Jump-starting the future: The Harbor Accelerator

  • Wednesday, August 20, 2014



The one word that you'll hear the most after setting foot in the Biz Inc. offices that house Mount Pleasant's Harbor Accelerator is “scalability.” Spend enough time there and the mantra will start to sink in, even if you don't really know what it means. Scalability, or the ability to not just grow a business but manage that growth, is the goal for each start-up entering into the 14-week program, but it means something very different for each business. For some companies, entering the accelerator means getting a crash course in marketing; for some, it is all about making the right connections, but for many, it's a matter of turning that million dollar idea into a self-sustaining business.

For Mike Dross of Hail Point, a business that provides accurate mapping of hail damage to insurance companies, roofers and anyone else who may be interested, the accelerator is a lesson in the business side of things.

“I was eating lunch and a guy sitting next to me was talking to me, and he was a roofer. He was telling me about the challenges they had trying to find where the damage was,” Dross said. “They knew a storm might hit a city or community, but they didn't know exactly where the damage was. ... I knew with the technology we had with radar, the data resolution we had, this was a problem we could help solve.”

As a trained meteorologist, Dross believes in the quality and value of his service. For him, it is mostly a matter of transforming that product into a fully realized business.

“How do I handle the business end of this? How do you grow a company? That's what these guys know how to do,” Dross said. “They know how to take something from an embryo and turn it into something huge.”

For Sam Staley, founder and CEO of Bidr, a company looking to revolutionize silent auctions, the Harbor Accelerator is a way to access the best minds in business. As part of the accelerator program, start-ups are schooled by some of the Southeast's biggest names in business, such as accelerator co-founder Patrick Bryant; Cary Chastain, owner of Moe's Southwest Grill; and Christine Osbourne, founder of Wonder Works.

“What other chance could a start-up have to sit in a room with this caliber of mentors? It doesn't exist anywhere else,” said Staley.

Staley was a consultant for a member of the accelerator's previous cohort, Snapcastr, a social media company who has moved on to work with the South Carolina Stingrays and Charleston Fashion Week. Staley understands that making the right connections is a major part of the program, and new members Bunk-R-Bed founder Ryan Pirkle and Shuga Bebe Couture founder and local mom, Kim Williams agree.

Pirkle imagined Bunk-R-Bed, a new type of personal enclosure, while spending time in Afghanistan as a military contractor. “I was working for the Army and I was overseas. I was sleeping in a tent with 300 other guys and wanted my own little cell, my own little enclosure for privacy and protection from the elements,” said Pirkle. “So, I came home and designed this.”

Pirkle says that aside from their obvious use in dorm rooms and while camping, his enclosures could also operate as temporary disaster-relief shelters during emergency response situations. Each 75-by-34-by-36-inch enclosure can be inflated in about 10 seconds and packs up into the size of a basketball.

Describing what he has gotten out of the Harbor Accelerator, Pirkle says that the program has worked with him to present a fluid business model.

“It's like taking a fire hose and directing it into a funnel and having a stream at the end of it,” said Pirkle. “I want to be able to have that stream, and instead of spraying my fire hose in a crowd, I want to be able to take my stream and direct it at the people who need this most.”

Mount Pleasant's own Kim Williams is looking to take her one-woman operation to the next level. This East Cooper mother of four has been doing things on her own since the beginning, but now she is looking for the right connections to take Shuga Bebe Couture global. With her product already in use at MUSC and ECMC nursing classes, Williams knew she was on to something when she first developed her nursing pillow for new mothers.

“My background is I'm a mom. I have four kids,” said Williams. “And with my last one, I received the most popular nursing pillow that's on the market and I didn't like it. So, I basically started out just initially making something for myself, to make me comfortable.”

A Wando grad, raised in Mount Pleasant, Williams is extending her line of child care products into swaddling clothing for newborns. After developing the prototype for her breastfeeding pillow with the help of the local chapter of the Leche League breastfeeding support group, Williams says, “Google and my phone were my best friends. I basically just started calling people and trying to figure out how to get it done.”

Williams knows what she needs most from the accelerator, stating, “What I'm missing isn't something that needs to be invented. I really wanted to surround myself with people who have the expertise and can point me in the right direction, whereas most the stuff I'm doing, I'm doing blindly.”

John Osborne, Harbor Accelerator co-founder and director, credits the area's talent attraction, growing entrepreneurship and tech scene as the main incentives for housing the accelerator in Mount Pleasant.

“We approached the town and said this space really fits what we need; we can really bring a lot of eyeballs to the town of Mount Pleasant and to your ideas around supporting entrepreneurship,” said Osborne. “There's a win-win here somewhere and they got it...”

The Harbor Entrepreneur Center currently houses programs at Biz Inc., the main site for the Harbor Accelerator program on Ann Edwards Lane in Mount Pleasant, as well as new expansions in Summerville and on Longpoint Road. Osborne says that the main office will need to relocate in November, but plans to remain in Mount Pleasant, and hopefully bring all of the center's programs under one roof. For more information, visit www.harborec.com

Dustin Waters is one of our staff reporters and the staff copy editor. Follow Dustin on Twitter @MNreports for more news updates.

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