Ernest Andrade runs the Charleston Digital Corridor that helps new tech ventures | Credit: Ruta Smith file photo

Where technology meets shrimp, grits, the beach

Charleston’s technology future is extremely bright, but local tech gurus say the region must continue to invest in people and infrastructure to secure the future it has been building toward.

“Charleston’s tech ecosystem is likely to continue its growth, attracting more startups and established tech companies,” said Ted Tanner Jr., a longtime Holy City tech proponent who currently is chief technology officer for

Charleston entrepreneur Trey Rust, who soon is expected to launch an app for social media integration, said tech is hot now in Charleston thanks to 20 years of diverse companies planting seeds for the future.

“There are so many talented people in town right now in the right places in their careers, and companies that brought Charleston to the world-class level that so many people here have been working to achieve in tech since the late 1990s,” he said.

Look from Blackbaud and Boeing to Automated Trading Desk (ATD) and Boomtown. There are technology niches in which the Lowcountry excels — from aviation, financial services and logistics to the development of technologies that benefit the military and defense sectors, such as cybersecurity, communications and advanced electronics.

The city’s appeal, lifestyle and potential for collaboration could draw in more talent and investments.”Ted Tanner Jr.

“The city’s appeal, lifestyle and potential for collaboration could draw in more talent and investments,” Tanner said.

And when local companies make good, the Lowcountry benefits economically, noted long-time Charleston Digital Corridor Executive Director Ernest Andrade.

“When ATD, Blue Acorn, BoomTown, SPARC were sold, and Blackbaud and Benefitfocus went public, there was a good portion of the proceeds that were realized locally as opposed to that money leaving the community,” he said. “This enables founding entrepreneurs to invest in other ventures in the community.”

Local tech companies, he said, have created more than $2.5 billion in value to the community since the CDC started gathering data in 2004. “This wealth has been generated locally and, for the most part, stays in the community.”

6 takeaways on the future of local tech

Here are several takeaways based on interviews about the future of technology in the Charleston marketplace:

Hubs. Rust says the Harbor Entrepreneur Center in Mount Pleasant is really establishing itself as a hive of activity. “In five years, there must be multiple locations of the Entrepreneur Center in each of our three metro counties supporting the potential of our community and providing the resources that the talent here needs.”

That, in fact, is what the Charleston Digital Corridor has been doing for two decades. In that span, Andrade noted, it has grown from 18 private tech companies in 2001 to more than 700 now. “Thanks to the convergence of tech and manufacturing, there are many more advanced manufacturing facilities in the region, which could push this number higher.”

Infrastructure investments. A key to growth of the section is making the right infrastructure decisions, Andrade said. Examples: “Enhanced educational offerings, targeted business incentives, physical facilities with flexible terms and seed-state investments.”

Remote working. “Charleston is increasingly becoming a home for remote technology workers,” Rust said. “Charleston’s future is in the design, engineering, security and the development of the next generation of technology the world has been waiting for. … We need to recruit and market this region as a remote workers’ paradise that always provides the option to go back to an office if you decide to.”

Emerging technologies. Tanner said, and others agreed, short-term growth needed to embrace emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, cybersecurity, distributed computing and working with the Department of Defense, which has a big presence in the Goose Creek area. Andrade added that software engineers that didn’t embrace AI/ChatGPT models of software risked getting left behind.

Startup network. The Lowcountry, sometimes called Silicon Harbor, has the benefit of having a mature start-up ecosystem, Tanner added. “Established companies might be more inclined to set up satellite offices or research centers” here because of that, he said. And that could lead to Charleston being considered a key national tech hub.

Micro-Hollywood. Social media entrepreneur John Edmonds Kozma says Charleston is perfectly placed to be a micro-Hollywood for social media because of its lifestyle — and the fact that social media can be done anywhere.

“When you think about technology and entertainment, social media is the future,” said Kozma, whose Bang Productions Studio uses Meta and TikTok platforms to promote entertainers and build compelling content that tells a story. His Mount Pleasant company’s numbers are off the charts. Through content developed for Meta and TikTok, he said Bang Productions reaches over 100 million monthly viewers and 1.2 billion annually on social media platforms.

“That makes us one of the nation’s largest publishers on social media.” And more importantly, it shows that his company doesn’t have to be in the traditional entertainment hubs like Hollywood or New York to have a position of influence in entertainment. “So why not Charleston?” asks Kozma.

Area technology advantages

Tanner said Charleston has several advantages that can bolster its technology future, including a skilled workforce, research institutions and centers that can foster innovation and infrastructure advantages, including the Port of Charleston and transportation networks.

Also important are two other things — a spirit of collaboration that’s due to close proximity of existing industries that can fuel knowledge and development of new ideas as well as a quality of life that’s the envy of many areas.

“Where else are y’all going to code, go eat shrimp and grits, and hit the beach?” Tanner asked.

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