Kamber Parker Bowden – THE YoPro Know Journey

On the “right” path

After graduating from Furman University, Kamber Parker Bowden embarked on her professional career with the “right path” ahead of her. Graduate, get a job, and be an adult. She moved to Chattanooga, TN to start on the first rung of the corporate ladder. It wasn’t long before she realized that her true calling lay beyond the confines of traditional employment.

Working just 10 months at her corporate job, Kamber realized that many of her friends, even those who were older and on their second and third career moves, were experiencing dissatisfaction and frustration in the workplace. Why? Moving back to Greenville to work for a small non-profit, she began digging into this question. Kamber started a blog as a creative outlet, interviewing other young professionals. Working for a small nonprofit provided Kamber with a much better work-life balance even though it came with a pay cut. This also provided flexibility for her “side hustle.” For two years, Kamber posted an interview every single week.

Little did she know that this humble blog would lay the foundation for YoPro Know—a platform that would redefine her trajectory and impact countless lives in the process.

From chaos and uncertainty to impact

Fast forward to 2020; Covid happens. Amidst the chaos and uncertainty of the times, Kamber found herself presented with an opportunity to pivot and expand her platform’s reach through the power of podcasting. The YoPro Know Podcast was born—where she could amplify the voices of young professionals and provide meaningful dialogue and connection in a virtual landscape.

After two years of collecting stories from young professionals, or “YoPros”,, Kamber realized there were overlapping themes and messages she was hearing from young professionals. Her network started pointing out the quality of her data and encouraged her to use it. Monetize it! But how? The first model was offering memberships to young professionals, but she quickly learned there was not enough individual interest based on the size of her audience at the time. She needed to pivot. 

Surround yourself with mentors

Kamber has always surrounded herself with mentors and it was one of those mentors that suggested she sell her content to companies instead. In 2021 she got her first company clients. A handful of remarkable leaders played a pivotal role in her journey, providing valuable experience and testimonials as she developed her consulting services aimed at helping employers develop strategies to attract and retain young professionals. With the support of several key clients, she reached a milestone enabling her to transition to full-time entrepreneurship in the summer of 2022.

However, as Kamber navigated the uncharted waters of entrepreneurship, she encountered her fair share of challenges and setbacks. The pressures of entrepreneurship, coupled with the relentless pursuit of success, challenged Kamber and led to what she calls “the emotional rollercoaster that is entrepreneurship”. She says, most entrepreneurs will know what she means there!

“The first 6 months of entrepreneurship were really tough for me. Some months I really did ask myself, what am I doing this for? It was lonely and sometimes depressing, which I am open about, but I always remembered what I was here for – and that really got me through.” 

Entrepreneurship and mental health

Entrepreneurs face higher rates of depression and anxiety, often attributed to the stress, isolation, and financial pressures of running a business. Despite these challenges, the stigma surrounding mental health can deter entrepreneurs from seeking support, impacting both their well-being and business success.

Kamber feels like founders face a dilemma between prioritizing self-care and managing the demands of running a business. She incorporates yoga and running into her routine and relies on her husband, family, and friends for support to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Recognizing the importance of relationships and well-being, she tries to prioritize her health, even if it means sacrificing other aspects of her life. She shares how fortunate she is that her now-husband was all-in on her business from their very first date, even acting as a financial coach at times, his area of expertise. 

“Mentoring is why I have gotten where I am. I don’t think that this would be the case if I lived somewhere other than Greenville, where senior leaders are genuinely interested in paying it forward and offer to buy someone you look up to a coffee – I was always taken aback by how willing people are to meet with me and hope I have the chance to do the same one day”

She credits her mentors with getting where she is today citing various programs like Pacesetters with the Chamber of Commerce and NextGEN’s VMS program. Mentors like Tim Justice, Minor Shaw, and Derek Pederson have played pivotal roles in shaping her business decisions. She learned of NextGEN in 2022 and pitched for the VMS program shortly after taking her business full-time. She remembers thinking, are you sure it’s free?! At that time one of her biggest struggles was loneliness. After finding the local entrepreneur ecosystem and meeting more and more people, she realized she did not have to go it alone. She also wants to shout out her NextGEN VMS mentors today: Ken Brower, Jo Hackl, and Michael Mino.

What’s next for YoPro Know?

As for where Kamber and YoPro Know are today? Well, their challenges are constantly changing, and there are a lot more successes today than there used to be! They are looking to scale and continue to build their team of nine. With such a “hot topic” as their focus (young professional recruitment and retention) there is a wealth of future opportunity and her team is right at the cusp of big goals that were set at the company’s beginning. She is focused on creating a business where people love to work, working with the strengths of her team. Her people want flexibility and Kamber provides that flexibility as well as the opportunity to shape their own dream job. 

“We have to practice what we preach, right? Once you find good people, work towards what they can own and create.” Trust her, she’s the expert!

When we asked what excites her when she gets up in the morning, there was a litany of things! Speaking, consulting, strategy, helping small to mid-sized businesses, and ultimately the impact she gets to make daily. YoPro Know is at the crux of a big problem in their society. Companies are not engaging younger generations in a way that maximizes that talent. YPK has a huge potential impact that will be measurable in the future and we will all see it. “Young professionals are the future of our workforce. If we don’t tap into their strengths and develop them now – with an aging workforce and declining birthrate – we’re going to face some major challenges ahead.”

Kamber can’t see her life without YoPro Know. It’s funny looking back because she did not get A’s in her college public speaking class and now gets paid to do just that. Where she and YPK are today is not at all what she envisioned in 2018 and the path has not always been smooth, but for those of you who have met Kamber at the many networking and ecosystem events she attends, you know she is doing what she is meant to do and she will have a long-lasting impact.

Want to learn more about YoPro Know? Check out their website! https://yoproknow.com/ 

We asked a bunch of CEO’s for their best advice about starting a business.

Navigating the path of entrepreneurship is no walk in the park, and that’s exactly why we gathered insights from our seasoned founders during our recent monthly meetup. As we delve into their candid advice, it’s crucial to recognize that the entrepreneurial journey is a rollercoaster – highs, lows, twists, and turns. But hey, isn’t that what makes the ride exhilarating?

Our founders have been there, done that, and are graciously sharing their pearls of wisdom. Buckle up and let’s explore their unfiltered advice on what every aspiring business owner should ponder before taking the plunge.

1. Accountability Matters: “Find someone or find somebody to hold you accountable.” The entrepreneurial road is often winding, and having a support system ensures you stay on track when the going gets tough.

2. Stress Check: “Sit down and evaluate how much stress you can take over the next couple of years.” Recognize that entrepreneurship comes with its fair share of stress. Be honest with yourself about your capacity to handle it.

3. Customer-Centric Approach: “Don’t be afraid to ask your customers why and get feedback.” Your customers hold the key to your success. Engage with them, ask for feedback, and turn them into sales advocates.

4. Problem Solving for Profit: “Find a customer, solve their problems, and make money.” Start with the problem and the customer. Innovation is great, but it needs to translate into profitability.

5. Define Your Why: “Know your why.” Understanding why you’re in this game is crucial for navigating both the peaks and valleys. It’s more than just making money; it’s about purpose.

6. Build a Complementary Team: “Find someone as dedicated to you that can help and has complementary skills.” Being a lone wolf is tough. Surround yourself with a team that complements your skills and dedication.

7. Measure What Matters: “Pick two things to measure that define your business success.” Focus on meaningful metrics and measure them frequently. Don’t overwhelm yourself; simplicity is key in the early stages.

8. Are You Sure?: “Ask yourself: are you sure you want to do this?” Dip your toes in; test the waters. Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. Assess your commitment and, when the opportunity strikes, embrace a little bit of well-timed luck.

In closing, remember, these insights are not meant to discourage but to empower. Embrace the challenges, celebrate the victories, and keep pushing forward. The entrepreneurial journey is an adventure – an unpredictable and rewarding ride that molds not only your business but also you as a resilient and dynamic individual. Here’s to your journey and the success that awaits you!

NextGEN exists to provide community support for founders. Want to be a part of these conversations in the future? Reach out and get connected. We will plug in you.

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!


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 skillionairegames.com.

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.


Kanga Coolers, from Shark Tank to Mr. Beast with lots of hard work and a little luck

Kanga Cooler impresses the Sharks

Kanga Coolers came to fame when featured on Shark Tank season 10 (2019) and they’ve recently risen in notoriety after a featured ad on Mr. Beast’s YouTube channel. Their signature product is the Kase Mate which wraps around a cold case of your favorite beverage but they’ve diversified their products with different sizes and a bookbag cooler. With a team of over 40, this college dream has turned itself into a multi-million dollar company with lots of hard work, great mentorship, and a little bit of luck.

What’s the real story?

What you saw on Shark Tank, for the most part, is the “real story” behind Kanga Coolers. Logan LaMance had a wild idea for a class project, recruiting partners who would eventually become the founding members of Kanga Coolers. Among them, Ryan Frazier stayed on board, while Austin Maxwell and Teddy Giard, of backflip fame, hopped in later. (Get it? Hop…)

Their flagship product, the Kase Mate, was conceived during this project – a koozie-style cooler wrap for your favorite drinks. What started as a college experiment soon turned into a full-fledged business. It wasn’t all smooth sailing.

How did this concept of a cardboard wraparound cooler get off the ground? Logan got right to work developing strong relationships to find manufacturing partners and did a test run of the product here in Greenville, SC. They sourced their materials from a supplier in Alabama and produced the first coolers at Carolina Manufacturing in Greenville, the only bandanna manufacturer in the US and the official producer of Willie Nelson’s bandannas. And, that my friends, is how Kanga Coolers and Willie Nelson are connected – someone send Willy a cooler and merch!

Kanga put out 200 custom-sewn coolers at Clemson and they sold out quickly. They also won a Pitch Smackdown competition for students through the Spiro Institute (now Clemson Launchpad) winning $8,000. They thought they were rich! Each founder, to date, has only invested $833 of their own money so 8k helped but they noticed quickly that it wasn’t much when starting a product company. After some additional investment, Kanga Coolers decided to launch a 60-day Kickstarter campaign in 2018. On day 30 of the campaign, Logan went to a class talk at Clemson featuring a Shark Tank alum, Daisy Cakes. Logan spoke to the owner after class and mentioned his dream to be on Shark Tank. She told him “You’ll never feel like you’re ready. Just go for it.” The guys skipped a final exam to go (don’t tell Mom), auditioning the day their Kickstarter campaign closed. 

In 2018, Logan, Teddy, and Ryan filmed an episode that aired in April 2019, marking a big moment for their startup journey. Despite some hiccups in cooler production, they miraculously got everything ready just in time—a stroke of luck that seemed to be a theme in their story.

Logan remembers the hustle during the time after the show aired—shipping boxes from his parent’s garage, loading Uhaul trucks with help from neighbors, and making sure deliveries reached the post office on time. The journey had its ups and downs, but Kanga’s ability to roll with the punches and adapt shines through.

From Covid to Shopify to…Mr. Beast?

After Shark Tank, Kanga got a lot of attention, but it came and went quickly. They were into selling promotional items to companies like Anheuser Busch, but when Covid hit in 2020, that market dried up. Facing the need to adapt, they shifted their focus to e-commerce, diving into Facebook ads and digital marketing, a previously untapped market. Kanga had to figure out a whole new customer acquisition strategy. Logan remembers having to pivot, “How do we show our product to potential customers in a way that will resonate and create an impulse buy online? Who are our customers; why do they want to purchase? It was a lot of trial and error, YouTube, podcasts, and duplicating what stuck.”

kanga coolers, mr. beast youtube
Logan LaMance & Austin Maxwell

Part of this focus on e-commerce led Kanga to Shopify, an e-commerce platform for their website. Shopify and is one of Mr Beast’s sponsors. Who is Mr. Beast? Only the most viewed YouTube channel in the world with 216 million followers. Shopify decided to feature one of its clients through a social media contest. And get this, all you had to do was comment to enter. One single comment. Austin saw the post, was quick to comment with a short elevator pitch, and they were selected. Now, that is a lucky break and some incredible ROI. They got a shout-out during the “$10,000 Every Day You Survive in a Grocery Store” video on the Mr. Beast YouTube channel and had over 80 million views in just a few days. See Kanga’s reaction to the press. (Check out Clemson’s take on the news.)

This ad was the single biggest moment of exposure in the company’s history, about 10x the exposure of Shark Tank. But, this time they had experience and warning to make sure they were ready for an influx of orders. “It was the craziest week we’ve had,” reported LaMance. Being featured on not just Shark Tank but Mr. Beast will open the door for much bigger opportunities in the future for the Kanga team.

LaMance’s advice to future and early founders is something he takes seriously, “Seize the opportunity when it’s there. Put your name out there even when it seems impossible. Always take advantage, always apply, and approach like you have a good shot.” 

Logan recalls their early challenge was finding their product fit in the market; figuring out demand and pricing. Covid was clearly another challenge they were able to tackle with nimbleness, determination, and a willingness to pivot. These days the company is figuring out how to scale their infrastructure, consistently improving systems and processes to run at a “big business rate with small business resources.” One thing Kanga has been great at is not letting fear get in their way. They aren’t afraid to quickly scale to capture opportunity even if they don’t have it figured out. 

Logan and his cofounders believe you have to lead from the front. They show up early and stay late. As founders, they are the last line of defense and they understand the importance of that position, not just for team culture but because it’s a logical business choice. They have worked every job in the business and step in when needed, trying to strike a healthy balance between doing all things and delegating. “The biggest thing that helped me was having an unshakable faith that it would all work. All I had to do was find the path. Success was a foregone conclusion in my head and I work from that. Do whatever it takes to walk that path.” – Logan LaMance

Rockstar mentors through VMS

Logan relies on his VMS (Venture Mentor Services) “rockstar” team of mentors. Having mentors early on at Clemson proved to him the benefit of these relationships. Experienced mentors can give advice, and helped them bridge the gap from college to real life. “It has been one of the biggest drivers of growth to push and provide guidance and coaching. I don’t feel like I’m on an island. The tactical advice has been incredibly helpful – having a team that is trying to help has been huge.”

Kanga Coolers has 17,000 square feet of office & warehouse space in the Merovan Center off Woodruff Road in Greenville. You can stay in touch with all they’re doing through their website, social media, and even by text.

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, Matty.ai, 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, MyUI.ai, 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!

Putting the Rebel into Rebel Rabbit

Rebel Rabbit was born out of a need for alcohol alternatives in the space—a rebellion. Drinking alcohol is one vice where you get judged for not doing it – it can be hard to be the only one at a party or a brewery (because everything is at a brewery!) without a drink in your hand. And, people are pretty comfortable with asking why you’re not drinking. Coming at this from mental health and substance abuse backgrounds, the founders of Rebel Rabbit found themselves tired of answering all the questions and decided to do something about it! Their guiding principle is simple: “You do you.” The outcome of this rebellion is a cannabis-infused seltzer, swiftly gaining popularity nationwide, with the added perk of leaving consumers hangover-free.

Rebel Rabbit extracts the legal D9 THC compound from the cannabis plant and integrates it into an all-natural blend. Founder Billy Goldsmith crafted two strengths and three all-natural flavors to counterbalance the occasionally bitter taste of cannabis. All their seltzers are natural, low-calorie, and boast minimal sugar content.

Having recently acquired the Brewery 85 space in Greenville as part of their second company Upstate Beverage Consultants, LLC, Rebel Rabbit directly sells its products to consumers and also distributes widely. Achieving remarkable growth since its inception in 2021, the company is on track to earn its third million. Operating in a relatively new industry, Rebel Rabbit faces unique challenges but provides valuable insights to fellow founders in the adult beverage sector in Greenville. They actively contribute to a series of meetings for adult beverage company founders in Greenville through NEXT, sharing industry insights to benefit others on the entrepreneurial journey.

Upstate Beverage Consultants has a contractual agreement to do production for Rebel Rabbit as well as for other non-alcoholic beverage brands. This allows their team to control their production schedule and change directions quickly as rules and regulations shift around the hemp market. It also opens them up to having other non-intoxicating products in our portfolio.  They have plans to expand the brewery later in 2024 to up their production capacity.

Co-founders Pierce Wylie and Billy Goldsmith, both alumni of the NEXT Accelerator cohort 2, sported Rebel Rabbit gear throughout their participation, emphasizing their brand identity. Pierce presented their journey and entrepreneurial challenges at the NEXT Showcase, shedding light on the sometimes isolating path of a founder. “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. Leadership helped connect dots and also connect to people and building relationships that will continue to show dividends.” If you attended, they were also giving out samples!

Where can you find Rebel Rabbit locally? Check out Garners, Greenville Beer Exchange, Drop In Store, Palmetto Hemp Provisions, and their website for more locations. Or, just buy it online!