Ditch the consultants and reports; mine ideas and talent already available within your community if you want to create a successful technology sector. Then offer services necessary to help the fledgling tech companies grow.
That statement was among the blunt and specific advice Ernest Andrade offered to his audience at Tuesday’s Wilmington Information Technology Exchange (WITX) at University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Cameron Business School.
Andrade has been director of Charleston, S.C.’s Digital Corridor since he helped establish the entrepreneurship initiative in 2001. Since then, the space occupied by tech companies in Charleston has expanded from 38 to 100 square miles, the number of tech companies has grown from 18 to more than 100, and the tech community has attracted roughly $500 million in investments.
Andrade said that Charleston’s technology initiative was designed to strengthen and diversify the city’s tourism-heavy economy, reduce brain drain and increase mid-level wages in an area where real estate prices were soaring and wages were stagnating.
Now, Andrade said, the technology sector in Charleston accounts for 5 percent of the regional economy, and the average tech-company wage is $71,000 per year, as compared with an average of $41,000 in other regional sectors. He said that 80 percent of job creation in a community comes from within the community, rather than recruiting companies from elsewhere, although he acknowledged that cities need to land what he termed the elephants as well as helping the gazelles - fast-growing startups.
"All necessary resources need to be devoted to supporting businesses within community," Andrade said.
As a mentor to Wilmington-based Castle Branch, Andrade has been following Wilmington’s efforts to boost entrepreneurship and establish the community as a destination for technology businesses.
80 pct job creation in communit coms from wi the community. Not going to come from the outside. All resources need to be devoted to supporting ress within community.
“All areas have to work together in a sequence in order for the tech community to be successful,” he said. “First comes the community, then talent, facilities and capital.”
He emphasized the need for the tech community to interact continually, identify needs, promote progress, celebrate even small wins and provide a unified portal for interested outsiders to learn about tech opportunities – jobs, facilities, initiatives and accomplishments – in one place on the web.
What can and should Wilmington do to become a tech hub? Andrade ticked off several points.
First, he said, understand that things could be better, even if things are fine. Don’t be content with the status quo.
Focus on meaningful partnerships that generate results and that move the initiative along; don’t spend time on “obligation” relationships. Create a core team and assign responsibilities to each team member. Decide who will lead the effort.
Identify locations to host events and get people together on a regular basis to share ideas and news. Make sure events have outcomes that benefit the tech community.
Make sure that the tech portal includes everything happening in the area’s tech world.
“Anything that’s relevant, minus the fluff,” Andrade said. “Publish your progress and continuously communicate all things tech in Wilmington, even if there’s not enough. Celebrate, inform. Have more events like WITX.”
Andrade closed by challenging the students, faculty members and businesspeople in the room to come up with suggestions about how Wilmington could become a technology hub.
WITX activities continue through small group discussions and rapid-fire presentations until 7 p.m. Tuesday evening.