GREENVILLE, S.C. – South Carolina ranks near the bottom of lists for venture capital raised and in terms of a high-tech economy. But the state’s leaders in business and government are seeking to change that.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, many of S.C.’s best and brightest will gather in Greenville for the annual InnoVenture conference to showcase their efforts and seek to build upon those.

John Warner, a venture capitalist based in Greenville and one of the state’s strongest advocates for an innovation-based economy, is outspoken in his defense of South Carolina’s attempts to evolve its economy.

“South Carolina is making tremendous progress,” said Warner, who directs InnoVenture. He then noted a number of steps being taken.

“We’re putting $60 million annually into endowed research chairs to recruit preeminent scholars in areas strategic to industry,” he said.

“The keynote of InnoVenture will be a panel discussion of BMW, Michelin, Timken Clemson, and the State of SC about why they have partnered to invest $215 million to create the International Center for Automotive Research, which is anchored by four endowed research chairs.

“Recently the S.C. Venture Capital Authority invested $50 million in four venture capital firms to pull more capital into the state. Each of those firms will be at InnoVenture.”
There’s more, he adds.

“SC Launch! was itself recently launched to provide seed capital to start-ups. There has been growth in local initiatives, from NEXT in Greenville, to Engenuity in Columbia, to ThinkTEC in Charleston, to statewide programs, like New Carolina and SC BIO.

“Even more exciting, South Carolina is a part of the entire southeast becoming connected into a globally competitive community of innovation. Half of those at InnoVenture are from the SC Upstate, but the other half primarily from elsewhere in the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee.”

Warner, who writes a blog about innovation called The Swap Fox, is also concerned about more than South Carolina. He wants innovation across what he calls the “Southeastern Innovation Corridor” that includes the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee.

“It’s not just S.C.’s economy,” when asked about who benefits from InnoVenture, “but a regional economy that we need to develop. Twenty million people live within a day’s drive of one another in the Carolinas and Georgia. To put 20 million people in perspective, there are 22 provinces in China larger than that.

“We need work together to build stronger relationships among the most talented people in the region who can make us all more globally competitive. Fortunately we have 12 research universities and a deep base of global corporations as anchors around which we can build globally distinctive communities of innovation. Relationships that can lead to being more globally competitive are being made at InnoVenture.”