GREENVILLE, S.C. – The fourth annual InnoVenture conference opens here on Tuesday with hundreds of people and scores of companies and organizations gathering to talk about innovation, technology, venture capital and much more.

John Warner, a venture capitalist who writes a blog about South Carolina’s attempts to grow an innovation economy called “The Swamp Fox,” puts on the event. And he stresses to anyone who will listen that InnoVenture is about much more than venture capital. This year’s theme is “Sparks Will Fly.”

His vision also extends beyond South Carolina to what he calls the “Southeastern Innovation Corridor” that includes the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee.

“InnoVenture is not primarily a venture capital conference, though there is a strong venture capital aspect to it,” Warner told WRAL Local Tech Wire. “There will be 12 entrepreneurs making elevator pitches, but that is two hours of a much broader two day event.”

Warner, whose blog honors innovative Revolutionary war hero Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion of South Carolina, puts own the event for reasons other than technology and making money.

“I’m not a techie, though I have made money investing in technology companies,” he said. “I’m a businessman, who gets a thrill out of seeing the light come on when extraordinarily talented people realize how they can create value together. I personally benefit from being in the middle if the flow of opportunities.”

The show is actually a “meeting” and reaches far beyond the S.C. borders, he added.

“InnoVenture is the annual meeting of the Swamp Fox Community, which uncovers and connects extraordinarily talented people across diverse organizations, disciplines, and geographies to create an explosion of rewarding relationships,” he explained. “Extraordinarily talented people sounds like marketing hype, until you realize that many attending InnoVenture are from major corporations, like Michelin, Milliken and GE; or universities, like Clemson, USC, UNC Charlotte, or Georgia Tech; or national labs, like Savannah River and Oak Ridge. These people are among the best in the world at what they do.”

Jim Roberts, founder of the Blue Ridge Entrepreneurial Council in Asheville, is among a growing number of people who have chosen to get deeply involved with InnoVenture.

“InnoVenture asks the question – what do larger companies need to innovate and grow in the local area and region and who and how to fill those needs,” said Roberts, who will help direct three seminars at the show about the ins and outs of angel financing.

“InnoVenture has continued to evolve to fit the needs of the people that come to the table to participate,” he added.

The angel sessions are an example, he noted.

Warner strives to put people and organizations in touch with each other so that they can share ideas, discuss problems, and in many cases form business relationships.

“InnoVenture is all about finding a rewarding relationship with someone else,” he said. “That might enhance the productivity of existing processes. Or it might result in an out-of-the-box idea that creates an entirely new market. People ought to attend InnoVenture because it’s one of the biggest gatherings of creative and connected people that occurs in the region, who are all there to find opportunities to work with others.

“And this year we have created a very innovative registration system that results in an on-line community where people can more effectively plan before and follow-up after the conference.”

Warner expects a crowd of well over 600 people with attendees from Research Triangle Park to Atlanta and Oak Ridge, Tenn., as well as Charleston.
While InnoVenture does have an agenda, Warner expects attendees to pursue their own priorities while at the event.

“Everyone that attends identifies for others in the Community what’s important to them, whether it is the largest corporation making a 30 minute presentation or an individual describing what they are seeking as a part of the profile they create during registration,” he said. “InnoVenture exposes those priorities to a broad and diverse group of talented people to find rewarding relationships where people can work together in their mutual self interest.”

From humble beginnings, the program has grown to fill a 30,000 square foot exhibition hall with more than 40 exhibits.

“In 2004, InnoVenture was nine companies seeking relationships with venture capitalists,” Warner explained. “Today, InnoVenture is much broader in terms of the organizations participating and the geographies the attendees come from. The first day of presentations is all about major organizations discussing what is important to them. The second day is presentations by investors seeking opportunities; universities and national labs describing licensing opportunities; and entrepreneurs and investors seeking capital and partners.”

Warner also has major plans for InnoVenture’s future. But he’s mum on the details for now.

“At the beginning of InnoVenture we will have an announcement about how we plan to take the Swamp Fox Community to an even higher level,” he said. “Stay tuned.”