How we build things, from products to teams. Founders Forum recap.

A big thank you to John Barnett, Co-founder of Supermoon, and David Siglin, Principal Design at Stitchfix, for their fantastic presentation at our Founders Forum event. With lively AI-generated graphics and anecdotes from Barnett’s time at Facebook and Instagram, they gave us a peek into their experiences building various projects – from apps to workflows and collaborative teams. Let’s dive into the highlights of their insightful talk!

Build the right team.

Optimize for passion and openness over raw talent and ability. Great the right team, not the dream team. (Who knows, they may become your dream team.)

  • Focus on building a web, not becoming a single hub. This creates trust horizontally, collaboration, and avoids one point of failure.
  • Know each team member’s starting point.
  • Be flexible about how your team is formed. (Flexibility was a thread pulled often over the talk.)
  • Strong opinions, loosely held. The idea of confidently expressing one’s beliefs with a willingness to adapt in the face of new evidence or perspectives.

Build the right collaboration

Be tight when defining success but loose with how it is actually achieved.

  • Be clear on what success means.
  • Constantly realign efforts and priorities. Ultimately, they should always point to the initial bullet: what does success mean?
  • Push information versus pull information. David shared how his team shares updates every Friday. It’s expected so people don’t feel that need to constantly ask for the information they know will be pushed out.
  • Have a healthy overlap, in knowledge and skills. This goes back to avoiding a single point of failure.

Build the right product.

Love the problem, trust your gut, explore hypotheses.

  • Once you understand the problem, learn to love it. Because, you’re working to solve it.
  • For hypotheses to test against, and find ways to get reactions and responses quickly even if it’s just on a whiteboard.
  • Build a minimum lovable product. It’s not just viable but people love it.

David and John also shared some additional resources:

  • The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey
  • Competing Against Luck, Clayton Christenson
  • Double Diamond, problem framing and solving
  • A PM’s Guide to Working with Designers, by VP of Product at Figma

Thanks to those that attended – you got to see and hear some additional tidbits from behind the scenes at some pretty big companies – and if you missed it, we hope to see you at the next Founders Forum.

April Founders Forum: Profit First: Getting to Profitability with a Product/Service Quickly 
April 16th, 3:30pm at Village Launch

See you soon!


Jon Scott, ScopeStack: It’s all about connections and culture

For Jon Scott of ScopeStack, it’s all about connections. Connections have not only had a major influence on the success of his business but they’re integral to his company culture. Being fully remote, he believes it’s important to intentionally plan moments to connect with colleagues, as well as the community. Most of their team is located in Greenville – they didn’t want an office but they wanted the option to all meet in person. Flexibility is great but proximity is helpful to accomplish this. They are intentional about their values, being upfront from the beginning of each hiring process. They believe in authenticity and being action-oriented as well as giving back to their community through serving. 

There has to be a better way. 

Before there was a team culture to consider, Jon was working in the IT services space scoping out services projects. And the process was painful. “There’s got to be a better way.” (We’ve heard this before!) Jon, and his technical co-founder, Andy Vanasse (one of the smartest guys he knows), put their heads together intending to create a lucrative side hustle. 

Jon remembers sitting in a hotel room when Andy sent a prototype over to him. “I clicked on it and it sent me a statement of work. Wow, that’s legit!” It gave him hope that it could be bigger than a little side project. Jon was used to having a lot of ideas but this one felt right and even his wife agreed!  

ScopeStack launched in 2018.

In March of 2018, they onboarded their first client, who is still on the platform today. A testament to the great service ScopeStack is known for. 

Although Jon had been around the business and tech world, this was his first startup. When asked what the biggest learning curve was, he referenced all the hats entrepreneurs have to wear. There is a lot of learning to be done and for Jon and Andy, it was important to pursue and maintain a high level of integrity.

“I don’t have all the answers and I need to have people around me that I can ask questions.” Jon started with the NEXT VMS program early on in the business. He remembers pitching the idea in front of the mentors. It immediately clicked for Scott Millwood, former board chair and mentor, who knew the problem they were solving because he lived it. 

You need to sell something!

ScopeStack ended up with a core group of experienced advisors. In their first meeting, Jon mentioned that he would not be able to pay himself. Their advice? Well, you need to sell something! More than just advice, the connections made through that mentor network were critical. A member of their executive team was a direct connection from these initial mentors and he has been an amazing addition. “We never would have made these critical connections if not for our mentors. Everyone has always been super supportive at every single stage.”

Jon Scott, Cliff Holekamp, Cultivation capitalAnother introduction through his mentors was Cliff Holekamp of Cultivation Capital. We were fortunate to get the two of them on the NEXT Venture Summit stage talking about the founder/investor relationship. His mentors encouraged him to meet Cliff even though he wasn’t ready to raise. Even early on, you can tell investors where you’re going and start building that connection. Building relationships and trust early on allows for the ultimate ask to be easier. Jon and his team focused on hitting goals and building credibility to show they were a good investment before they were ready to ask for an investment. They also worked to build a cash flow-positive business model. Jon’s advice for future founders? Don’t just meet someone and then ask for money. You need to plan for that. Go ahead and make connections now so when you’re ready to raise, it’s just a conversation of how much you need. 

His relationship with Cliff started as more of a mentor/mentee relationship which did put Cliff in an interesting position. Oftentimes his investor goals did not align with his mentor’s guidance. The transparency on both sides of this relationship helped build a lot of trust in the relationship so when it was time to raise, they both knew what they were getting into. 

Building relationships and trust before the ask. 

SCRA was a great partner to ScopeStack as well. They received two rounds of grant funding which is a great option for a capital infusion early on. Why did they raise? They had hit $1MM in revenue, were cash flow positive, had lots of runway, and wanted to scale faster. To do this, they wanted to build a team to take them to the next level. SCRA and Cultivation Capital worked together with ScopeStack’s round. The fact that they all knew each other and had strong relationships was critical to making the raise successful. It took about a year and a half to close the round but the time it took to build relationships was worth it. 

Jon got his undergraduate degree in business focusing on computer information systems from Anderson University, where he was recruited to play soccer. (He is one of those rare people actually using their degree!) Jon has leaned on those Anderson connections as he has built the business. He also received an MBA from North Greenville University. But, he says that nothing can beat the education he has received over the last several years as a business owner. “I have learned so much. How to set expectations to how to have difficult conversations. I’m so grateful even though it was really hard.”

Overcoming challenges and decisions fatigue

Today, Jon’s biggest challenge is making all the decisions he needs to make every day.  Decision fatigue can lead to burnout so he does what he can to protect himself. He recommends taking a day off each month for just your mental health or maybe taking off Fridays. 2023 brought a lot of other challenges due to incredibly fast growth. They hired 10 people in 2023 going from a team of 6 to 16. Getting everyone on board and having the right people was challenging and he learned that he was not the right person for the job. “I used to hire people like me, that I liked and could hang out with. But, you quickly learn you need different types of people to run a successful business.” They now use Predictive Indexing to make sure they are onboarding the right people for each role. 

Now with a bigger team, they have additional expenses so the focus is on sales. Their number one thing to solve is the top of the funnel – how do you get more leads in the door? It’s a math game. You have to have so many leads to get so much revenue. This is a common challenge for founders.

Learning to delegate is a skill that entrepreneurs must master to scale their companies. As you grow a team, understand the difference between accountability and responsibility. Jon spends time focusing on the accountability chart – this helps set the appropriate expectations for the team as well as lead to delegation when possible or necessary. In 2023, Jon led a Founders Founder on the Entrepreneurial Operating (EOS) system that he uses day in and day out. Figuring all of this out is what keeps Jon coming to work every day. 

Don’t overcomplicate it.

One of the best pieces of advice he has received is: “Don’t confuse important decisions with difficult decisions.” In other words, don’t overcomplicate it. Clarity seems to be key. Jon loves the challenge of a puzzle, turning chaos into clarity. He loves how quickly they can move as a startup, and how nimble they can be. And, he appreciates that while he is a visionary, he’s found a great complement in co-founder Andy who is wired to get things done.

Jon will never forget the moment it hit him that they had a real business. They had multiple customers and had landed their first enterprise account. People were actually paying them! He encourages business owners to put money back into the business. Companies will never grow if they don’t invest back in themselves.

Typhoons & Contingency Planning Founders Forum Recap

Founders Forum is an opportunity for founders to take the stage and share their stories and expertise. If you leave one of these monthly events with some new connections and one piece of immediately applicable advice for your business (or life), then we call it a success!

We launched our 2024 Founders Forum series with Doug Kim of Kim, Lahey, & Killough Law Firm.

Doug didn’t just attend as one of the highest-rated lawyers in South Carolina; he was also present as a founder. His professional journey began in computer programming and software engineering, providing him with a strong tech background. Subsequently, Doug pursued law school, creating a distinctive skill set that encompasses both legal expertise in patent writing and a deep understanding of the technology being patented. This unique combination positioned him as one of the early pioneers in the legal landscape of patenting software.

After working for a large law firm and seeing many of the inefficiencies, he thought to himself: “There has to be a better way.” (Funny, we hear this a lot…) In 2018, he decided to set out on his own and quickly brought on a partner forming a boutique law firm servicing the manufacturing, software, energy, finance, hospitality, tourism, and technology industries. Their key practice areas include intellectual property, business and commercial litigation, mergers and acquisitions, cybersecurity, and more.

Kim, Lahey, and Killough takes a client-centric approach, focusing on how to use technology to not only make their business run more efficiently but to protect their most important assets. Which transitions nicely into the topic for conversation – contingency planning!

Let’s go back to last spring. Doug flew to Micronesia via Guam with a group of scuba divers from Greenville, SC. You may remember hearing about this story. What was supposed to be just over a week turned into a month-long “vacation.” (In all honesty, it sounds like it was for Doug and their friends as although Guam was hit directly, not letting anyone leave the area, their little island was still sunshine and scuba.)

Doug admits that this trip was a test to see how his office and team would handle him being gone (and out of touch) for a length of time but no one expected it to be this long. For the first few days, the team back home was able to push things off but when two days become two weeks, they had to be able to keep moving forward.

What would happen to your company if you were unexpectedly out of touch and out of reach for an unexpected length of time? Maybe it’s easier to ask, are you able to step away for a vacation to refresh and rejuvenate yourself? (We all know the burnout statistics with entrepreneurs!)

Kamber Parker, of The Yo ProKnow attended and after the event remarked, “It hit me how many things I am the only one that can do on my team.” One of Doug’s main tips was to make sure your team is cross-trained. And, if you’re a solopreneur have a trusted friend that is able to help. Just like you have a neighbor or friend with a spare key to your house for emergencies, your company needs that spare key holder. In essence, be prepared. Know what the most important assets, systems, etc. are and make sure there is a plan in place to protect them. Not sure how to determine what’s important? Think about it in terms of how closely related it is to your income.

Some additional suggestions included:

  • Have data recovery in place: copies and backups, including one offsite
  • Be geographically untethered
  • Implement measures to safeguard property and funds
  • Make sure your agreements are in order
  • Protect your IP
  • Have duplicate vendors in the case that one goes down
  • Have an incident response team, both internal and external
  • Insurance!

If you could take away the biggest piece of advice, it’s have a plan (and share it with the appropriate people to put it in action). It is important for business owners to be able to take a step away from their businesses to recharge AND things happen all.the.time. So, have a plan to keep things moving forward even if you, the founder, isn’t available to implement.

“A bad plan is better than no plan, and the most important quality of any plan is the flexibility to change.” – Judson L Moore, Exponential Happiness: How to identify and pursue life goals starting at a young age

Don’t miss February’s Founders Forum; Feb. 13 at 3:30pm @ Atlas Local!

Nicole Johnson, Co-Founder of Boyd Cycling: A trailblazer’s journey through entrepreneurship and cycling

Nicole Johnson’s career trajectory took an unexpected turn after her experience selling radio ads and interning with ABC – she realized she did not want to be the next Barbara Walters after all. Moving south to Charlotte to join her brother, she found herself in the world of high-tech recruiting, eventually transitioning to a startup led by three college entrepreneurs she met at a trade show. (If you have met Nicole, you’re not surprised that they called her the day after meeting.) This marked the beginning of her exposure to the excitement, intricacies, and challenges of the startup world. She experienced firsthand lightning rod success but also how bringing on investors can lead to losing control of company direction, which ultimately led to the closure of the company. 

Seeking mental and physical health and well-being, she found cycling

Amid the stress and rapid growth of her job, Nicole’s health and well-being suffered, prompting her to seek an outlet in an unlikely place—cycling. Introduced to the Leukemia Society, she embraced the sport with a purpose, raising money for a child in remission. She then dove right into the world of triathlons. A newbie, she received some direct, yet sound, advice: “You should really learn to swim before you sign up for a triathlon.” Again, we’re not surprised Nicole was ready to embrace this new challenge fully despite not really knowing how to cycle OR swim! 

Undeterred, Nicole, in a brave and determined move, accepted an offer from a now-good friend to teach her how to swim. They swam together three days a week, showcasing Nicole’s commitment to overcoming challenges. However, cycling was still a hurdle; she hesitated to clip into the bike, feeling like a true beginner among experienced triathletes.

From doggie-paddling to professional cyclist

Starting a group ride from a local bike shop marked a pivotal moment. An encounter with a seasoned 70-year-old mentor who recognized her tenacity left a lasting impression. He pulled her aside and, impressed by her determination, offered to train her through the winter. The winter training sessions, coupled with 80-mile weekend rides on the Blue Ridge Parkway, transformed Nicole. In the spring, she emerged as a different person, ready to face new challenges in the cycling world.

Introduced to criterium racing by her mentor, Nicole found herself under the guidance of a cycling professional. This led to her joining a big-name professional women’s cycling team. She remembers it being the time of her life. Still employed full-time, she was able to train and ride without the burden of racing to support herself. It was during this phase that she crossed paths with Boyd Johnson, a fellow cyclist chasing his dream of becoming a professional racer.

Nicole & Boyd, a meet-cute, and mom’s advice, “You’ll figure it out.”

Boyd not only eventually became her husband but also a pivotal figure in her cycling journey. Despite the financial constraints of professional racing, Nicole’s mother offered sage advice: “You’ll figure it out.” Juggling a full-time job with 20 hours of training per week, Nicole exhibited a relentless drive that would later define her entrepreneurial endeavors.

Following a decade of racing, Nicole and Boyd decided to make Greenville their training ground. Nicole transitioned from the high-tech industry to work for the Chamber of Commerce where she focused on building a strong, local network. She subsequently joined Hincapie Sports, where she deepened her understanding of the cycling industry. In 2008, Boyd and Nicole married and, a year later, took the plunge into entrepreneurship with the establishment of Boyd Cycling

Nicole reminisces about a phone call from Boyd while she was traveling for work: “Hey, when you get home, I have some stuff I want to show you. I think I want to start this company. While you were gone, I created the website and I’ve been talking to these guys in Asia…” This may not have been verbatim the conversation but the gist is he was already all in. The rest is history! 

From home to international success

Nicole Johnson, Boyd CyclingStarting the company out of their home, Nicole played a crucial role in the company’s early days, focusing on sales, business development, and even delving into finance and HR. An early challenge was coming to grips with all she didn’t know. We have no doubt that Nicole had a smile on her face throughout her personal development – we can count on her for kind words, big smile, and a bright laugh at any event she attends. 

“Founders have an idea and they don’t realize there are so many other factors in running a business. A lot of things I didn’t know how to do and it was unnerving to figure things out. We wanted to make sure we were doing things right and following the rules. I’m very resourceful and found people I could talk to and found experts, like our [VMS] mentors.”

Another notable challenge occurred in 2012 when a manufacturer in Asia delivered subpar products three different times – Boyd prides themselves on their quality control process. Prior to this, the Johnsons were debt-free, having been incredibly savvy with their finances. The manufacturer ultimately ghosted Boyd and kept their money while also stealing their IP, forcing Boyd Cycling to go back to the drawing board. This adversity, while painful, instead of thwarting their progress, became a catalyst for growth. 

Challenges abound but lead to significant growth

Manufacturing in Taiwan and Asia dominated the industry. To mitigate risk and costs, the company shifted operations onshore during COVID-19. Instead of buying inventory, they invested in machines, gaining a 50% competitive advantage. Having foreseen the severity of the pandemic starting in Asia, they took a risk to build up inventory. This decision paid off during the strained supply chain, especially in shipping. Overcoming challenges, they grew 1.5 times during COVID-19, maintaining this growth. The outdoor industry also thrived as people rediscovered outdoor activities. 

Boyd Cycling’s success is not only a result of overcoming challenges but also of the support they received from mentors, notably through the Venture Mentoring Service (VMS) program. Nicole emphasizes the importance of seeking help and acknowledges the crucial role mentors play in their journey.

Nicole’s commitment to community extends beyond the cycling world. Involved with organizations like Moms for Motion, she actively participates in initiatives like the paved pump track project, aiming to provide a safe space for people of all ages to ride.

Nicole Johnson, Boyd Cycling

As Nicole reflects on her journey, she advocates for education about the local entrepreneurial ecosystem, emphasizing a deeper understanding of a company’s role within it. She actively contributes to organizations like NEXT, recognizing the pivotal role they played in their journey. Boyd Cycling was chosen as one of the 10 Most Exciting Startups featured at NEXT Venture Summit in 2023. She was also featured on the Women in Innovation Founders Forum panel alongside other female innovators. 

Nicole Johnson’s story is not just about co-founding a successful cycling company; it’s a narrative of overcoming challenges, seizing opportunities, and embodying the spirit of a true trailblazer. Her journey, from the radio ad sales offices to the cycling tracks and the helm of Boyd Cycling, is an inspiring testament to the transformative power of passion, perseverance, and the support of a dedicated community.

Tina Zwolinski of skillsgapp: tackling workforce & economic development with video games

Tina Zwolinski’s dedication to workforce development has its roots in her career beginnings at the Greenville Chamber of Commerce. During her time on the marketing team, she witnessed the transition to manufacturing in South Carolina and the establishment of BMW in the Upstate. Her work in economic development exposed the importance of cultivating a sustainable workforce to meet industry’s needs, and underscored the impact workforce has on attracting new companies and in building thriving communities.

Tackling Economic Development & Workplace Challenges

skillsgapp, Tina Zwolinski, skillionaire games, startups
skillsgapp was named one of the 10 Most Exciting Startups in 2023 at the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Night at the Drive

In 1997, Tina founded ZWO, a branding and marketing firm headquartered in downtown Greenville. Tina’s focus on relationship-building, forged during her Chamber tenure, became the cornerstone of her career. The firm tackled challenges in economic development and workforce across the US and within multiple industries. ZWO also focused on marketing to youth– both nonprofit and for-profit global brands. It was the combination of this work that exposed the gap, the skills gap, where youth and industry were not communicating effectively, jobs were going unfilled and youth were unaware of the opportunities after high school graduation for postsecondary pathways or jobs right around them, specifically in underserved communities.  

Around 2018, the inspiration to address this challenge took hold, and the concept for skillsgapp began evolving after working closely with Gen Z. Faced firsthand with the challenges her adoptive son encountered while navigating the educational and career landscape as an English as a second language student in high school, Tina recognized the need for a more effective approach. After leading ZWO for 23 years and expanding the firm to three locations, including a West Coast and Central American office, Tina transitioned from ZWO to launch skillsgapp in 2020 with cofounder Cynthia Jenkins (who also worked with ZWO), driven by a determination to create a better solution for individuals facing similar challenges.

The hurdles, particularly for those with English as a second language or from underserved communities, create barriers to progress, hindering access and pushing students into low-wage job cycles after high school graduation. Recognizing that 50% of high schoolers face such challenges, skillsgapp’s Skillionaire Games aims to break this cycle while supporting industry with a more vetted pool of early career talent to recruit from to meet their unfilled job needs. 

“The skills gap challenge is not a lack of talent but rather a lack of engaging career and pathway awareness earlier and barrier-free access into the career opportunities.” – Tina Z.

Tina recognized the need to communicate with youth (ages 13-22+) on their terms, using tools and language that resonate with them. Gen Z is on their phones 7+ hours a day, 97% of Gen Z has access to smartphones and gaming is their #1 form of entertainment. Skillionaire Games’ free-to-play virtual environments mirror real-world jobs in the in-demand industries of advanced manufacturing, cybersecurity, life science, healthcare, etc., providing an engaging space for youth to explore industries, understand job requirements, and make informed career decisions without barriers or bias.

Let’s Talk Gaming

skillsgapp is a two-sided model focused on growing players and in growing their paying partnerships with companies and colleges that can promote their brands and opportunities in-game and even recruit the players to fill their seats and jobs. They are innovating early talent recruitment. Ideally, players will have learned through “hands-on virtual experiences” what their new job entails becoming a more qualified individual leading to better retention for companies. They currently have their life science, cybersecurity, soft skills, and healthcare games live with advanced manufacturing deploying Spring of 2024. Skillsgapp faces hurdles common to startups, including speed to market, player acquisition, and shifting industry mindsets. 

They’re early to the game although they have already had some big wins with receiving five global awards including Facebook Gaming’s People Choice Award in 2022 and EdTech Digest’s Top 100 Companies in Workforce and Education in 2023. Other notable traction includes the successful deployment of games into four regional markets, 25,000 players, growing revenue and renewals from paying partners, a national deployment partnership with American Student Assistance in the Fall of 2023 and the games have just begun. You can find their games on the App Store or Google Play under Skillionaire Games or at

Unable to attend the Accelerator Showcase in person, Tina found a way to virtually present

Throughout this journey, Tina Zwolinski has drawn guidance from programs like NEXT VMS and the Accelerator cohort. The networks formed within these programs have become invaluable resources, offering diverse perspectives and expertise that contribute to skillsgapp’s ongoing growth. In January of 2024, Tina was selected to participate in the national Youth Skills First Cohort with Jobs for the Future (JFF), a national nonprofit that drives transformation of the U.S. education and workforce systems to achieve equitable economic advancement for all. After an extensive interview process, six companies were selected to participate from over 500 applicants.

As skillsgapp continues to evolve and the Skillionaire’s movement begins to grow, Tina Zwolinski envisions exciting partnerships and case studies that showcase the platform’s transformative impact on lives of players and the company and college partners. With a dedicated team with lived experience, passion for the mission, and the support of a robust network, Tina Zwolinski’s skillsgapp stands poised to nurture careers from early vision to global impact.


2023 Countdown to the Holidays Recap

ICYMI, we counted down to the holidays on social media – let’s recap:

In 2023… we added 12 new mentors and 12 new mentees to our Venture Mentor Services program. One of our signature programs, it has been around since 2015 and has almost 50 mentors working alongside 30 companies.

11 startup companies collaborated with university students from Clemson University’s Venture Consulting Class and the Furman Hill Institute Summer Bootcamp. We are grateful for our university partnerships and look forward to growing them in 2024. Thanks to Bricolage Dynamics, Custom Donations, Food Coach, Incora Health, Instaheat,, Myn.Health, TestedHQ, skillsgapp, Surcee, and Vicinity Capital for participating and providing these students with some great work experience!

We executed 10 Founders Forums covering a wide range of topics from Angel Investing to Storytelling! Thanks to all who attended and look for more in 2024.

There were 9 innings in the first game of the #StartupGVL Innovation & Entrepreneurship Night at the Drive. We’re already planning for next year – get ready!

We held our 8th NEXT Venture Summit. The shining star this year was our first-ever Investor Match Day which connected 24 investors with 47 founders followed by an incredible welcome reception. Day 2 was the Summit which highlighted the 10 Most Exciting Startups in the region and hosted 300 guests.

Our signature Launchpad event awarded 7 ventures with service packages ranging from marketing to financial support. Thanks to our partners who provided packages: Elliott Davis, DFS Creative Concepts, Find Great People, SCRA, Slant, and Wych PA provided packages to AR Funding, Avallano, BottleTitan, Builder Rocket, Incora Health, Metatomic Inc, and Stay Modal.


6,000+ of you subscribe to our community newsletter. Not on our the list? You can sign up for our newsletter by going to the footer of this website. It’s full of exciting #StartupGVL news, events, and more!

NEXT presented to 5 different visiting cities from Arizona to Belgium about economic development and the startup ecosystem!

NEXT couldn’t do ALL it does without the Fab 4 – our team. And, thanks to everyone from our sponsors, mentors, and ecosystem partners who help us.

We have 3 amazing organizational sponsors. We could not do our work without the support of the City of Greenville, Greenville County, and the Greenville Chamber of Commerce. 

2 cohorts, equaling 18 companies, graduated from our Accelerator program. Congrats again to Bottle Titan, Bricolage Dynamics, Carbon Cents, Custom Donations, Digital Site Box, Incora Health, Performance Enhanced Delivery, Mapsheet,, Pixlmob, RAAMP, Rebel Rabbit, Ruffian Software, skillsgapp, Susu Lend, TestedHQ, Vicinity, and WAVS Custom. 

We finally counted down to celebrate 1 kick@ss #StartupGVL Ecosystem! Let’s continue to grow and build and scale businesses in this city we love.



2023 Year in Review

As we reflect on this past year (how is it already 2024?!), NEXT focused on our main goals: support the broader #StartupGVL community, engage high-growth entrepreneurs, and measure the impact of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Our vision is of a robust community that provides entrepreneurs with the resources they need to scale a business in this amazing city we love. (ICYMI, check out our countdown to the holidays!)

Let’s look back on some snapshots of how we did this in 2023:

NEW Programs we have launched

  • Accelerator Program – Graduated 2 cohorts of 18 companies
  • Growth Labs – 2 focused on Design Thinking & No Code Solutions

NEXT Events

  • 10 Founders Forums – ranging from storytelling to angel investing
  • #StartupGVL Launchpad7 startups won packages from SEO to finance help
  • NEXT Venture Summit – including the very 1st Match Day!
  • 2 Accelerator Showcases – 18 pitches and lots of great memories
  • 1 SUDs – startup drinks in the summer

1st Greenville-based Match Day @ NEXT Venture Summit

  • 24 investors met with 47 ventures speed-dating style
  • 186 curated pairings = countless conversations, connections, and at least 1 investment (so far…)

Community Events [featuring NEXT]

  • #StartupGVL Night at the Greenville Drive (where we announced the 10 Most Exciting Startups in the Region)
  • October Beer & Napkins
  • Chamber of Commerce Leadership Exchange to Nashville, TN

Other City Visits to Greenville:

  • VOKA, 14 Flemish entrepreneurs traveled to the Upstate from Belgium
  • Hattiesburg, MS
  • Paragould, AR 
  • New Braunfels, TX 

Founders – You inspire us. Every day.

Here’s to our continued success in 2024 and beyond!

dotflo recieves angel investment from serrendipitous meeting at Match Day!

John Barnett and Daniel Dye, the dynamic duo behind Supermoon, an AI-powered customer service software, serendipitously crossed paths with Spencer Tate and Nemath Ahmed during NEXT’s inaugural Greenville-hosted Investor Match Day at the NEXT Venture Summit. This encounter might seem coincidental, but the carefully orchestrated event aimed to pair 24 local and external investors with 47 ventures in a speed dating format. NEXT diligently curated connections based on industry, phase, and other criteria. The unexpected meeting of dotflo with local angels Daniel Dye and John Barnett, however, was not part of the planned matchups.

Daniel Dye enters Match Day with Vicinity Capital

While the goal was to facilitate at least four investor meetings for each founder, the essence of the event extended beyond mere transactions. Attendees were encouraged to network, connect in the provided lounge, and continue discussions at the networking reception. The magic of the event lay in fostering connections in an environment where serendipity could thrive.

Barnett and Dye stood out as the only attendees wearing both hats – representing their latest venture, Supermoon, while exploring potential investments as well. With a track record of building and exiting multiple ventures, including the notable Chroma Labs acquired by Twitter (Barnett was a founder and Dye an investor), they brought a wealth of experience to the table. Both have also invested locally, with Barnett investing in Pixlmob and Dye backing Vicinity, both graduates of the NEXT Accelerator cohort 1.

In a unique twist, John Barnett, playing the dual role of founder and angel investor, had a break in his Match Day schedule. Seizing the opportunity, Tate and Ahmed approached him for a spontaneous pitch, a decision that proved pivotal as it led to investments from both Barnett and Dye into dotflo.

When discussing what impressed them about Ahmed and Tate, the Supermoon founders’ answers were unexpected. While acknowledging that the dotflo pitch could use some polishing, they emphasized being most impressed by the two young founders themselves. Tate, a business administration and economics major at Furman University set to graduate in 2024, and Ahmed, a Georgia Tech grad student, had already experienced the highs and lows of launching and failing businesses while still in school.

Ahmed & Tate check in for Match Day!

For Barnett and Dye, the investment wasn’t just about the idea but about the founders – their drive, hunger, and resilience. Reflecting on their own early days, Barnett noted the duo’s lack of jadedness and their relentless pursuit of building and acquiring customers. They saw potential in dotflo’s founders and believed their investment could go further with this dynamic team than with more mature ventures.

According to Barnett, “They reminded me of the early days; starting things in school. You don’t know what you don’t know so you just plow forward. They’re not jaded; they’re just going and building and trying to get customers. I would hire them. There is a hunger and scrappiness; they’re not comfortable resting yet.”

So far, the Supermoon founders are pleased with their investment, noting dotflo’s exceptional communication, engagement, and eagerness to learn. Dye, who looks for that inner hunger and drive when hiring for his team, found the tenacity of dotflo’s founders appealing, especially at a life stage when most are still playing and exploring.

As co-founder of Supermoon, an AI-driven company, Dye was drawn to investing in another startup in the AI space. Beyond just the idea, he invests in people: “They’re doing the work instead of being college knuckleheads. I was attracted to that tenacity at a life stage when most people are playing. I have to like the idea but I invest in people. Early pre-seed investing, you are investing in the founder.”

Dotflo, an AI-based software specializing in helping businesses research potential customers, is expanding its focus under the guidance of Dye. He has actively contributed to sales and go-to-market strategies and found the app valuable for prospecting research in his own sales endeavors.

Building on the success of the 2023 Match Day, NEXT is already gearing up for the 2024 edition. Armed with lessons learned, the goal is to enhance the experience, fostering even more fruitful connections between investors and ventures. The recent serendipitous meeting of dotflo with Daniel Dye and John Barnett exemplifies the dynamic nature of such gatherings. Looking ahead, NEXT aims to refine its matchmaking process and event structure, aspiring to surpass the success of the previous year. While the conclusion of the 2023 Match Day story is yet unknown, ongoing conversations hint at the potential for additional investments resulting from the event. This anticipation fuels NEXT’s commitment to orchestrating events that catalyze connections and contribute to the growth of the entrepreneurial community.

Cohort 2: What are they taking away from The Accelerator? Lifelong connections and more…

We just concluded our second cohort of the NEXT Accelerator program designed to work with high-growth startup founders to supercharge their businesses. At the culmination of the program, the founders took the stage to deliver their 4-minute pitches on November 16, 2023 in front of a sizable audience of about 125 people, receiving support not only from their friends and family but also from an unexpected ally—Barbie. (You’d have to have been there!)  Part of their presentation is reflecting on what they learned through this eight-week intensive program. Let’s delve into what they learned and what they found most impactful – genuine insights from a cohort navigating the unpredictable startup world of business.


Strategic Focus and Storytelling Mastery:

  • The cohort 2 founders realized the importance of a clear strategy, incorporating insights from curriculum presentations and panelists into their big-picture plans. Improving storytelling skills became a game-changer especially when it came time to focus on their pitches – getting your whole story down to 4 minutes is hard!  

The Business Rollercoaster:

  • The program offered an MBA “crash course” in business, particularly sales and scaling – sans the textbooks. Participants not only sharpened their business acumen but also cultivated valuable leadership skills. It wasn’t just the presenters and panelists that provided valuable insight but each founder learned just as much from their fellow cohort founders. “As a sole founder, you kind of get caught in the hamster wheel of life. One month you may spend 4 days in finance, a few days in operations, and then you get caught in a marketing fire over there. One thing NEXT has provided on the accelerator front as well as the VMS program front is the blinders on the horse, helping to keep things steady. Also the continuity of mentorship. You can always get advice but having people that really know the story helps a lot.” Zeb Parsons, Bricolage Dynamics

Networking, Insights, and Tweaking Their Game:

  • Connections made during the program are invaluable – collaboration during the program was critical but even more so the ability to lean on their peers post-program will be incredibly beneficial. Across the board, the participants talked about being inspired by and building connections with fellow founders adding a sense of camaraderie to the process. Refining their approach and solving problems collectively were standout moments, especially during our Friday lunches! 

Sales, Customers, and Team are key:

  • Sales emerged as the heartbeat of their businesses. “I learned that sales is important and you want to have customers! You want to make money. Making money is good.” Julian Brinkley,’s tongue-in-cheek lightbulb moment. Also, finding the right person to make those sales is clutch – oftentimes the founder(s) is the initial sales person but finding the right people to join the team becomes critical as companies grow.

Cutting through Chaos with Focus and Professional Connections:

  • The program helped them focus amid the chaos of entrepreneurship, providing mentorship like a GPS for their businesses. Networking opportunities acted as a gateway to the business community, offering impactful connections and insights. We look forward to continuing to connect these founders with long-term mentor relationships. 

Leveraging Networks, Cheers to Resilience:

  • Their mentors became lifelines, helping them leverage networks and fostering camaraderie with fellow entrepreneurs. Immersed in Greenville’s startup culture, they learned to pivot swiftly and build resilience. Recognizing the importance of perseverance in the face of challenges became a crucial aspect of their entrepreneurial mindset. “It’s tough being a founder and figuring all this out. So when you can share stories and hear stories of people who have been there before and they can shed light on what you’re doing through it’s great. The leadership helped connect dots and also connect to people and build relationships that will continue to show dividends.” – Pierce Wylie, Rebel Rabbit

From Where They Started to Where They’re Going:

  • We started the sessions with three main questions: what do you want, who does it serve, and how do you get it? The program catapulted them to where they needed to be and understanding the answers to these questions. 


This program was more than a pit stop; it was like rocket fuel for their businesses. As they gear up for what’s next, the impact of this experience will continue to resonate in their ongoing successes. They’re not just navigating the entrepreneurial landscape; they’re owning it, one lesson at a time.

“The NEXT Accelerator was more than a typical startup program; it was a gateway to a thriving community of innovators, mentors, and experts. As the founder and CEO of Susu Lend, a fintech startup aimed at empowering the unbanked and credit invisible, I found unparalleled support and guidance here. The program managers and staff’s dedication and expertise were instrumental in refining our pitch, making it resonate more strongly with our audience. NEXT didn’t just help us grow; it connected us with mentors and partners who shared our vision. Any entrepreneur in Greenville looking for a supportive, dynamic environment would find NEXT an invaluable resource.” – Pedro Escobar, Susu Lend

Storytelling: It’s vital to building and growing a business, from sales & marketing to pitching for capital

Travis McConkey, of Cultivation Studio, led a Founders Forum presentation focused on how founders can start telling their story and capturing their audience’s attention. Sometimes getting started is the hardest part so having some frameworks to follow is helpful. A big thanks to Travis for coming out and sharing his expertise!

The Essence of Attention Capture

“The target of all business strategy is the human mind.” In a world filled with distractions, the ability to capture and sustain attention is a business’s most prized asset. Moreover, storytelling isn’t just another sales technique; it’s the linchpin to winning over customer attention.

The Ingredients of a Compelling Story

To comprehend what truly engages us in a story, Travis broke down the fundamental building blocks. Narrative arcs, identifiable characters, location in time and space, authentic emotions, and specific details were all vital components highlighted. The real secret, it was explained, lies in the unifying principles across various storytelling frameworks.

The Journey of Value in Storytelling

Travis introduced several storytelling frameworks. The Storynomics framework, which outlines the structure of a compelling narrative stresses that every story should commence by establishing what the protagonist desires or values, setting the stage for the conflicts that drive the narrative. As the story unfolds, the protagonist must invest effort, face challenges, and make sacrifices, introducing conflict and tension into the narrative. Crucially, the story must convincingly show that the desired value is worth the costs and challenges, engaging the audience emotionally, and ultimately, the story must provide a judgment on whether the desired value was achieved.

Frameworks that Guide the Way

We delved into other frameworks such as Pixar’s 22 Rules and the Storybrand approach, a popular guide from Donald Miller. (We actually read the Storybrand as part of the Accelerator program curriculum and highly recommend!) These frameworks provide storytellers with a clear path to crafting engaging narratives with a business’s client or customer as the hero of the story and positioning the Founder as a guide through a process to solve their client’s pain point.

Harnessing the Power of Gaps and Tension

The insights shared about what keeps us hooked in a story were intriguing. Knowledge gaps, emotional gaps, and action loops were highlighted as key components of narrative tension, driving business results. Knowledge gaps stoke curiosity, emotional gaps compel us to seek resolution, and action loops motivate customers to take that all-important next step.

Storytelling isn’t merely a tool; it’s a strategic necessity for capturing your audience’s attention. Whether you’re a marketer, a presenter, or an entrepreneur, mastering the art of storytelling is key to thriving in an attention-scarce world.

Remember, Founders Forums are monthly (with the exception of December and July) so keep your eyes open for the next one coming around the corner!