Innovation, Economic Development & Upstate SCAugust 3, 2021
Opportunity to be found where manufacturing, technology intersect
The Upstate has experienced booming economic momentum in the last several decades. A shift beyond textiles. The multiplier effects of automotive and aerospace. Development and production of engineered materials, and more recent gains in life science and food manufacturing.
The more than $3.9 billion billion in capital investment and 8,036 jobs announced by economic development agencies from 2018-2022 is the result of a collaborative, forward-thinking strategy to grow and diversify the region.
And where big industry and entrepreneurism once seemed miles apart, they’ve grown increasingly related. They share opportunity. Both big industry and entrepreneurial ventures are driven by innovation in product, process and technology. And the balance between them enriches a community. The Upstate is fortunate to be at the crossroads of innovation, where manufacturing, talent and technology intersect.
That’s why the Upstate SC Alliance team is taking a closer look at innovation and entrepreneurship, bringing a complementary element to our slate of target industries.
How does innovation fit into our economic growth strategy? And what assets does the Upstate have to sell?
Those questions were the focus of our July 2021 Coffee & Conversation event, answered through a panel discussion between Jacob Hickman, then the Upstate Alliance’s Director of Business Recruitment; John Moore, Principal of Momenteum Strategies; and Scott Pancoast, founder and CEO of Zylö Therapeutics.
What is innovation – and why pursue it?
“Innovation can reflect a spectrum from consumer-oriented solutions to process improvement or product enhancements in B2B environments,” Jacob Hickman shares. In that way, many innovative small businesses thrive in the Upstate, home to more than 2,000 manufacturers. From co-working spaces and incubators to STEM programs and collaborative research campuses, the groundwork exists to propel new and growing businesses to new heights in our area.
There’s mutual opportunity: the area’s existing manufacturers can maintain a competitive edge by integrating new product and process solutions, and the innovative companies that bring them have room to grow in the Upstate.
A Model of Growth: Zylö Therapeutics
Zylö Therapeutics, a sustained-release pharmaceutical technology company, is testament to that fact. Its Founder and CEO, Scott Pancoast, was first drawn to the Upstate for proximity to his son, a Furman University graduate. He came to the region with decades of experience scaling growth and bringing innovative ideas to life in San Diego.
After exploring business environments across the country, he decided to launch his current venture from South Carolina, with its first headquarters at NEXT on Main co-working facility in downtown Greenville.
As the company launched formulation and product development, Zylö transitioned to CUBEInc., Clemson University Biomedical Engineering Innovation Campus, which is home to research and education facilities, translational/ incubator space, and wet lab space.
And, Upstate-based VentureSouth led the company’s Series A financing, investing more than $1 million toward the oversubscribed $4 million round. The company’s growth was aided by grants from the South Carolina Research Authority (SCRA) – as well as the NIH and the DoD – and eventually moved the business to a new 12,500-sqft facility late last year, with plans to create more than 30 jobs in Greenville County. In the summer of 2022, Zylö Therapeutics announced it has raised $5.225 million in Series B financing.
How does the Upstate attract and support smaller, innovative businesses?
“We partner with early-stage companies, inviting them here to experience not only our strong business community, but also our quality of life and vibrant downtown areas,” Hickman says. “We demonstrate the value of supporting traditional manufacturing with progressive technology nearby.”
Pancoast offers an example of the synergy between Zylö’s topical delivery products and industries:
“There are endless applications, across multiple industries, for this kind of innovation,” Pancoast says. “Zylö’s sustained-release technology enables partnerships with cosmetic houses, big pharma, CBD-focused start-ups, women’s health companies, and major ag-tech players, among others.”
“It’s not software or programming,” he continues, “but innovation always seeks to partner with cool, engaging, growing companies. As a region, we can support and help companies grow into this next stage of business – and draw new industries to our area to facilitate those partnerships.”
Zylö’s quick strides were recognized by venture capital and angel investor communities. With investors from Boston, Savannah, the Upstate, and beyond, Zylö has raised more than $6 million.
“The scope and ability to access the kind of capital Zylö has reflects our region’s strong connectivity, as well as the balance and diversity within our business landscape,” Hickman adds. “It’s exciting to go after the biggest companies and best-known names, but we are also driven to pursue different types of innovative, game-changing companies to make the Upstate’s economy a truly aggressive environment.”
What should innovative companies understand about the opportunities in the Upstate?
The power of connecting years of manufacturing experience, a robust transportation network, and a pro-business climate can’t be overstated. Neither can the region’s multiple research-based universities.
“It all starts with the universities,” Pancoast says. “Why do we see such tech success in California? Stanford. In Boston? Harvard and MIT. Innovation in tech invariably starts in the university setting, and I believe the Upstate’s institutions of higher learning are a great anchor for all of this.”
With our research and incubation opportunities, the presence of research and development, and strong engineering talent, the Upstate is increasingly a hub where innovations dreamed in a lab are commercialized, scaled, produced for market, and impacting change.
And much of it is thanks to South Carolina’s pro-business environment, Pancoast adds.
“I’ve seen the opposite approach, and it drives a wedge into success. I’ve lived in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and beyond, but I love this place and what it does for business,” Pancoast says. “The Upstate is an area where I can easily recruit leaders and innovators, and one that supports our growth.”