“BMW Manufacturing mass customizes cars in Greer, SC. BMW and its supply chain are among of the most sophisticated uses of information technology in the world. Dell is considered by many to be a ‘high tech’ company because they mass customize PCs, but not BMW merely because they mass customize cars. Hogwash.” – John Warner
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Update: Story has been changed to fix broken web link.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — Anyone who wants to follow technology, research and development and biotech in South Carolina should start with a web site called Swamp Fox.

John Warner, entrepreneur and a devoted believer in his home state, runs the web site, filling it with press announcements, a calendar of events, and notices about upcoming tech events. Currently, the site is touting InnoVenture 2005, a venture capital showcase.

LTW recently traded email with Warner to talk about the state of tech in South Carolina, why he started and why he still publishes the web site.

“I have always been entrepreneurship and how to create and grow innovative companies,” he says. “One of the coolest things is starting a company, watching it grow, and selling it for a pop.
Warner’s own resume spells out in detail his commitment to technology and the state.

Warner, who is vice president of strategy and communications for KEMET Corporation, also is president of Capital Insights, a venture capital firm based in Greenville. He has been cited for his efforts at economic development, and it’s obvious that he believes quite fervently technology is important to the state’s future. That’s one of the reasons why Swamp Fox was started.

“In 2000, I visited with many leaders from across South Carolina – from ex-Governors to CEOs to academic researchers to economic development professionals – to talk about the importance of a knowledge based economy,” he explains. “I observed that people involved in innovation in South Carolina did not know each other well nor what others were doing. South Carolina is not Silicon Valley, but it is not a desert either. I began Swamp Fox to create awareness of innovative activities and to develop the network of innovative people in the state.

Expanding Creative Class

Warner wants Swamp Fox to be a catalyst for further growth of his state’s “creative class”.

“Richard Florida has begun promoting what he called the Creative Class, the 30 percent of the population that earns over 50 percent of the income, because they are the source of innovation that creates value and wealth that fuels organizations,” he says. “The Creative Class includes everyone who uses their brain to define the future, ranging from engineers to artists, and from researchers to entrepreneurs. I’m enthused about leveraging Swamp Fox to help organize and mobilize the Creative Class in South Carolina.”

Of course, any conversation about Swamp Fox has to include the question: Why the name? Those who know history also know that the real Swam Fox was an entrepreneurial general, if you will, resorting to the unexpected to win.

“Francis Marion was a successful, South Carolina Revolutionary War general, nicknamed the Swamp Fox,” Warner explains.” With a ragtag group of soldiers, he faced a much larger, better equipped and better trained opponent, the British Army. He deployed innovative technology, accurate rifles, against inaccurate British muskets. He developed innovative tactics.

“Rather than lining up and fighting continental style, his men would shoot from behind trees and then flee into the swamp where the British wagons and draft horses changed from assets to liabilities. And Marion chose the battlefields which he knew intimately. The Swamp Fox is a good analogy for South Carolina innovations.

“Beyond all that, it’s a cool, funky name with an attitude that people remember.”

Since Warner was looking to build a community, not a money-maker, Swam Fox remains a free destination.

“To date, Swamp Fox has been totally a labor of love and completely free to those who used it,” he says.

Not that he is satisfied with what he has accomplished. Warner recently emailed his members seeking advice and suggestions for improvements in the site.

“In the past couple of years, the network of innovative people in South Carolina has matured as a community. We are connected more than we ever have before,” he says. “We all have come to agree that we need to do ‘this’ even if we don’t always agree yet on what “this” is.

“Swamp Fox has been a big part of building this community. The time has come for Swamp Fox to become an even more valuable tool to develop the network of innovative people in South Carolina. Who better to solicit advice from that the innovative readers of Swamp Fox itself?”

Listing South Carolina’s Tech Assets

Warner becomes quite defiant when talking about South Carolina and its reputation regarding high tech.

“There are many more innovative organizations in South Carolina that even those of us in the state give ourselves credit for,” he says. “We have to be careful, though, that we do not fall into the trap of defining ‘high-tech’ by the standards of Silicon Valley or Austin, Texas.

“BMW Manufacturing mass customizes cars in Greer, SC. BMW and its supply chain are among of the most sophisticated uses of information technology in the world. Dell is considered by many to be a ‘high tech’ company because they mass customize PCs, but not BMW merely because they mass customize cars. Hogwash.”

Warner’s list of other tech-related companies and efforts in South Carolina stretches on and on.

“Other world-class sources of innovation in the state include SPAWAR, a $2 billion defense contractor in Charleston; the Savannah River National Laboratory; Companion, the IT subsidiary of Blue Cross in Columbia; the Michelin Americas R&D Corporation and the KEMET Innovation Center in Greenville, and the Milliken Research Corporation in Spartanburg,” he recites.

“World class research at is conducted at Clemson at the Advanced Materials Research Laboratory and at the Genomics Institute, at the University of South Carolina in the NanoCenter and in the National Science Foundation Center for Fuel Cells, and at the Medical University of South Carolina at the Hollings Cancer Center. Two major industry/university partnerships have been formed in the state, including the International Center for Automotive Research and the South Carolina Health Sciences Collaborative.

“I could go on.”

When asked why he hangs in there with the site, Warner’s enthusiasm comes through quite strongly.

“I love South Carolina and being a part of the progress we are making,” he says. “What an exciting time to be alive.”

To check out Swamp Fox, go to: www.swampfox.ws

For information about InnoVenture 2005, see: www.innoventuresc.com/