This story is from the 2019 Access FYI: FedEx Young Innovators List. Explore more from this issue
Charleston, South Carolina sunset

Charleston: Where High Tech Meets History

The South Carolina city has become a surprising hotspot for start-ups.

Charleston, South Carolina sunset

Construction recently began on a start-up hub christened the “Charleston Tech Center,” the latest tech development in this coastal South Carolina city founded nearly 350 years ago. As the new home of high-tech tenants, including the city-backed Charleston Digital Corridor — which has helped launch 80 start-ups — it will have the capacity for 500 workers when work wraps up in 2020. Architectural renderings show its name on the side of the building both in letters and in binary code (a numbering system used for coding).

It’s just the latest in a string of developments that have welcomed and helped launch more than 250 companies in Charleston the last 25 years. Dubbed “Silicon Harbor” by local tech leaders, the city has ranked among the top 10 in the U.S. for software and internet tech in recent years. The organization Charleston Women in Tech has a membership of 1,500 — high for a city with a population just over 130,000.

1,500

The number of members in the organization Charleston Women in Tech

Why the impressive numbers? Start-ups are drawn to Charleston’s low cost of living (affordable compared with other coastal tech hubs) and high quality of life. “Charleston is widely known for its hospitality and for its give-first mentality,” says Stanfield Gray, CEO of Dig South, host of the largest tech summit in the region. “People are open and friendly and willing to tell you about their business.”

It’s why dozens of start-ups have either relocated from other U.S. cities or opened Charleston branches. Among them are N3TWORK, a San Francisco–based company that helps developers publish mobile games and acquire audiences. Charleston now has so much talent within that industry specifically that there is enough interest to sustain regular meetups of a group called Charleston Indie Game Developers.

Still, Charleston start-ups face challenges. Chief among them is the fact that the city’s venture capital community is relatively small and can be slow to invest, largely because of the risk inherent to start-ups. But that’s not deterring the city itself from investing in projects like the Charleston Tech Center and Charleston Digital Corridor, or in working to improve other aspects of the city’s design — including infrastructure in the form of bike paths, pedestrian-friendly streets and reliable public transportation — that are improving the quality of life not only for tech talent but for everyone.

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