PC: Suzanne Gaff

The Silicon Foothills: An Unauthorized Autobiography of Southern Innovation

Technology incubators… Mobile app development… Hog farmers?

Only in South Carolina could these things be interrelated. Technology and innovation in South Carolina? If you’re not from here you probably don’t believe it exists — and I don’t entirely blame you. But if you’ve spent some time here you may be familiar with the budding, quirky, little technology scene that’s been slowly growing under the southern sun.

What’s beautiful about entrepreneurship in the South comes down to a subtle gap — the gap between opportunity and necessity. It is the difference between wanting and needing something. Allow me to explain, but first I need you to hold a concept in your mind:

the ever-ominous technology bubble.

People have looked at Silicon Valley and seen opportunity for decades, but recently more and more people see what they call the “technology bubble” when they gaze to the West. And it makes sense; you see companies like Snapchat pull in double-digit-billion dollar valuations for what amounts to little more than disappearing selfies full angel halos and rainbow vomit — and you can’t help but smell the gargantuan burning question in front of all of us: “HOW CAN THIS BE MEANINGFUL?”

When Silicon Valley was first germinating it was built on the opportunity of necessity. There was a NEED for the technology being created and the innovations that were bringing niche computing tech to a broad consumer market — and there was the opportunity for the right people to get together and make it happen.

Today, Silicon Valley lacks that necessity. The problem is it’s a place that truly lacks very little. The technology coming out of the Valley now is built almost entirely on opportunity, with such little focus on necessity. And that’s why you’ll see 100 selfie based start-ups come from the Valley for every one effective solution for California’s water crisis.

The backhanded blessing of life in South Carolina is that our region of the country is RIPE with necessity. And there is an immense power in that necessity. The technology bubble won’t be popping here any time soon, because it’s built not on the opportunity of selfies but rather on real human needs — needs that often have a global perspective. And what a time it is to be alive in South Carolina, because lately our state has become home to the full stack developer as well as the hog farmer.

That non-sequitur I began the article with refers to a real product created in rural SC that allows farmers to manage farm equipment remotely via mobile devices. It’s among many amazing plays in ‘South-tech’ — like new innovations in aquaculture and hydroponics allowing people to grow fish and plants in unbelievable ways and places, or innovations in turf management to improve water drainage physics (and perhaps decrease the impact of catastrophes like the flooding we recently dealt with). There are agri-social startups that are finding new ways to distribute local farmers’ fresh fruit and vegetables to food deserts, providing the neediest with real, healthy food. In the South our start-ups aren’t just disrupting data analytics reporting platforms — we’re disrupting things like the century-old beef and produce supply chains.

Impressive for backwards little South Carolina, huh?

So with no authority whatsoever I’d like to make a statement on behalf of South Carolina and all the other startup communities around the country like us, to those of you in Silicon Valley:

As you vapidly stare at your rainbow-vomit filled stories on Snapchat and cry out on Twitter about the looming technology bubble engulfing you and all of us while you roll around on two-wheeled hoverboards that aren’t REALLY hoverboards, I’d like to remind you — when you refer to the technology bubble you only speak for yourself. If you’ve truly forgotten what real technology solving real problems looks like there’s no need to worry — y’all are more than welcome to come visit any time you’d like.