Business people court venture capitalists at show

Josh Coombs is an inventor of cutting-edge suspension technology. Coombs did the work at Visteon Corp., a large automotive parts maker in the Detroit area. Now he wants to buy the technology from Visteon and start his own company, Zoran Technologies, to take it to market.

He’d like to put the startup venture at the International Center for Automotive Research, the auto-related research park that Clemson University is developing in Greenville. But first he needs $5 million to launch the company and operate it for two years.

Coombs was among the entrepreneurs on the hunt for investment capital Wednesday at the second annual InnoVenture conference in Greenville.

Rest at …

Speakers for ‘18 Conference Announced

GREENVILLE, SC – Three national entrepreneurial experts will come to Greenville, S.C., March 28-29, to attend and speak at InnoVenture 2017, a premiere conference highlighting and advancing exciting developments in the Southeastern Innovation Corridor.

John Sibley Butler, Todd Wright and Walter Alessandrini will speak at InnoVenture 2017. Their cumulative experiences and presentations should provide insight to entrepreneurs and others in business.

“These preeminent speakers will further the goal of InnoVenture 2017, and be key components of this exciting event. Over the course of two days, the conference will bring together representatives from major research organizations and entrepreneurial companies. Butler, Wright and Alessandrini’s words will greatly enhance the InnoVenture 2006 experience,” says John Warner, InnoVenture chairman.

Butler is director of the Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship and Director of the Institute for Innovation and Creativity at the University of Texas. He is also author of “Entrepreneurship and Self-Help Among Black Americans: A Reconsideration of Race and Economics” & “Tips to Buy Persuasive Essay.”

Wright, director of Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL), has more than 25 years of experience in industrial and nuclear research. SRNL is one of the most significant sources of innovation in the region, designated the 12th Department of Energy National Laboratory in May 2016.

Alessandrini is one of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs, after serving as CEO of Pirelli Cables and Systems North America and CEO of Avanex, which he took public in 2000. Recently, Alessandrini assumed the helm of Ometric, a presenting company at InnoVenture 2017, as CEO.

Seeking entrepreneurs and researchers to present

We’re seeking the highest potential emerging companies: The Venture Hall will have presentations from 15 emerging companies seeking investors. These companies will be targeting large and growing market opportunities and either have or can recruit strong, experienced leadership teams.

We’re seeking researchers with leading innovations: New in 2017, the Invention Hall will have presentations from 15 researchers seeking business apartners to commercialize their innovations. Opportunities by these presenters will likely to lead to create high-impact business opportunities. Applications to present can be submitted online at the website.

All applications for presentations due January 9, 2017, and can be submitted online at the InnoVenture website.

Prism Project: Allowing Best and Brightest to Dream Big

One of the largest impressions of our recent visit Austin TX was the observation that several major companies, like Dell Computer, were started by people 19 to 24 years old. When asked why Austin is such an entrepreneurial place, most point to the large number of students. Research about how the first high-impact companies got started in Austin, as well as in Silicon Valley, shows that first companies did not appear out of the ether, but rather someone proactively helped pull them up.

The dean of the University of Texas business school, George Kozmetsky, was a very successful entrepreneur. Shortly after Michael Dell started his build-to-order computer company from his dorm room, Dr. Kozmetski reached out to him and served for ten years as a Dell Computer board member. “It was a stroke of great fortune to have Dr. Kozmetsky on our team,” said Dell. “There’s no question that his guidance was instrumental in our early success and his affiliation gave us a measure of credibility that a new and unproven company could otherwise never have achieved.”

In the 1930’s, Frederick Terman of Stanford University’s Department of Electrical Engineering was concerned by the lack of good employment opportunities in the area for Stanford radio engineering graduates. His solution was to establish the then-new radio technology locally, beginning by bringing together two of his former students, William Hewlett and David Packard.

When InnoVenture was over last April, we had accomplished every major objective, except one. While 450 people attended, despite our best efforts only two were African-Americans. We knew InnoVenture was missing an incredible base of talent in the state, and the first post-conference meeting was to discuss why there were not more African-Americans there. The best ideas come from all kinds of people from all kinds of places.

Recently two people involved in planning for InnoVenture 2006, Marvin Rogers and David Mitchell, developed an incredibly exciting idea they call the Prism Project. Their objective is to identify the best and brightest young talent reflecting the diversity of the community and to introduce them to the most innovative and entrepreneurial organizations in the region at InnoVenture.

Some of the best and brightest students we have don’t feel the culture here supports of entrepreneurial activity. Ultimately InnoVenture would like to develop an entrepreneurial infrastructure so they have the ability to dream big and then pursue their dreams by building high-impact companies, like Dell Computer or Hewlett-Packard, that create the world others will live in.

The Prism Project is incredibly exciting idea that, though still in its infancy, can be a foundation on which we create enormous wealth in our community.

Group seeks high-tech culture

There is no reason what happened in Austin, where a University of Texas student named Michael Dell started a company from his dorm room, couldn’t happen in Columbia or Orangeburg.

“There is nothing about Dell Computer that couldn’t happen in South Carolina.” said John Warner, founder of InnoVenture, an Upstate organization dedicated to helping create high-impact companies.

But what Austin, Texas, has and what S.C. cities do not have is entrepreneurial cultures and infrastructure.

The drive to build such cultures in South Carolina long has been a passion for the 45-year-old Warner.

Since leaving his post in June as vice president of strategy at Kemet Corp. in Simpsonville, Warner has focused more and more on what it will take to make South Carolina a launching pad for the next Dell or Google.

On a recent trip to Austin, Warner was struck that several major companies, like Dell, were started by 19-24 year olds. But those entrepreneurs didn’t do it alone.

Someone took those bright young people under his or her wing and showed them how to build a business, Warner said.

In Dell’s case it was George Kozmetsky, dean of the University of Texas business school and a successful entrepreneur himself.

William Hewlett and David Packard got their start in what became known as Silicon Valley with the help of the head of Stanford University’s electrical engineering department.

Warner hopes to use InnoVenture, the Upstate organization he began as a way to host an annual venture capital conference, as a vehicle for the growth of similar businesses.

InnoVenture is going to begin to focus on: “How do we take really bright, talented people and give them an infrastructure so that they can really dream big and start companies that can be worth $80 billion 20 years from now?”

To help make that happen, InnoVenture is looking at two initiatives: the Prism Project and Snow Island.

The Prism Project would identify the best and brightest young talent in the state and help introduce them to the region’s most innovative and entrepreneurial organizations.

And importantly, Prism would help identify talent that reflects the diversity of the state.

Only two African-Americans attended InnoVenture 2005, Warner said. “There is a very talented group of people in that community that need to be a part of this and we are missing that talent base somehow,” he said.

But the key, Warner said, is, “You make this list because you’re very good and you’re very smart, and you have the potential to be among the best in the world at what you do.”

You then need to provide an infrastructure to help those young people create businesses. That is where Snow Island comes in.

Snow Island, named after the retreat where Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion went to plot strategy, would be a process run by InnoVenture.

Warner takes much of his inspiration from Marion’s exploits. His Swamp Fox Web list and Swamp Fox Insights blog are an ongoing source of news and conversation about the quest for a knowledge-based economy in the Southeast. He authored a book this year, “Swamp Fox Insights,” that is almost a how-to manual for launching a high impact company.

Under Snow Island, InnoVenture would take an entrepreneur’s business plan and put together a creative team to help launch the venture. The team might include other entrepreneurs and professional service providers or even other bright students.

The process would begin with an intense two-day structured workshop.

The creative team would continue to work with the entrepreneur who would have to make a progress report every quarter for the next year, Warner said.

“After a year, if we’re successful, they kind of graduate from that program,” Warner said. The envisioned end result is a pipeline of emerging companies in the state.

Such a process would get people, both the entrepreneurs and the creative team members thinking outside the box, Warner said.

“If you look at the really huge things in the last three or four years, it tends to be business models as opposed to products themselves,” Warner said. didn’t really change the book. Dell Computer didn’t really change the computer. E-bay is still retail.

“I really think if we look out 20 years from now, and there is a Dell Computer somewhere around here, it is probably someone who is a student today. And the innovation is probably a business model innovation,” Warner said.

“And there is no reason to think that kid isn’t sitting on the USC campus or the S.C. State campus.”

InnoVenture seeks to pair emerging companies with venture capital firms

Young companies with a hot idea and hungry for money will be pitching their business plans to venture capital firms at the third annual InnoVenture conference in Greenville.

But if you want your company to be among them, you’d better hurry. Applications are due Monday, Jan. 9.

The conference is designed to pair so-called emerging companies in search of funding with venture capital firms looking for investment opportunities. This year for the first time, organizers also hope to pair researchers who want to commercialize their innovations with potential business partners.

Special committees will pick 15 emerging companies and 15 researchers to make presentations during the conference, which is scheduled for March 28 and 29 at the Palmetto Expo Center. Interested companies and researchers may apply online at

Also for the first time this year, large research organizations such as Michelin Americas Research Corp., the research arm of Greenville-based Michelin North America, will make presentations at InnoVenture about what technologies and companies they’d like to have physically near their own campuses.

“We want them to document the kind of innovation activities that can grow up around them,” said John Warner, a Greenville businessman who is InnoVenture’s founder and chairman. The idea, he said, is to help economic development organizations recruit a cluster of technologically compatible companies around research anchors such as the Michelin research campus south of Greenville.

Research anchors scheduled to make presentations — besides Michelin — are the International Center for Automotive Research, the research park that Clemson University is developing in Greenville; the Savannah River National Laboratory in Aiken; the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn.; the University of South Carolina; and the Carolinas Microoptics Triangle, a collaboration between Clemson, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Western Carolina University.

InnoVenture has grown each year since Warner founded it in 2004 as a way to get out-of-state venture capital firms to pay more attention to South Carolina.

“This time last year, we had raised maybe $15,000 in sponsorships,” Brenda Laakso, InnoVenture executive director, said Wednesday. “So far this year, we’ve got over $80,000 in sponsorships committed. That’s a big difference.”

Laakso is also executive director for small business and entrepreneurship at the Greater Greenville Chamber of Commerce.

She’s one of two employees the Chamber dedicates to organizing InnoVenture each year. The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce also promotes the conference.

Major sponsors so far this year, Laakso said, are Michelin Americas Research Corp.; the Nexsen Pruet law firm; Fuji Photo Film; the Elliott Davis accounting firm; and the South Carolina Department of Commerce.

The research foundations at Clemson University and the University of South Carolina are also sponsors, as are Clemson’s research division and its Spiro Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, Laakso said.

The Commerce Department gave $12,500 to InnoVenture this year in an ongoing effort to help “seed” it, said Will Lacey, director of the agency’s Business Solutions division.

Lacey said InnoVenture is the only full-blown venture capital conference in South Carolina and enjoys a “lot of buy-in” from the private sector as well as university and government research organizations.

“Hopefully deals will come out of it,” he said.

Eric Dobson, chief executive officer of Navigational Sciences Inc. of Charleston, said his firm received the “modest but meaningful” investment of several hundred thousand dollars as a result of presenting its business plan at the first InnoVenture in 2004.

“It certainly gave us a good deal of exposure that we needed,” Dobson said.

His company uses global positioning system technology to track shipping containers and employs nine.

Also new this year, InnoVenture organizers are setting aside one-fourth of tickets for college students or young professionals who “reflect the diversity of the region,” Warner said.

As in years past, companies will be coached in the best way of presenting their business plans to venture capitalists and corporations and research organizations will set up displays in an exhibit hall.