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Columbia Business Monthly

The Start Up Scene In The Midlands

Nov 01, 2017 02:17PM ● By Emily Stevenson
By Dr. Kasie Whitener

There is a kind of fierce independence that comes with being an entrepreneur. As if the very title enables the bearer to quote Frank Sinatra and strike a Wonder Woman pose.

I had not considered myself an entrepreneur before joining 1 Million Cups Columbia. I was a freelancer. An independent contractor. A writer and consultant and sometimes professor. I certainly didn’t have a 30-second pitch, a problem I was trying to solve, or anything resembling “serial” (unless you count quitting book clubs; I have quite a habit of that).

When I committed to attending the entrepreneur community meetings every Wednesday in January of 2016, I knew two things. Firstly, I wanted to grow my business beyond my own freelancer service offerings. Secondly, I couldn’t do it alone. I needed a team.

For all the independence it takes to be an entrepreneur, the best advice I’ve ever heard given to entrepreneurs is, “Don’t do it alone.” Joining 1MC was my way of recruiting cheerleaders, coaches, a pep band, and fans.

Six months into 2016, my New Year’s Resolution to attend 1 Million Cups Columbia every week was holding steadfast and I presented my company to the group. Two months later, 1MC Columbia founding co-organizers Greg Hilton, Agata Chydzinski, and John Wilkinson asked me to join their team. One year after that, I was sent to Kansas City to hang with 150 other 1MC lead organizers from places like Tulsa, Anchorage, Ocala, and St. Louis. To say that 1 Million Cups has been pivotal for me over the last year would be a gross understatement.

It is the single greatest thing I do with my time.

After that first presentation, I earned my first major contract. As a community organizer, entrepreneurial advocate, and start up specialist, I’m in the most dynamic ecosystem in Columbia. The 1MC community has strategic partnerships with the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, the South Carolina Small Business Development Center (SBDC), the USC Incubator, the Midlands Chapter of SCORE, and the McNair Institute for Entrepreneurship and Enterprise at the University of South Carolina. We are sponsored by Midlands Technical College, Midlands Anchor, Foltex USA, Network in Action, and the Richland Library.

We have created an inclusive, nurturing space for business owners, would-be owners, and freelancing contractors of all industries. Our crowd grows by five new attendees every week. There is energy and enthusiasm in the start-up space in Columbia, and 1MC reflects it.

The work we do together makes teammates out of local entrepreneurs.

This is National Entrepreneurship Month and Columbia’s state of the city on this economic measure is “trending.” That is to say, everyone is talking about entrepreneurs. In the City Council’s Envision Columbia statement, growing entrepreneurship is Goal #1. The City of Columbia’s Economic Development team offers workshops, mentoring, and events for entrepreneurs. Richland Library has grown intentionally its makers’ space, co-working space, and entrepreneur workshop series. Entrepreneurship is the hot topic in Columbia from university faculty discussing how to teach it to financial institutions talking about how to fund it and dreamers of every swath trying their hand at it.

So fiercely independent are those dynamic individuals in our start-up ecosystem, that this year we organized an event dedicated to business creation. Soda City Start Up, a three-day accelerator, catalyzed entrepreneurship in Columbia. The organizing committee is a band of merry do-gooders all in the start-up ecosystem in various capacities.

The passion that drives entrepreneurs is inherent in the Midlands’ DNA. Independent, brave, and a little audacious, Soda City’s entrepreneurial class is fun-loving and competitive. We believe the future is entrepreneurial. Workforce and economic trends tell us that independence will soon be the norm, not the exception. Entrepreneurialism speaks to those trends.

An exceptional entrepreneur ecosystem can grow businesses that sink deep roots into the Midlands and stretch branches outward and upward into prosperity. Columbia can foster entrepreneurs through service-oriented leaders who promote the ecosystem as a collaborative whole. Participation and inclusion are the keys to growing and retaining entrepreneurs in the Midlands.

Nurture entrepreneurs and their independence will be a force of change.

There are so many organizations fostering entrepreneurs that I know I have not named them all. As our entrepreneurial galaxy becomes more visible in Columbia, I think you’ll begin to see constellations: patterns of partnerships that shape events, education, and business in the Midlands. When Columbia works together, our whole community prospers.