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Tech Firm Sees Upstate as ‘Digital Mini Mecca’

July 31, 2017
For Keith Shields and Joshua Tucker, 2014 was a red-letter year. The mechanical engineering majors had started an app named one of Inc.’s “Coolest College Startups” at their alma mater, Ohio State University, and Designli, their recently-formed software development company, was booming. Armed with fresh college degrees, the business partners headed for Orlando, where Shields had family ties. They only made it halfway. 
“We planned to set up shop elsewhere,” says Shields, “but a stop in Greenville changed everything. It was just a happy accident, a visit to a buddy who worked in manufacturing. We spent the day here, though, and felt like this place was it. We had no idea what a good decision that would turn out to be.”
Shields and Tucker moved Designli’s headquarters to OpenWorks, one of downtown Greenville’s co-working environments. Their goal, to provide start-ups and existing businesses the technology solutions they need to grow, hadn’t changed – but their client list quickly did. 
“We accelerate our clients’ growth by taking businesses on the lagging end of the technology curve and nudging them just a bit to the left,” says Shields. “We provide the apps, the websites, the critical thinking. There are a lot of people who will take a startup’s money to build a widget, but few who are diligent on the front-end to determine if it’s the right thing to build. We are those people, and it provides our clients significant ROI.”
Designli credits its success to an upfront consulting process, wherein the agency learns about its clients’ business, whether that be manufacturing, technology or otherwise, and what existing processes are in place to build success. The difference, Shields and Tucker say, is in their diligence. 
The Upstate business community has played a significant role in the Designli founders’ decision to stay in the region for the foreseeable future. Shields notes, “Greenville attracted us initially for the beauty, cleanliness and low cost of living. It was only after moving to the Upstate that we realized the business climate and community are so welcoming. We have learned in spades how accessible the startup community is, from our coworking space to the NEXT Innovation Center and the variety of networking organizations within the tech sector here.”
Designli has had a hand in a number of fruitful tech endeavors in the Upstate, many of which are still in development and not yet on the public’s radar. Best known may be the Accessible Diagnostics app, designed by a Clemson student to read diabetic testing strips without a glucometer. Other Designli successes include Pursuit Alert, a retired police officer’s safety app alerting local civilians about high-speed police pursuits, and Arkiver, an app meant to catalog and store memories of all types on clients’ own Dropbox or Google Drive, eliminating the fear that memories will disappear if a website or start-up goes away.
Shields and Tucker expect that the innovative ideas will just keep coming, as they have since Designli arrived here. 
“We enjoy that Greenville is a small town in the grand scheme of tech cities, but how forward-thinking and innovative it is quickly becoming. There are some great businesses coming out of the Upstate, and Designli is well positioned to assist with their innovations. At the same time, the larger established businesses here require the help of these young and tech-forward companies, which leads to business opportunities for all. This is absolutely why the area is so attractive for a service provider such as Designli,” says Shields.
To start-ups and entrepreneurs considering the area, he says, “It’s a great move, obviously on the manufacturing side of the world of business, but also on the lesser-known tech, design, and creative side. As an entrepreneur, there are many ways to get involved, plenty of resources available to hone your pitch, learn to code, hire great people and ingrain yourself in the community.  Overall, the Upstate is surprisingly helpful and conducive to folks starting a business of any type.”
Partner Tucker agrees, noting that “the Upstate business community is helpful and approachable, and those are attributes that mesh very well with Designli’s culture. More specifically, Keith and I have gotten an enormous amount of value from VMS at the NEXT Innovation Center, which pairs entrepreneurs with successful business people in small, trusted groups so start-ups can talk about issues facing their company, and strategies for growth and improvement. Having access to mentors of that caliber has been incredibly transformative for our business.”
This value extends to Designli’s clients, who seek the agency’s services from well beyond the Upstate. “Our developers and clients are from all over the world, but they seek a beautiful user experience and a digital product that simplifies their business, adding value. Our clients are mid-tier. The CEO of a $150 million company can feel the problem, see the salespeople entering data, realize how they’re doing business is too tedious,” says Shields. “When our clients look for more intuitive ways to operate, the CEO is often the main project leader and point of contact, coming to Designli with something that needs a solution.” 
For entrepreneurs who focus on connecting businesses to the world through technology, solving problems and finding success in the Upstate is due in large part to interpersonal connections. “As someone who wasn’t a native to Greenville,” says Tucker, “I found it very easy to meet new people. It didn’t take long to get connected, and the business community is accessible even to newcomers.”
“As an established business,” he notes, the Upstate, “is a great area to expand to, as many creative people are offering services that can help grow your business. Greenville has become a mini ‘digital mecca’ of design and development know-how; these businesses serve larger organizations here and help them innovate. This isn’t even taking into account, of course, the older and more established supplier businesses that feed the manufacturing companies here.” 
In between designing user interfaces for existing manufacturing businesses and walking entrepreneurs through the app development process, Designli’s founders find themselves busier than ever. It’s been one red-letter year after another, and it all started with an unscheduled stop in the Upstate.


Want more information about Designli’s product? Check out this recent Upstate Business Journal article. 

TOPICS: Innovation, Workforce Attraction