Rock Hill Technology Incubator staff wants bright ideas

dworthington@heraldonline.comJune 24, 2013 

  • Idea Night

    The Technology Incubator at Knowledge Park will hold an “Idea Night” for entrepreneurs to submit their ideas from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on the fifth floor of the Citizens Building, 157 E. Main Street. Ideas can also be emailed to director David Warner at or to Karl Kelly of Clemson at Karl@Clemson.ecu.

— The best views of downtown Rock Hill. Comfortable couches and chairs. A glass cubicle where you can shut the door and think. Boxes on book shelves with a cartoon bubble with the word “outside,” a reminder to think outside the box.

Entry is by just one great idea – and an unquenched entrepreneurial spirit, a willingness to learn and hard work.

Those are the qualifications the Technology Incubator at Knowledge Park has set as it begins operations.

The incubator is a project of the Rock Hill Economic Development Corp in conjunction with Clemson University.

It’s on the fifth floor of the Citizens Building at the corner of Main and Caldwell streets. The city leases the space. RHEDC is paying Clemson $50,000 for its assistance. People with the great ideas will lease space there for about $200 a month.

The incubator is part of the city’s strategy to develop technology-based jobs. Incubator staff hopes to find eight to 10 people or companies that have the business acumen to take their idea and make it a reality – and a profitable company.

The incubator’s goal is companies that will start with an investment of $1 million to $3 million and employ from 10 to 20 people. Rapid growth is anticipated.

They are called “gazelles,” a term economist David Birch coined in 1994 for companies whose sales double every four years. Incubator director David Warner calls them rock stars. Either way, they represent jobs.

While there is no tried and true method for finding gazelles or rock stars, typically they spring from technology innovations or a change in way business is delivered.

The Knowledge Park incubator is focusing on technology, but is open to all ideas, said Warner, who has been the city’s redevelopment manager.

The process starts Thursday with “Idea Night,” a chance for people to present their ideas in person or by email to the staff and to Clemson. “Idea Night” starts at 7 p.m. on the fifth floor.

“Idea Night” is the first step in an interview process designed to select the best candidates, Warner said. The incubator is not interested in people wanting to open a lifestyle business such as a restaurant or a car wash.

The incubator staff wants people who have given their idea much business thought – who would buy or use the product, how do you get the product to the market and what are its profit potentials.

Warner isn’t looking for people who have all those answers. He is looking for people who know they have to ask those – and lots more – questions.

Those who meet the “serious” test, gain entry to the fifth floor, the couches, the cubicles, the coffee pot and the key to the one – and only – unisex executive bathroom on the floor.

“Once you’re there, the magic happens,” Warner said. The magic is the incubator’s greatest resource – access to Clemson researchers who can find the answers to refine a product, markets or business model, and, most of all, research a product’s possible profitability.

Warner estimates the process, once selected, should take between eight to 10 months. Some people might take a little more time, but the incubator staff is not interested in someone who comes and stays.

With the help of Clemson, Warner hopes people will be prepared to pitch angel investors for the initial $1 million or more in needed seed capital. The hope is the research done by Clemson will show that the idea, or product, is good and give the angel investors a reasonable picture of the risk.

It all starts with first step, a step that could be taken Thursday.

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066 •

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