Conference paves way for tech community in Charleston

Charleston Regional Business Journal
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February 1, 2000

In his opening remarks on the recent dot-com shakeup, Jason Kelly, editor-in-chief of Atlanta-based digitalsouth magazine, set the theme for Charleston’s first technology conference, ThinkTec 2001. More than 200 entrepreneurs and local companies attended the one-day conference at the College of Charleston’s Lightsey Conference Center Jan. 25.

Kelly spoke about the new economy in the “New South,” pointing out that the tension between the conservative business world and new entrepreneurs is more complicated than that. “There is no ‘new economy’,” stresses Kelly. “Just like there is no ‘old economy.’ It’s the economy.”

“Now that the playing field is leveled and the air has been taken out of the ‘net bubble, we have the ability and the opportunity to understand how to create a local or regional tech economy.”

The Internet’s “progressive nature, the idea of a phoenix rising from the ashes, is at odds with relatively conservative business sense,” adds Kelly. He feels that one of the most important factors for development of a tech community and for tech companies to co-exist in any region is the idea of “co-opetition” – or a melding of cooperation and competition.

The keynote address was followed by a high-tech success panel including Steve Swanson, executive vice president of Automated Trading Desk; Nathan Hale, president and chief executive officer of Sawgrass Systems Inc., and Sam Boyle, president of Sailnet.com. The panel discussion, moderated by Alan Craig, director of the Center for Technological Innovation, focused primarily on building local technology industry and obstacles the Lowcountry must overcome to do so.

The panelists cited factors, such as education, zoning and lack of venture capital, as hurdles entrepreneurs must overcome to establish a successful technology business in Charleston. “Planning and zoning seems to be working against local businesses here,” says Hale.

All agreed that the quality of life in the Lowcountry is a draw to bring in and retain high-tech employees. “Charleston is a wonderful place to ‘chill’,” according to Boyle. “People come back to work on Monday morning and have a perspective.”

The conference also included “Geek Camp” – seminars on how to start a high-tech company, managing on the “bleeding edge” and cultural technology entrepreneurship – as well as luncheon keynote addresses by Glen Sturm, partner with Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, and Larry McLernon, chief executive officer of Dynegy Global Communications.

Closing the conference, Craig emphasized that “Charleston may have a way to go to build a technology industry, but it has made advances.” He cited the success of the conference, which attracted more than 200 attendees, as evidence that Charleston can sustain a thriving high-tech economy.

For information on the Center for Technological Innovation, call 805-3081 or visit the Web site at www.thinktec.org.

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