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A History of Innovation, Today’s Opportunities

August 10, 2021

Manufacturing, Talent & Technology intersect in Upstate SC

Lasers. Hydroelectric power capable of transmitting electricity over long distances. “Free Fall” amusement rides.

What’s the common thread between them? Each of these innovations has Upstate South Carolina connections.

In 1895, engineer William C. Whitner built the first hydroelectric power plant in the South to transmit electricity over long distances and supply enough power to light the city and operate several small industries. As a result, Anderson, South Carolina, was the first city U.S. city with a continuous supply of electric power, earning the “The Electric City” nickname.

In 1964, Greenville native and Furman University alumnus Charles Hard Townes won a Nobel Prize in Physics for his maser invention, which led to development of the laser.

And the “Free Fall” rides found at carnivals and amusement parks worldwide was created by Gerald L. (Jerry) Barber, who for decades has called the Upstate home.

South Carolina’s Upstate has a history of innovation because curiosity, creativity, critical thinking and a “can-do” spirit are woven into our DNA.

That constant quest for what’s next has driven current business momentum for South Carolina and its 10-county Upstate, which has been called “The New Startup South” by Bloomberg.

The Upstate is home to more than 2,026 manufacturers and 545 international companies, with automotive, aerospace, engineered materials, and life science among its leaders. More proof that ingenuity is a local trait: we’re home to 26+ colleges and universities, and a concentration of engineering talent 44% greater than most of the U.S., with 2.7 times the national average for industrial engineers.

And there’s opportunity to be found where manufacturing, technology and talent intersect, whether it’s corporate intrapreneurship or startups bringing disruptive solutions.

From legacy textile companies like Milliken & Company, to logistics solutions provider Pozyx, to startup Zylö Therapeutics growing in the region, companies are finding a collaborative, business-friendly environment where they can establish a solid foundation and grow.

A Heritage of Innovation, An Eye on the Future: Milliken & Company

Milliken & Company Principal Scientist Mary Mason shares the material company’s intellectual property and products containing Milliken solutions.


“The average person touches about 50 Milliken products a day. If you’ve taken a trip somewhere with an airline, you’re touching a Milliken product. When you get into your car, you’re touching Milliken fabric. When you go to sleep in your bed, you’re touching a product that Milliken actually has played a role in making.”

That’s how Milliken & Company Principal Scientist Mary Mason speaks about her work.

The Spartanburg-headquartered company knows that a single molecule has the potential to change the world. With innovative products across the textile, flooring, specialty chemical, and healthcare industries, Milliken answers some of the world’s greatest challenges – with more than 20,000 different products rooted in materials science expertise.

The company has accumulated over 2,500 patents in the U.S., and over 5,500 patents globally since 1927.

While Milliken is a global company, with 8,000 associates across 46 locations, the heart of its innovation effort is within the Upstate, with more than 100 scientists, engineers, and technical associates working to developing new products. At 16 locations across the state, more than 3,200 associates make these products a reality.

Today, 100% of Milliken’s R&D funding is devoted to initiatives with sustainability as a key deliverable. That means everything from analyzing life cycle principles and solving challenges related to the plastics-end-of-life to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, water usage and waste – goals that call upon a broad range of scientific expertise to refine the company’s products and manufacturing processes.

Bringing Real-Time Location Tracking to Manufacturers: Pozyx

Pozyx and Gemba Systems team members plan for a demonstration of the company’s location-tracking technology solutions.


For Belgium-based technology company Pozyx, any company that is producing, storing or moving products is a potential customer.

The company provides ultra-wide band, real-time location tracking technology systems with applications ranging from agriculture to automotive to warehousing, and 6,000 customers in 80 countries.

When it came time to establish a United States presence to further their American market growth, they considered markets like New York, Chicago and Detroit before identifying the Upstate as the ideal location.

“We discovered there is a lot of innovation technology in South Carolina and in the surrounding states,” says Yves Ghys, who led the U.S. market entry for Pozyx in early 2021 and served as President of Pozyx Americas through July 2022.

Another advantage for the international company: the Eastern Standard Time Zone, which allows for business to be conducted with Europe in the morning and with America all day.

Since the company opened its U.S. office in February 2021, partners like the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership, SC Aerospace, SC Logistics and government officials have helped them make connections – shortening the sales cycle, and reducing risk.

Industry-Changing Topical Delivery Systems: Zylö Therapeutics

Zylö Therapeutics scientists work in the company’s laboratory.


Another innovator on a growth trajectory in the Upstate is Zylö Therapeutics, categorized by its Founder & CEO Scott Pancoast as an “adolescent startup.”

The company produces topical delivery systems with pharmaceutical and cosmetic applications. Think: pain management and wound healing, antiaging and even cannabis industry products.

Zylö was launched in 2017 when Pancoast licensed the technology from Dr. Joel Friedman, MD Ph.D. with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx.

“He said it needed to be located up there – since all big pharmaceutical companies have a presence in Philadelphia, or Princeton, New Jersey,” Pancoast recalls about scouting locations. “I went up there, looked at tax credits and incubation centers all throughout Jersey, and then started getting a feel for South Carolina.”

The company’s first headquarters was within the NEXT Innovation Center co-working space. When it came time to launch formulation and development, the Zylö established worked out of laboratory space at Clemson University Biomedical Engineering Innovation Campus (CUBEInc.).

Upstate-based VentureSouth led the company’s Series A financing, investing more than $1 million toward the oversubscribed $4 million round. And the company has continued its growth, receiving grants from the South Carolina Research Authority (SCRA), as all as the NIH and DoD.

Today, the company operates out of its own 12,500-SF facility, home to laboratory, manufacturing and office space, with plans to create 30+ jobs.

“The pro-business environment is big to me,” Pancoast says. “I’ve seen the opposite, and it drives a wedge into success.

Ready to expand your business in a supportive environment? Learn more about how your company can excel in the Upstate SC innovation corridor here.

TOPICS: Global Competitiveness, International, Manufacturing, Business Recruitment, Innovation, Life Science