State awards local incubators $500,000

The Harbor Entrepreneur Center has offices in Mount Pleasant, downtown Charleston and Summerville.

Two locally based innovation programs received a half-million dollars from the S.C. Department of Commerce in its second annual funding round aimed at supporting and growing the state’s information economy.

The Charleston Digital Corridor and the Harbor Entrepreneur Center were awarded $250,000 matching grants, which means they must each raise another $250,000 to access the funds. They were among 19 organizations across the state that received a combined $2.6 million from Commerce this year.

Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt said the grants project, called the South Carolina Innovation Program, is to “help the state become a top place in the nation to start and build high-growth businesses.”

The Harbor Entrepreneur Center is an incubation program for local startups, with offices in Mount Pleasant, downtown Charleston and Summerville. John Osborne, a founder, commended the department on its initiative.

“Traditionally, the Commerce Department has been focused on recruiting from outside in, and I think it has been very well received that they’ve begun investing in organizations ... that originated in South Carolina,” he said. “This is very much an endorsement of what everybody is doing in Charleston, and it’s not just about the Harbor. It’s about all the energy here.”

Osborne said the grant would help run the organization through the rest of the year and into 2016, which will give them an opportunity to focus on striking relationships with powerful tech companies such as CISCO and Google for future funding.

The Charleston Digital Corridor applied to use the money for its Flagship 3 office planned on Morrison Drive, which will anchor the city’s so-called Innovation District. The four-story, mixed-use concept will be the largest of its three offices for promising startup businesses.

Ernest Andrade, director of the organization, said the grant will be used to build the incubator portion of the facility, which will house businesses in the developing stages.

“I think it’s terrific that ... Commerce recognizes the high-wage job creation that has occurred because of the flagships,” he said. “They have graduated 88 companies to date, with 22 currently in residence at the facilities.”

Other organizations that received state funds include the Columbia Startup Hub, the Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics in Hartsville, as well as tech incubators and co-working spaces spread across 11 counties.

Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail