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.

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.

“Get Scrappy, Bro” Ric Hoke, WAVS Custom, talks storytelling and scrappiness

There were some memorable moments at the 2023 NEXT Venture Summit that were more memorable than others. If you were in the room, you would definitely remember Ric Hoke, Founder of WAVS Custom, walking on stage with his guitar and a song. To follow up his incredible performance, he then tossed WAVS t-shirts to the crowd. A stand-out for many reasons, WAVS was one of the 10 Most Exciting Startups in the Region featured at the yearly event. And his presentation proved why. 

WAVS Custom creates handmade, custom-fit earphones right here in Greenville, SC. Musicians are big fans of WAVS’ patented mobile 3D scanning technology and music provided a unique and fun way to showcase his product on stage.

Music actually led to Ric’s “lightbulb moment” prompting him to create his patented technology and product. Ric was part of the NEXT Accelerator cohort 1 so NEXT had a front-row seat as he built his pitch. When we asked Ric what it was that “clicked” for him when it comes to pitching on stage his immediate reply was: “[Founders] have to be comfortable telling the truth of their story. Don’t avoid the hard stuff, the struggles, or the emotional.” It’s hard to get feedback especially when your business is so personal. It’s easy to be self-protective but it’s best to lean into the emotional connection.

Lightbulb moments that come full circle

wavs custom, music, guitars, ear pieces for musiciansRic’s story starts with his grandparents, both of whom had dementia. Experiencing that with his family deeply impacted Ric from a young age. A lifelong music lover and musician he tried to pair that love with serving those impacted by this disease in multiple ways but it wasn’t until he was serving Alzheimer’s patients through music therapy that he had what he calls his “lightbulb moment.” Ric openly features Dave, an Alzheimer’s patient, as part of his story – he’s integral even if there isn’t a happy ending. Ric was only able to connect with Dave through music. And it was difficult when the earbuds were constantly falling out of Dave’s ears! BAM! Lightbulb. Unfortunately, Dave passed away before Ric was able to make him his very own custom-made WAVS but Ric was able to honor him by playing at his funeral. 

What an incredibly powerful story. Maybe it is sad, and part of it – talking about disease and hardship and dying – can be uncomfortable but Ric truly believes you have to embrace the heart of your story to make true impact. Dave, and his grandparents, are what drive Ric day in and day out to stay in the grind that is building a company. 

“If your heart’s not in it, you’re not going to succeed. People without heart aren’t going to have the energy and they’re not going to believe strongly in what they’re doing. The only way through it is by focusing our energy on what makes us happy and what helps someone else. Any of the companies that have made it and sustained, they have solved a problem that truly helped someone’s pain. Those are the companies that stick around.” We think WAVS is going to stick around. 

Providing accelerant and mentorship

Ric Hoke, WAVS CustomRic found the NEXT Accelerator to be incredibly helpful and perfectly timed for where his company was in early 2023. They were trying to raise money and just received an SCRA grant. WAVS was ripe to scale and Ric focused in. “Every one of the speakers – they were at the top of their level and they know what we’re going through because they’ve been in that situation. You’re only going to get what you put into it [the Accelerator]. You have got to reach out and talk to the speakers and the organizers. Reach out to the resources that are available to you.”

We asked Ric for his best advice for early-stage founders: “Get scrappy, bro! Especially if you’re trying to raise a family. Ideas typically come later in life when you’re educated and connecting the dots so you often have a family to support. Learn how to utilize every resource that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. Learn how to build it yourself first so you understand the cost. Don’t overpay for something you can watch YouTube to figure out. There are more resources than ever to be scrappy to get to the funding round.”

WAVS just closed its first round of funding and SCRA’s investment affiliate, SC Launch Inc., just announced an investment in WAVS Custom. Looks like being scrappy has paid off.

NEXT unveils Ten Most Exciting Startups in the Region at 3rd annual #StartupGVL Night at the Greenville Drive

Last night, the Greenville Drive hosted the 3rd annual #StartupGVL Night, a night out for innovation and entrepreneurship. Thanks to Village Launch for a lively Village Market on District 356. We loved seeing Walter, the beer-pouring Robot from Hop Robotics in the Front Porch, and Real Motors’ Tesla Recreational Vehicles in the Champions Club. It was an exciting night for Innovation in the Upstate.

Speaking of exciting… NEXT revealed the Ten Most Exciting Startups in the Region, who will be presenting on stage at NEXT Venture Summit on September 12-13th. Check them out!

The Ten Most Exciting Startups in the Region are: 

Boyd Cycling –  a craft wheel manufacturer specializing in high-end wheels for road, gravel, cyclocross, and mountain bikes. BOYD designs, produces, and assembles bicycle wheels made from carbon and alloy right in Greenville, SC. 

CarbonCents – a SaaS platform to provide insight into manufacturing, healthcare, education, and municipalities operations by collecting, measuring, and presenting data efficiently. Enabling quality decisions to reduce costs and emissions while creating a healthy working environment and more sustainable future.

KIYATEC – Kiyatec is disrupting cancer care by accurately predicting patient–specific response and non–response before treatment begins to enable physicians to isolate only the effective treatments for their patients as quickly as possible – making truly personalized medicine a reality.

Rymedi – A blockchain-enabled platform that empowers health workers and patients to improve the quality and efficiency of care by securely linking the patient, provider, institution, employer, and lab, creating a marketplace of health solutions with each module optimized for a client’s unique needs.

ScopeStack – ScopeStack is a unique presales automation tool for IT service providers, enabling engineers to increase efficiency, reduce risk, and improve service margins.

Skillsgapp – Skillsgapp transforms career awareness, access to job pathways, and skill development into engaging mobile video games. Their Skillionaire Games offer a scalable, trackable solution to attracting and growing a sustainable workforce pipeline both meeting a region’s needs and providing access to meaningful careers to students.

StarkRFID – Stark is a proven event and venue management solution provider for some of the world’s biggest brands. Their experience allows them to deliver the security, control, engagement, and intelligence you need to ensure that every event is a success by providing complete RFID solutions (hardware, software, consulting, and consumables) for brands.

SyncMD – Sync.MD® provides patients with superior mobile technology to collect, store, and share their personal health information. Sync.MD® eases the communication burden between disparate electronic medical record systems through patented, innovative technologies that place the patient at the center of their information exchange.

TrebleHook – TrebleHook is a project pursuit platform for architecture, engineering, and construction that helps teams centralize project data, enhance customer relationships, and pursue and land the right projects.

WAVS Custom – WAVS Custom is a music tech company dedicated to fine craftsmanship and better listening alternatives. Their patented process, allowing customers to 3D scan their ears from their cell phones, has made custom-fit earphones & IEM’s accessible and affordable for the first time ever. Each set of WAVS is digitally processed and handcrafted here in the USA.

What To Expect from 2023 NEXT Venture Summit, returning to downtown Greenville on September 12-13

Exciting Announcement: NEXT Venture Summit Returns Better Than Ever!

We’re thrilled to announce that  NEXT Venture Summit is back and ready to make an impact on the #StartupGVL ecosystem – eight years running!

Based on feedback from founders and funders, this year, we’re changing things up a bit and NVS will be a two-day event. We want to get more intentional with dedicating time for more meaningful interactions.

Mark your calendars for September 12th and 13th, 2023, in Greenville, SC for a can’t miss experience connecting capital with customers. 


Investor Match Day: Fueling Connections, Empowering Startups

On Tuesday, September 12th, we’ll kickstart the Summit with our groundbreaking Investor Match Day. This exclusive opportunity invites startups to apply for the chance to send up to two representatives for a unique “speed dating” environment with top investors in the region.

Entrepreneurs and investors will be paired up based on industry compatibility, to engage in 20-minute conversations that aim to be the catalyst for future success. 

And guess what? In between these exciting meetings, we’ve created a dedicated lounge where you can extend conversations, forge new connections, and immerse yourself in a buzzing entrepreneurial atmosphere.

To ensure the quality of interactions, startups must meet specific business criteria to be accepted into Match Day. 

Don’t miss your chance to participate – head over to our application and showcase your venture’s potential.


Calling all investors: we also have an open call just for you

Join us in discovering the most promising startups and be a part of their transformative journey. Head over to our application and sign up. 


Welcome Reception: Setting the Tone

On the evening of Tuesday, September 12th, we’re turning up the excitement with our highly anticipated Welcome Reception. 

Picture yourself on a stunning rooftop overlooking Downtown Greenville, surrounded by like-minded innovators, investors, and industry leaders. 

This stylish gathering sets the stage for what’s to come at our Summit Sessions and offers a prime opportunity to network and build relationships in a relaxed and vibrant setting.

Entry into this event is included in your Summit Sessions tickets, which you can buy soon on our event page

Not able to make it to the Summit Sessions and want to join us for networking? You can also purchase a Welcome Reception only invite. Inventory is limited.


Summit Sessions: Empowering Entrepreneurs, Inspiring Success

The main event takes place on Wednesday, September 13th at the Greenville One Center, with our signature Summit Sessions. 

Prepare to be inspired as remarkable entrepreneurs take the stage to share their success stories, valuable insights, and industry expertise. Their journeys will ignite your entrepreneurial spirit and equip you with the tools and knowledge to accelerate your own venture.

Stage content begins at 9:00AM and will end at 3:00PM. 

Lunch, beverages and snacks will be provided throughout the day. 

Doors will open one hour before stage content begins, so get there early to reserve your seat in the Greenville One Center auditorium! If you’ve purchased a VIP ticket, you will gain early access into the auditorium to reserve your seat.


Event Pricing: Admission into our biggest event of the year

General - $125 Welcome Reception Lunch VIP - $225 Welcome Reception - Early Entry  Summit Sessions Reserved Seating - Early Entry VIP Lounge Lunch Provided - Private Line With new ticket benefits like never before, attendees can choose their experience at the 2023 NEXT Venture Summit.

NEXT Venture Summit is your gateway to invaluable connections, game-changing collaborations, and transformative insights. Save the dates, and get ready to embark on a remarkable journey towards entrepreneurial excellence.

Stay tuned for further updates, and keep an eye out for additional details on our website and social media channels, and by signing up for our event emails

Don’t miss out on his opportunity to shape your future and unlock your entrepreneurial potential at NEXT Venture Summit 2023.

2022 NEXT Venture Summit Conference Shows Powerful Display of Momentum in Greenville, SC

On September 22, over 300 guests converged at the Greenville ONE Center in downtown Greenville, SC for the 7th annual NEXT Venture Summit. Founders, funders, and ecosystem partners joined from across the Carolinas to celebrate the best and brightest startups in the region.

We kicked off the day with the Founders Sessions sponsored by Shumaker Law, an educational series featuring four dynamic discussions ranging from how design choices can impact a company’s growth to how the landscape of investing has changed and tips for navigating the realm of venture capital.

During the Afternoon Summit, our opening keynote featured success stories from the founding team of BetterCloud, while our closing keynote highlighted local entrepreneurial success story, Marty Osborn, and Advoco’s acquisition by Accenture.

And for the main event, we welcomed 30 investor judges to interview our 10 finalist startups on stage in 15-minute lightning rounds. These founders showcased their companies as they fielded tough, educational questions from some of the top minds in venture capital and entrepreneurship.
Hook Security was selected as the Judges’ Choice and will advance to the on-stage competition at Venture Atlanta in October.Hook Security uses its learning platform to train nontechnical users to recognize cybersecurity threats and attacks through humorous training experiences. (pictured above: Eric Weissmann, Executive Director of NEXT with Judge’s Choice winner Adam Anderson, Co-Founder/Chairman of Hook Security Co.)
Closing out the day, conference attendees enjoyed a rooftop afterparty, sponsored by GADC, at Avenue. It was a celebration of all the hardworking entrepreneurs, their supporters, and guests were treated to beautiful views of downtown Greenville. To those who joined us for this year’s events – thank you for being here. We’re proud to be conveners of a growing, vibrant startup community.
Be sure to save space on your calendar in September 2023- we’ll be back at it again – featuring even more startups, making even more connections, all building towards an even stronger ecosystem. We’re just getting started.
About NEXT Venture Summit
The NEXT Venture Summit is a one-day venture capital conference that brings together high-growth entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, world-class speakers, and more to establish Greenville as an innovation and entrepreneurship hub in the Southeast. In its seventh year, this event promises to deliver value to the entire #StartupGVL ecosystem and the surrounding region. For more information, visit
About NEXT
NEXT is an entrepreneurial support organization that attracts and helps high-impact, knowledge-based companies grow by developing an entrepreneurial ecosystem and connecting entrepreneurs to it. NEXT currently supports more than 120 knowledge-based companies in Upstate South Carolina. For more information, visit