Money talks as investors offer insight on startups

Rob Sebastian, Zack Brown, Dan Roselli and John Biggs talk about innovations in crowdfunding at Dig South on Thursday.

Money was a prevailing theme at the Dig South technology conference Thursday, as investors from far and wide weighed in on the opportunities and challenges for startup businesses in the Charleston region.

Cheryl Cheng, a partner with at Silicon-Valley based BlueRun Ventures, said two key components go into “a good startup ecosystem.”

“One is a strong venture community that is either physically here or is investing money here,” said Cheng, who was part of a panel talk on funding and who attended an “Investor Bash” at the Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina in Mount Pleasant.

Another important ingredient is an established tech company that can be the “anchor” for the broader industry, she said. Locally, Blackbaud Inc. and, more recently, Benefitfocus have served in that role.

“Those people will draw outside talent and then that talent can then be poachable by the startups,” Cheng said.. But if there isn’t like an anchor ... then its really difficult to just grow technology talent organically.”

Cheng said “a breakout success” that lures young workers to a city also helps. She cited Chicago, which is home to Groupon.

“Right now, I think there are companies that are successful and they will do well financially, but they don’t necessarily make all the young people that are coming out of college say, ‘I want to be an entrepreneur,’” Cheng said.

Elizabeth Callow of Boston Millennia Partners said the nationally focused New England-based venture capital firm is looking for opportunities in the Southeast and in Charleston specifically.

“Our firm as a whole is trying to make more investments down here,” she said. “There’s a lot of interest in terms of ... the older generation moving down here and the younger generation having a lot of new ideas and innovation. ... We really want to be first to the gates with that.”

Frank Silva, also with Boston Millennia, said, “Charleston’s a great place,” but that there’s “not a lot of capital around” the companies that need it. He noted how competitive things are in Boston when it comes to venture investing.

“They’re all competing over the same deal,” Silva said.

Boston Millennia has already talked with Charleston-based PeopleMatter, a fast-growing software business. It’s also interested in health care information technology companies, Silva said. And it likes what it sees happening in terms of research at the Medical University of South Carolina that can be turned into businesses.

But access to capital is critical, he said.

“I think the primary ... challenge for Charleston is the fact that there’s not enough money around,” he said.

Dig South continues through Saturday at the Cinebarre theater in Mount Pleasant.