GROWING SODA CITY: The Five Points Innovation Center hopes to become a tech hub for Columbia entrepreneurs

COLUMBIA, SC (WOLO) — How do you start a business? How to keep entrepreneurs in the Midlands?

The new center in Five Points plans to grow local businesses while making Columbia a hub for high-tech entrepreneurs.

“Founders grow knowing that there are other founders. We’re showing the people of Columbia, you can do it,” said Columbia Mayor Daniel Rickenmann.

“You can’t do it alone. You can’t do it alone at a desk,” said Joe Queenan, GrowCo volunteer and entrepreneur.” You need that community. That’s what this place does for us.”

The Boyd Foundation Community Innovation Center hopes to bring budding entrepreneurs to a new space in Five Points to learn how to turn an idea into a business.

With the help of the GrowCo group, the building will be a meeting place for future business owners with current ones.

“Talk about what they need if they need other employees. We’ve had students come in and get jobs after one cup of coffee. We’re showing we can do this here,” Queenan said. “Over the next few months with our CEO in place, we will begin adding layers of programming. These are all things that help founders and entrepreneurs along the way.”

Construction was made possible by a $1 million grant from The Boyd Foundation.

“I love being in Columbia,” said Susan F. Boyd of The Boyd Foundation. “There are bigger places, but I sure had a great time here.”

GrowCo members hope that students at Columbia will feel the same way. They say there isn’t enough talent in town after graduation.

“We went into some classes and talked to the students. We asked for a show of hands on how long they would stay after graduation. It’s crickets,” Queenan said. “We ask ourselves ‘Why not?’. They don’t feel they can start a business here, they don’t have support here and the incubator doesn’t work for them.”

Columbia has room for new business. GrowCo’s entrepreneurs want to replicate the success they helped bring to Durham, North Carolina, in Soda City.

“Old abandoned tobacco spaces are now rubbing shoulders with thousands of high-growth high-tech entrepreneurs every day. We think with the same type of runway, in 10 or 15 years, we can do the same thing here,” Queenan said.

For local leaders, it’s about diversifying Colombia’s economy while growing it.

“Columbia is about to get into it. We’ll soon be chasing Raleigh, Chattanooga and Tampa as the best place for innovation and technology. We want to grow our small economy here,” said City of Columbia Councilman Will Brennan.

“We planted the seeds,” said the mayor. “We work with people to make innovation, investment and opportunity easy. This is what you see.”

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