A little bit of innovation goes a long way - about 1,758 miles, to be exact.
That's the distance between Charleston and Fort Collins, Colorado, two cities that aim to capitalize on their similar flairs for innovation with a new program for entrepreneurs.
The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce has partnered with the city of Fort Collins to create Innovation Swap, an initiative that's essentially like a weekend-long student exchange program for startup companies.
One entrepreneur from each city will be chosen to trade places, which the organizers say will prep startup companies for national growth and promote collaboration between like-minded markets.
Charleston startup companies are encouraged to apply to participate, and the Charleston chamber will nominate 10 to be considered by a special committee in Fort Collins, Colo., which will select one entrepreneur from Charleston to visit the city north of Denver from Oct. 3-5.
The Charleston chamber's Entrepreneur Council will also select a Fort Collins entrepreneur to visit the Lowcountry from Sept. 19-21.
Both startup companies selected for the Innovation Swap will win a round-trip including airfare and hotel accommodations for one representative of each business.
Entrepreneurs interested in participating must apply online by Monday at charlestonchamber.net/innovation-swap.
During their weekend visits, the entrepreneurs will be connected with advisers and influential business associates in their target industries.
"We have different primary industries than Fort Collins, so it might be a business that could really boom in Charleston, and vice-versa," said Megan Reilly, the entrepreneurship manager with the Charleston chamber.
Major industries in the city include hardware manufacturing, mobile technology and clean energy innovation.
"Fort Collins is situated as one of the best entrepreneur ecosystems in the country," Reilly said. "It's an awesome opportunity for a Charleston company that could plug into that scene."
The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a national nonprofit focused on entrepreneurship, recently reported that Fort Collins has the second-highest population of high-tech startup companies in the country.
OtterBox, the creator of popular hard cases for smart phones, is one successful startup that calls Fort Collins home.
But Charleston may be an equally attractive destination for tech startups, given the proliferation of software and tech companies that has led to its nickname, "the Silicon Harbor."
Reilly co-created the Innovation Swap with Sam Houghteling, the industry cluster coordinator with the city of Fort Collins, after they met last month at Charleston's Dig South Festival.
"Charleston was brought on board because of an interest in what they're doing down there in terms of its tech and software industry," Houghteling said.
He added that Fort Collins wanted to create a business-oriented project similar to BandSwap, a program initiated three years ago by a Fort Collins-based organization called SpokesBUZZ.
This year, bands from eight cities, including Charleston, will be chosen to participate in the BandSwap, which gives local musicians exposure to audiences in different cities.
SpokesBUZZ will also be involved in the Innovation Swap program.
"There was interest in a cultural exchange with Charleston because it's similar in size to Fort Collins, it has a similar demographic, and a high quality of life," Houghteling said. "Once it was solidified as a BandSwap destination, it made sense to promote entrepreneurship with it."
The entrepreneur from Colorado will arrive in Charleston the same weekend as Charleston's BandSwap, which will showcase local bands along with musicians from other cities. The entrepreneur selected from Charleston will be sent to Fort Collins the first weekend in October during BandSwap's finale event, where artists from the eight cities will perform.
How the cities compare
|Charleston||Fort Collins, Colorado|
|Major industries:||Manufacturing||Hardware manufacturing|
|Medical services||Biomedical devices and engineering|
|Military||Clean energy and water innovation|
|Tourism||Unique retail, craft beer|
|Source: Latest census data, Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, city of Fort Collins|
Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail.
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