April 17, 2024


Unlimited Technology

Columbia tech group partners with Mapquest cofounder to increase area startups | Columbia Business

COLUMBIA — As Columbia tries to grow its technology sector, a group of startup companies is merging its efforts with the city and county, working alongside Mapquest co-founder Chris Heivly to improve entrepreneurial supports in the Capital City.

GrowCo launched in Columbia with eight member companies just before the start of the international coronavirus pandemic, hoping to fill the niche of aiding upstart businesses ready to move beyond early into late stage growth. The group formed with the goal of taking Columbia from eight fast-growing Inc. 5,000 ranked companies to 80, a ten-fold increase, by the end of the decade.

In about two years, GrowCo has gone from eight to 33 members. By working alongside Heivly and Joe Queenan, another serial entrepreneur who now calls Columbia home, they’re hoping to increase those efforts further.

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“We’re going to throw some gas on this fire and you’re going to see a lot of really exciting things happen,” Matt Vaadi, a GrowCo member and founder of the Columbia-based HR software and services company Guhroo, announced to the crowd of the group’s second Growth Summit event Nov. 18.

Queenan will serve as GrowCo’s interim director and they’re finalizing a deal to lease 15,000 square feet of space for a physical office space where high growth companies can co-locate.

“We’ve got two tremendous founders that have done what all the people in our ecosystem want to do,” Vaadi said of Heivly and Queenan. “We’ll just get so much more done together with a collaborative effort and resources that we all bring to bear collectively.”

Heivly and Queenan’s consulting is part of a larger effort by the city and counties to expand their economic development focus beyond just traditional manufacturing to include technology firms. Richland County Economic Development sought out Heivly, who has spent the last 4½ years partnering with Boulder, Colo.-based Techstars making a science out of building what they call “startup communities.”

“There are some assets, obviously, that Matt and his team have created here,” Heivly said, but the GrowCo companies also have businesses to run and can’t work on the organization full time. “Maybe we can now take the football and run it the next 10 yards.”

When Heivly came to Columbia, one of the first things he noticed was there were fewer high-growth companies than he expected to see in a town with a major college like the University of South Carolina, as well as several other smaller institutions, like Allen University and Benedict College.

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GrowCo then realized it too needed to shift priorities, continuing to work on its own community but also starting to identify ways to help spur more founders, Vaadi said.

“One of our biggest challenges was that people were not getting together and connecting,” he said. “We’re starting to see the collaboration and we’re starting to see the mindset change.” 

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