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Ex-Benefitfocus CEO brings free business courses to Charleston

Shawn Jenkins

Shawn Jenkins, former CEO of Charleston software firm Benefitfocus, discusses the new children's hospital he helped to sponsor December 6, 2019. Jenkins is also sponsoring a two-week entrepreneurial course to be held at the Citadel Mall in February. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

Self-starters in Charleston will soon have the chance to take a free two-week course to learn how to begin a business, with help from the former CEO of one of Charleston's two publicly traded technology companies.

Shawn Jenkins, founder of software firm Benefitfocus Inc., is sponsoring the entrepreneurial program, which will be held at Citadel Mall from Feb. 17 to Feb. 28.

Enrollment is sponsored by local companies and free to participants. Sponsors include the Medical University of South Carolina, the City of Charleston, Baker Motor Co. and the law firm Shumaker Loop & Kendrick.

Participants will attend workshops and have one-on-one training that can guide them through the steps to beginning a business.

The PopUp Business School promises no strings are attached.

"We will not try and upsell you, we will not ask to take a percentage of your profit," the organization's website states. "All we want is for you to make massive change and build a business around your passion."

The program said it helped create 825 businesses last year. The coursework teaches new and prospective business owners to avoid accumulating debt as they get their companies off the ground. Founded in 2012 in the United Kingdom, most of the organization's events are still across the pond. Jenkins said he attended one of the first workshops in the United States in Houston last year.

Jenkins, who co-founded Benefitfocus in 2000 and shepherded the software company through its initial public offering in 2013, will be leading two sessions at the workshop. Other instructors include the PopUp Business School's founders.

Jenkins said he is aiming to empower other locals to provide for themselves through their own businesses.

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"Now, with the help of PopUp Business School, the Charleston community will have access to education and resources to help them follow their passions and start down the path of entrepreneurship," he said in a statement.

Funding cybersecurity

A University of South Carolina campus with fewer than 3,000 students enrolled will be a new hub of cybersecurity research for the S.C. National Guard, if Gov. Henry McMaster's proposed budget remains unchanged.

McMaster included $15 million for the Aiken Readiness Center in his spending plan. The funding would build the DreamPort Cybersecurity Collaborative facility, the planned site of the state Guard's cybersecurity program. The 75,000-square-foot development, owned by the University of South Carolina Aiken, would house secure research and training space.

The idea behind the center's location is to let experts in the private, government and academic sectors work closely together, according to a press release from USC Aiken.

Training in cybersecurity at the site would be available to students ranging from kindergarteners to college seniors. 

The total cost of the project is estimated at $31.9 million, with more than half coming from the federal government. But it could be some time before all of the money comes together: In its request for state dollars for the project, the S.C. Office of the Adjutant General projected construction will begin in 2022, with the federal contribution is expected the following year. 

The facility would host 12 full-time National Guard employees, as well as 239 soldiers. Researchers from the nearby Savannah River National Laboratory would also partner in the project. 

It is not the only center like it planned for South Carolina. Another readiness center is planned for Joint Base Charleston.

Reach Mary Katherine Wildeman at 843-937-5594. Follow her on Twitter @mkwildeman.

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