of about 50 people Wednesday morning at a Summerville Chamber of Commerce event.

The two new programs at the Summerville site will be called Forum and Propel, and both will require a fee for entrepreneurs to participate.

Forum will be for established businesses that are further along in their development. It will offer one-on-one mentoring and networking with existing successful entrepreneurs, company founders and company presidents.

Osborne said it’s targeted to companies that have at least three employees and generate a minimum of $250,000 of business per year. He said similar programs across the country have proven to be beneficial.

“Forum is for people who have already demonstrated that they’ve earned their stripes,” Osborne said. “Entrepreneurs really just need to connect with one another. They’ll meet with mentors who have built companies and founders who have already blazed that trail.”

He said that the energy of all those entrepreneurs in a shared space could spark more creativity and partnerships.

“You can imagine seven or eight of those (business founders) in closed-door, confidential environments,” Osborne said.

Forum participants will meet once a month with entrepreneurs in the community; the program will allow an unlimited number of participants.

Propel will be a yearlong program for business startups that aren’t developed far enough to enter the 14-week accelerator but who still can benefit from mentoring and other business services.

“It’s like an ‘accelerator-lite,’” Osborne said. He said Propel entrepreneurs will meet with a mentor once a month, rather than once a week like the 14-week course prescribes.

For those interested in simply working out of the space without mentorship, that will also available at the Summerville location, Osborne said.

He added that anyone involved in any of the Harbor Entrepreneur Center programs will have access to all the other sites the center operates.

Osborne said charging a fee for these new programs is part of the Harbor Accelerator’s plans for sustaining its long-term operations. Entrepreneurs accepted into the 14-week program do not pay a fee.

“We'll do things (at the Summerville site) that entrepreneurs want and are willing to pay for,” Osborne said. “If they don't like them, we won't do them. We're very nimble and quick to adjust to the marketplace. We’ll do things entrepreneurs want to do and want to be a part of.”

Osborne has posted a call for business founders and entrepreneurs interested in helping mentor participants in Summerville.

“There is a critical need; we have an initial mentoring group that came from our own network and from being around the business community, but we want to get out of our own network and find other entrepreneurs, especially successful ones,” Osborne said.

Connecting the community leaders with new startups is key to the success of the program and also to keeping those businesses in the area once they complete the program.

“We want to make it so that the community support is so valuable that it would be bad business move to leave the area,” Osborne said.

The entrepreneur center, which graduated its first class of eight startups in April, hopes to open multiple sites across the region, Osborne said. The Summerville site is the first expansion from its Mount Pleasant campus.

A $250,000 grant from the S.C. Department of Commerce along with support from a number of businesses, the town of Summerville and the Summerville’s Entrepreneurial Council helped decide on the new location, Osborne said.

He said the organization is looking at additional sites in the downtown Charleston area.

Reach Jenny Peterson at 843-849-3145.

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