CHARLESTON, S.C. — It may not look it, but Charleston, South Carolina, could be the next tech capital of the world. Just ask Jake Hare.
“I thought tech was Silicon Valley, what everybody thinks Silicon Valley is. Being in the South, which is where the Army relocated me, I didn’t realize there was so much opportunity in tech outside of Silicon Valley,” said Hare.
Hare lives in Charleston and it’s the headquarters for the company he founded, Launchpeer.
Launchpeer is a startup incubator. The company helps people who want to start new companies and connect them to resources.
“We really primarily focus on non-technical founders. So, these are founders who want to build a tech startup, think of like Facebook, Uber, things like that, but they don’t have the technical skills to actually do it,” he said.
Putting it even more simply, they're people with great ideas who don't know how to build an app or website to execute that idea.
Hare says his desire to help is built on his life perspective.
“It was just me and my dad and my little sister. U-Haul truck pulled up and he said, 'Hey we’re leaving,'” he said, “We had to pack up all of our stuff really quick and move it into the back of a truck,”
After driving around for a few hours, Hare’s dad showed them where they would be staying that night, the family’s car, a 1992 Ford Contour parked at the warehouse where his dad worked.
“For the next eight months, it was just leaving the warehouse early, like out of the car after we slept all night in the car. The reason we went to the warehouse was because there was a sink where we could wash ourselves. There was no one there, so we could kind of park the car there instead of parking on a street somewhere,” he said.
It wasn't an easy way to grow up for a 15-year-old, but he says that experience helped shape his approach to taking startups to the next level.
“We’re working with founders that are very early. I mean, napkin sketch, they just have an idea. What we look at is the founder, are they scrappy?” he said. “I want a founder who is, no matter what happens, is going to have the grit and determination to push through any roadblocks or barriers that they end up running into.”
His choices should be expanding.
New startups in February of 2021 were up 40% from the previous year, the last full month before the pandemic had set in.
“A lot of those are being formed by women,” said Caren Merrick, a self-described serial entrepreneur and co-founder of webMethods, an enterprise software company she later sold.
Now, Merrick spends much of her time investing in startups, particularly female-founded ones and she says the field is changing.
“It was very dominated by men and I’m seeing that change and I think we need to change it even more quickly than we are,” said Merrick.
According to a February report from Kauffman Indicators of Entrepreneurship, the rate of women entrepreneurs increased by 30% in 2020. Rates also increased for Black, Asian and Latino entrepreneurs.
“Anyone, anywhere can become an entrepreneur,” said Merrick.
Hare says his business of helping people start their business is a dream come true.
“As an entrepreneur, there are risks and there are a lot of insecurities with it. But you have 100% total control over everything that happens every single day. And I think for me, the reason why I was drawn to entrepreneurship and helping other entrepreneurs is because I want to give them that control that I didn’t have when I was a kid growing up,” said Hare.