Pedro Escobar: The American Dream meets Fintech

pedro escobarPedro Escobar’s journey is more than just a story of professional success; it’s a deeply personal account that intertwines his roots, challenges, and pursuit of the American Dream. Born in Brooklyn to Honduran immigrant parents with limited education, Pedro’s story begins with a modest upbringing. His parents, with no education beyond grade school, worked as a janitor and housekeeper during Pedro’s early years modeling a work ethic Pedro exudes today.

What is a Susu?

The Susu Lend story starts with a practical need: Pedro’s family needed to purchase a new refrigerator. Denied a loan at a local Sears, Pedro’s father reached out to their community and formed a susu, a lending community common in African and Hispanic cultures. A susu involves an informal savings club where members take turns contributing, a practice often used by those considered “unbanked” or “credit-invisible” in the traditional banking system.

“Unbanked” or “credit-invisible” refers to individuals or entities facing challenges accessing conventional banking services. Pedro empathizes with these individuals, understanding they are hardworking people deserving of opportunities for a better life. This empathy led to the creation of Susu Lend, driven by Pedro’s desire to assist individuals in accessing financial opportunities, whether for starting a business or meeting basic needs.

Pedro’s father’s first Susu venture was successful, leading to more, and eventually, the establishment of Wendy’s Grocery Store in New Jersey. Despite the family having to sell the store, Pedro credits his parents for instilling resilience and persistence in him. Eventually, his parents moved to Greenville, SC, and have since invested in real estate in the Upstate. 

From IT to Business School, Surviving 2008

Pedro began his IT career in 2003. The challenges of the ’08-’10 recession led to losing his corporate IT job. In 2010, Pedro and his family moved to Greenville, SC, following in his parents’ footsteps. This move proved successful for Pedro’s career and his wife and children, who graduated from Clemson University. After successfully launching an IT consulting business in Greenville, Pedro returned to school and graduated with a degree in IT Business Management from Western Governors University in 2021. He kept the momentum going by enrolling in business school to focus on launching his next venture. 

While pursuing an MBA at Cornell, Pedro turned his vision for Susu Lend into reality through a class project bringing in founders with varied backgrounds in finance, banking, and data science. Today, Susu Lend is a thriving company that completed its first cash beta. Pedro is working on a digital MVP with plans to launch the app in 2024. Recognizing the complexity of finance and legalities, Pedro diligently seeks advisors and investors to ensure compliance.

Accelerating Business in Cohort 2

In 2023, Pedro completed the NEXT Accelerator program as part of cohort 2. His story, empathy, and kindness made an impact on the entire group. His parents, who inspired him so much throughout his life, were able to come to his final presentation. 

“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

Pedro is committed to addressing the trust deficit in his first target market by focusing on his roots. He understands the skepticism within communities, particularly toward institutions and banks, and believes that building trust is paramount for sustainable growth.

Bridging Cultural Gaps

Maintaining a strong connection to his Hispanic roots, Pedro envisions Susu Lend bridging cultural gaps. He acknowledges the challenges immigrants face and aims to fast-track financial stability, especially within the Hispanic community. Pedro’s personal touch extends to Susu Lend’s operations, where he incorporates cultural nuances into AI-driven decision-making. He imagines what AI can do with the cultural data he is collecting and how it can benefit other industries and companies in the future.

As Pedro continues raising funds and engaging research experts for Susu Lend, his journey is a source of inspiration. A living embodiment of the American dream, Pedro overcame challenges and actively empowered others through financial education. His involvement in the Hispanic Alliance and mentoring youth through the SDA program reflects his commitment to the community and nurturing future entrepreneurs. Pedro’s story, filled with personal details, stands as a beacon of hope for aspiring entrepreneurs facing adversity and striving to positively impact their communities.

 

 

NEXT Upstate Rebrands as NextGEN – Greenville Entrepreneur Network

NEXT Upstate Rebrands as NextGEN  

One of the region’s top economic development organizations looks to the future while continuing to support and grow the Greenville Entrepreneur Network (GEN)

February 8, 2024 – Greenville, SC – For almost two decades, NEXT Upstate, the organization that began as an initiative housed inside the Greenville Chamber, has grown in reputation and scope of services. Hundreds of startup founders from across the region have benefited from its support in the form of mentoring programs, networking groups and regional events drawing national attention to Greenville. The companies they support go on to raise millions of dollars and employ thousands of local workers, improving the economy of the entire Upstate of South Carolina. 

NextGEN references the Greenville Entrepreneur Network and represents a new generation of support for the founders, entrepreneurs, and innovators who call Greenville home. 

“Fostering entrepreneurship is not merely about building companies. It’s about building communities, encouraging change, and celebrating growth,” says Eric Weissmann, Executive Director of NextGEN. “As an organization evolves, we need to respect our heritage while driving forward with our eyes fixed on the future. There’s no better time to be an entrepreneur than now and no better place to follow your dreams than here in Greenville, SC.”

Over the last two years, NextGEN has launched new programs and services such as an accelerator program, workshops, and monthly events, widening the aperture of who it serves.  NextGEN is also the driving force behind #StartupGVL – the rallying cry and unifying brand for the regional community of entrepreneurs and the dozens of groups who directly support them. 

“The rebrand merges the legacy and history of the organization with its future,” says Carlos Phillips, President/CEO of the Greenville Chamber and NextGEN board member. “The new branding reflects the refined strategy and exciting direction as NextGEN supports Greenville’s high-growth entrepreneurs.”

It’s because of this firm foundation that NextGEN is one of the longest-running entrepreneur support organizations in the State of South Carolina and a draw for companies looking to launch or expand in a place they love to live. No one succeeds alone, so to have a built-in network of others to help you is encouraging. 

“NextGEN is a critical component to our overall economic development strategy,” says Shannon Lavrin, Greenville City Manager and NextGEN board member. “Greenville is a vibrant, thriving community, but we know we’re in a competitive space when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. A robust innovation and entrepreneurship network is critical to attracting high-growth companies and keeping them in Greenville.” 

For more information about NextGEN, connect with sydney@nextsc.org

Accelerating Success: Checking In on Cohort 1 Graduates

Where are they now?

As we reflect on the journey of our inaugural accelerator cohort, it’s thrilling to witness the remarkable strides made by these ambitious ventures. Let’s take a closer look at where they are now and the milestones they’ve achieved.

  • Bottle Titan:
    • Team Structure: New team in place with a software engineer, logistics engineer, patent writer, electrical engineer, and a previous professor at Clemson with expertise in patent writing.
    • Collaboration: Undertook a project with another cohort grad
  • Custom Donations:
    • Strategic Partnership: Established a joint venture with another company in their space
    • Next Steps: Ongoing progress and updates are expected, making it worthwhile to stay tuned for further developments
    • New Look: Worked with local company, Designli, a connection from the Accelerator program, to redesign product 
  • RAAMP:
    • Sales Impact: Showcased tangible sales improvements directly attributed to the accelerator program
    • Team Development: Expanded their team to support increased business demands
    • Support: Joined the VMS mentor program 
  • Ruffian Software (TechID Manager):
    • Investment: Received investment from SCRA and engaged in discussions with other potential investors
    • Team Expansion: Made strategic hires to fuel the company’s growth
    • Growth: Continued with the VMS mentor program 
  • TestedHQ:
    • Funding: Secured $300,000 from SCRA
    • Strategic Shift: Maintained headcount stability while strategically altering their revenue model. The focus is shifting towards a majority subscription-based model next year, emphasizing recurring revenue
    • Operational Enhancements: Dedicated efforts to improve internal efficiency, establishing repeatable and scalable processes
    • Mentorship: Joined the VMS mentor program 
  • Pixlmob:
    • Strategic Focus: Transitioned towards a more focused product approach, with an emphasis on a specific niche within the industry
    • Talent Acquisition: Added two new hires and currently seeking additional talent
    • Funding News: Received funding from Founderville; gave impressive report to investors at end of the year 2023 holiday party 
  • skillsgapp:
    • Recognition: Participated in Furman University Hill Institute Bootcamp; and was named one of the 10 Most Exciting Startups in the region at the #StartupGVL Night at the Drive
    • Future Prospects: Currently exploring additional accelerator programs and funding opportunities
    • Suite Stuff: Actively adding more games to their suite of games
    • Fun news: Co-founder, Tina Zwolinski traveled to Ireland in the fall of 2023 to speak on a panel at Saastock
    • Check out Tina’s full founder feature! 
  • Vicinity:
    • Team Growth: Welcomed a new co-founder, a strong market leader, reinforcing the leadership team
    • Support: Participated in the Furman University Hill Institute Bootcamp, assigned a team of students to complete a project
    • Funding news: SCRA and Founderville funding announced; and announced updates at the Founderville holiday party, updating investors
    • Good PR: Trueline case study was a tangible example of what they do by helping another business come onto the landscape 
  • WAVS Custom:
    • Progress: Successfully closed a funding round, including a significant contribution of $200,000 from SCRA
    • Growth: Expanded their team with two new hires, reinforcing their commitment to advancing WAVS’s innovative vision
    • Fun news: Recently exhibited at CES in Las Vegas and looking forward to launching new products (currently top secret – keep an eye out for the news); and gave inspiring update to investors at Founderville holiday social
    • Homerun: Was named one of the 10 Most Exciting Startups in the region at the #StartupGVL Night at the Drive
    • Read more about founder Ric Hoke

 

Update 2/13/2024 – we’re excited to announce that Mapsheet.com has sold! This is exciting news for founder, Willz Tolbert. We know it was a lot of hard work getting the company to this point.

The accomplishments of our first accelerator cohort are a testament to the dedication, innovation, and resilience of these ventures. We eagerly anticipate witnessing their continued growth and success in the evolving landscape of entrepreneurship. Stay tuned for more updates on their remarkable journeys!

 

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, MyUI.ai’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. 

Conclusion:

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

“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 Accelerator Cohort 2 is Changing the World

While sitting in the room amid Accelerator pitch practice each Friday, it is hard to miss the underlying feeling that the founders in the room are changing the world. Each company represented was started from a passion, and practical mission, to make a difference in their unique way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did you know the world is experiencing a sand shortage? Bricolage Dynamics is known as a glass recycling company – and it is. That alone is making an impact but consider a key component of concrete and other building materials need sand. And despite our beautiful beaches, sand is in short supply. (Read more about the sand crisis here.) Bricolage Dynamics is taking glass out of landfills and turning it into a product the world needs.

Have you ever gone into a large corporate or university building and thought: why is it so cold in here? Carbon Cents has developed technology that allows facilities to track their use to adjust the use of its energy. No more running the AC at full blast when the building is empty! Collecting and measuring this data will allow building managers to better control their carbon emissions and energy costs. Helping not only the environment but also their wallet.

Have you ever noticed the white boxes posted on construction sites and wondered what they’re for? All parties involved with the project keep printed copies of the site plans, permits, etc. needed for the project. The paper copies inside the box are how municipalities and project managers share project files. Yes, they are still using paper copies in 2023! Digital Site Box provides a digital way to save files for each project. This means the most recent version is always available, nothing gets stolen or lost, AND it will reduce the time spent delivering documents and updates of a plan to each location saving time and trees in the process! They are truly changing their entire industry’s workflow!

Did you know the US has the highest rate of maternal and post-partum mortality among all developed countries? How can that be with what we pay for health insurance?! The founders of Incora Health decided to try to do something about this statistic by creating the world’s smallest wearable tracker – an earring – focused on women’s health, everything from everyday fitness to fertility and beyond. These earrings monitor key metrics about your menstrual cycle alongside stress, activity, and sleep empowering women to make more informed health decisions.

The world is moving toward screen-based technology from our microwaves to our soda machines and even our cars! These digital interfaces look cool but can be problematic for people with disabilities. There is an accessibility issue that My UI’s cloud-based AI technology is looking to address by collecting disability and interaction data via an accessible mobile application. MyUI learns the interaction needs and preferences of users and then uses artificial intelligence to ‘adapt’ inaccessible digital interfaces to specific user needs and preferences. This means that an interface that as a default only supports touch or tactile interaction may now support gestures, eye gaze, affect, and/or voice commands.

Performance Enhanced Delivery is bridging the gap between conventional and organic farming and regenerative practices. Traditional fertilizers are coated in microplastics that then go into the ground or get rained away causing the need for even more fertilizer which leads to even more microplastic. Performance Enhanced Delivery can delay the release of fertilizers in a way that has never before been available in a sustainable, natural manner without the use of plastics and harsh chemicals. 

Rebel Rabbit is changing the way we look at drinking, alcohol that is. They have created an alcohol alternative, cannabis-infused seltzers, that provides a similar experience to “booze” without the hangover. Rebel Rabbit extracts the D9 THC compound from the cannabis plant, legal in all 50 states, and adds it to their all-natural mix. THC is the naturally occurring compound in the plant that gives you a euphoric high. They are changing the way consumers can achieve a “buzz” driven by a desire for healthier lifestyles and breaking down the “must drink alcohol to have fun” culture. 

Susu Lend is based on an African and Caribbean “credit club” informal savings arrangement where the community takes turns “throwing hands” or lending money. Susu Lend is a financial technology company founded on one simple principle: everyone deserves a fairly priced lending product. They offer customers, regardless of socioeconomic status or race, access to an alternative to predatory lending with loans powered by a personal social network of trust.

“Susu Lend is committed to changing the way we bank in America so that everyone can achieve financial freedom.”

Molly Inclán, NEXT Program Manager, “This is why I love working with startups. Founders are the type of people that change the world.From finance to farming, where this cohort sees problems, they are working through solutions turning entire industries on their heads, in a good way.

Come support Cohort 2 at their Showcase event in November and see their work come to life on stage during their 4-minute pitches.

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.

NEXT awards $95k worth of prizes at second annual #StartupGVL Launchpad event

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE- April 7, 2023 (Greenville, SC) – The second annual #StartupGVL Launchpad event took place on Thursday, April 6th, and was an incredible celebration of early-stage innovation and entrepreneurship. With over 50 applicants for prizes in 7 categories,  7 winners were selected to receive prize packages that, in total, represent more than $95k. 

Prize winners from the 2023 #StartupGVL Launchpad reception

The winner of the Business Consulting package provided by Elliott Davis was Modal, a globally-recognized and technically-advanced hostel concept shaping the short-term lodging industry. 

The winner of the HR/Team Development package provided by Find Great People was Avallano, a SaaS platform that improves patient recruitment and retention using a secure, personalized, patient-centric approach.

The winner of the Branding and Design package provided by SLANT was Incora Health, an innovative, data-driven solution for fertility health and wellness management. 

The winner of the Legal Servies package provided by Wyche was Bottle Titan, which produces customizable solutions to next-generation real-time asset tracking in any industry or sector.

The winner of the SEO and Digital Marketing Services package provided by DFS Creative Concepts was Metatomic, the premier company in dry spent nuclear fuel processing, by providing fuel salt for both thermal and fast molten salt reactors, which will produce carbon free electricity in the United States

The winner of the Seed Grant provided by SCRA was Builder Rocket, an intelligent digital platform that integrates builders, buyers, and brands to minimize or eliminate the communication gap between builders, home buyers, subcontractors, distributors, and manufacturers.

The winner of the bonus prize category Software Prototyping provided by Designli was AR Funding, which provides working capital through invoice factoring using Smart Contracts and Blockchain technology.

 

About NEXT

NEXT is a non-profit entrepreneurial support organization that attracts and helps grow high-impact, knowledge-based companies by developing the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Greenville, SC and connecting entrepreneurs to it. Our mission is to identify, engage and provide support for high-growth entrepreneurs and their teams as they build scaling, investor-ready companies through programming, connections and support whether just starting out or well on their way. For more information, visit www.nextgengvl.org 

 

CONTACT:

Susan Durden | 864-735-7516 | sdurden@nextsc.org

Greenville Area Entrepreneurs Announce Fund in Support of Local Founders

NEXT Founders Fund to Grow Greenville-Based Startups   

Two Greenville entrepreneurs, joined by Mayor Knox White, announced the creation of a multi-million dollar early-stage fund with commitments from dozens of investors in the Greenville area.

The NEXT Founders Fund will be run by General Partners Scott Millwood and Shay Houser, co-founders of Deal Strategies. Both are entrepreneurs who have successfully founded/co-founded and exited high-growth companies in Greenville.

“The fund will address gaps in the ecosystem by providing financial and business resources to scaling startup companies,” Millwood said. “Shay and I have grown multiple successful companies here in Greenville so we know it can be done. We have some great founder talent here but they often face a daunting challenge of searching far and wide for funding and guidance. This gap is pretty big here in Greenville at the moment. The NEXT Founders Fund was built to bridge that gap,” he said.

The fund, totaling $6 million, expects to make 8-10 investments over the next eighteen months in companies with capital-efficient models that call Greenville home.

For its first investment, the fund has committed to Safe Helipad, a software platform to help manage helipads, helidecks, and vertiports for safety and compliance.

“Safe Helipad was inspired from my time in the Marine Corps flying helicopters and doing aviation mission planning. I did that at the battalion level, squadron level, all the way up to flying for President Obama at HMX One,” said founder and CEO Michael Middleton. “What I found is with helipads, landing zones and heliports there is very little technology and knowledge-sharing being applied. That creates risk. We created SafeHelipad to address that and we’re doing it from right here in Greenville, SC”

The City of Greenville and Greenville Chamber are primary investors in NEXT as part of the area’s economic development strategy to attract and grow high-impact, knowledge-based companies. NEXT identifies, engages and provides support for high-growth entrepreneurs and companies through programming, connections and support.

Millwood says, “As current board chair and a co-founder of NEXT, I’ve had a front-row seat at the growth of our ecosystem. The NEXT Founders Fund addresses a gap I’ve seen where scaling companies need more than just money to hit the next stage.”

About NEXT

NEXT is a non-profit entrepreneurial support organization that attracts and helps grow high-impact, knowledge-based companies by developing the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Greenville, SC and connecting entrepreneurs to it. Our mission is to identify, engage and provide support for high-growth entrepreneurs and their teams as they build scaling, investor-ready companies through programming, connections and support whether just starting out or well on their way.

For more information, visit www.nextgengvl.org 

Contact:

Susan Durden, NEXT | 864-735-7516 | susan@nextsc.org