Creating an Environment That Works for Entrepreneurs

Creating an Environment That Works for Entrepreneurs

By Erin Ouzts, TATT Economic & Entrepreneurial Vitality Task Force Chair

While much of the publicity related to jobs and economic development is often centered on larger employers, the reality is that small businesses and entrepreneurs are critical to the economic success of any community or region.

In the Upstate, many people are working to cultivate an entrepreneurial ecosystem that supports individuals and small businesses. Engaging the support providers for this key economic engine has been a focus of Ten at the Top and the Economic & Entrepreneurial Vitality Task Force since the early days of the organization.

Over the last year, our Entrepreneur Support Providers Network has been hearing from local and national leaders on how to continue growing the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Upstate.

People, trust, values, culture. How do these attributes make our Upstate region entrepreneurs, founders and business owners more successful?

When Andy Stoll, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation Senior Program Officer in Entrepreneurship and overall entrepreneurial ecosystem development leader in the U.S., talked with our Entrepreneur Support Providers by Skype last November, this is what he said we needed. As you can imagine, our practical Upstate advisors, coaches, lenders, investors, SBDC & SCORE representatives, incubators, accelerators and every organization that supports entrepreneurs were a little uncomfortable with this. We were also a little uncomfortable with the region’s lack of awareness of the amazing work we do to build a thriving base of support for our entrepreneurs.

As engagement with the Economic and Entrepreneurial Vitality driver area has grown, we knew we depend on our personal networks to match our entrepreneur clients to the appropriate network. Then we gathered professionals from around the 10 counties and realized there were many resources we didn’t know about that could be exceptionally helpful. The challenge became: How do we actively connect these new links to our network and provide appropriate resources for entrepreneurs?

Stoll explained that entrepreneur ecosystems allow entrepreneurs to more quickly access the knowledge and funding they need, shortening their time to success and potential need for additional funds. To provide unobstructed pathways, we professionals need to know others in the network, understand the strengths and special skills each brings, take the time to connect entrepreneurs to the right person, and trust our peers. When I asked how to do this, he said one of the best ways is to do something together.

What could we all do together, yet separately, to support our local entrepreneurs and increase awareness Our Entrepreneur Support Providers Network (soon to be Entrepreneur Ecosystem)? How about a regional Global Entrepreneurship Week celebration? That might work! In 2018, our ESP meetings have been geared toward individual events held within each community yet promoted collectively on shared platforms to shine a light on the extent of the many organizations involved in supporting entrepreneurs, founders and growing companies.

Ten at the Top has a Regional Resource Map with Ecosystem members’ location and information easily accessible. In the Know Upstate is the regional calendar for the events. The Global Entrepreneurship Week and Ten at the Top brands on our materials will identify us as connected.


The following resources give more information about entrepreneurial ecosystems:

Entrepreneur Ecosystem Playbook (draft)
Entrepreneurs Matter
What are Entrepreneurial Ecosystems
ESHIP Summit
Global Entrepreneurship Week

Please join us…

REGISTER HERE for the upcoming Q3 Entrepreneur Support Providers Network Workshop on September 21st!



Main Street Laurens USA and Greenwood Arts Center Receive Hughes Investments Elevate Upstate Community Vibrancy Grants

Main Street Laurens USA and Greenwood Arts Center Receive Hughes Investments Elevate Upstate Community Vibrancy Grants

Upstate, SC [November 17, 2017] – Ten at the Top (TATT), an organization created to enhance economic vitality and quality of life across the Upstate by fostering collaboration and strategic partnerships, has announced the recipients for the 2017 Hughes Investments Elevate Upstate Community Vibrancy Grants. The two recipients, each receiving $5,000, are Main Street Laurens USA for their Food Truck Plaza project and the Greenwood Arts Center for their Bee smART project.

The grants, which began in 2013, annually provide “seed funds” to support vibrancy initiatives in communities across the Upstate region. There were 22 applications for the 2017 grants and five finalists gave brief presentations before the selections were made during the Celebrating Successes Brunch presented by Fluor on Thursday, November 16, at the Greenville Marriott as part of the Our Upstate Vision Forum Series presented by BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina.

“The goal of the Elevate Upstate program is to get communities thinking about what types of initiatives or programs might help spark vibrancy within their area and then provide some seed money to get some of them started,” said Hughes Investments President Phil Hughes. “In the five years we have done this program, I have been amazed by the great ideas and passion of communities across the region to grow their vibrancy and sense of place. It was a real challenge to narrow the field to five finalists and to select the recipients.”

In addition to providing $10,000 to the two winners, Hughes also pledged a $2,000 matching grant to each of the three other finalists. If they raise $2,000 towards completing their project, he will provide a matching $2,000 contribution. The other three finalists were the City of Landrum for their Art of the Horse project, the Abbeville County Farmers Market for their Farm to Fork Dinner and the City of Seneca and Blue Ridge Arts Council for their Art Wall at Monarch Park.

In the five years of the Hughes Investments Elevate Upstate Grants program, Phil Hughes and Hughes Investments has provided a total of $73,000 to help with 22 different vibrancy initiatives across the Upstate region.

The two $5,000 recipients for 2017 are:

Main Street Laurens USA | Food Truck Plaza– As a part of a larger Downtown Master Plan for the City of Laurens, the Food Truck Plaza will dedicate space within the city where food trucks will be located for residents and visitors to enjoy a variety of dining experiences. The plaza will include colored shade sails, brick pavers and picnic benches as well as power and water for the food trucks.

Greenwood Arts Center | Bee smART – The City of Greenwood received the Bee City USA award in 2016 and will use the Elevate Upstate Grant to develop educational and interactive art programs designed around the Bee City designation.

Time Is Now For Addressing Mobility and Connectivity in the Upstate

Time Is Now For Addressing Mobility and Connectivity in the Upstate

By Dean Hybl, Executive Director Ten at the Top

Whether hosted by Ten at the Top or another Upstate organization, over the last eight years I have participated in many events and meetings to discuss various issues that are impacting current and future growth in our region. Most of the time I leave feeling like it was a good use of my time and quality discussion, but knowing that the primary outcome will be more meetings and more discussions as part of a long process to enact change in the Upstate.

I had a very different feeling throughout the October 18th Connecting Our Future Kickoff event. Instead of being another event where the general mindset is that we have 20-30 years to strategically address our issues, there was a very different tone and sense of urgency cast by speakers and participants.

Whether related to an increase in traffic congestion on many of our roads, growth in previously undeveloped areas, potential disruptive technologies that have the ability to radically change how we think about transportation, that we have jobs going unfilled because we have potential workers who don’t have access to dependable transportation, or perhaps all of the above as well as several other factors, the message throughout the event was very clear, we have to move from discussion to action and do it now.

So, the key question is what do we do and how do we do it?

According to Carla Bailo, who was our keynote speaker and has been active in efforts to advance transportation and mobility in Columbus, Ohio, one key component is to have a business community that is willing to not only talk about how to move forward, but will also invest in making it happen.

Columbus recently received a $40 million Smart Cities grant from USDOT. Through public-private investment they have parlayed that grant into nearly a half a billion dollars in funding and in-kind support that eventually should turn Columbus into a model for using smart technology to move people and goods across a region.

In the Upstate, groups like Ten at the Top, the Upstate SC Alliance, Upstate Forever, the Riley Institute at Furman, the Upstate Chamber Coalition and many others have spent the last decade working to cultivate a spirit of collaboration and regionalism as we look at how to tackle major growth issues.

In addition, our region is fortunate to have Clemson’s International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) actively engaged in understanding and developing the future technologies that will forever change mobility. We also have companies including BMW, Michelin and many others who are major players in shaping the transportation future for our country and world.

With so many positive assets, it is imperative that we leverage them in a way that positions the Upstate for success around mobility and moving people and goods.

For many years, a common mantra in the Upstate has been “we don’t want to be Charlotte and we don’t want to be Atlanta” when talking about sprawling growth, traffic congestion and increased pollution. However, most of our current policies and investments around those issues are actually pushing us in the Charlotte or Atlanta direction instead of towards something else.

If we truly want to be a region where all residents can easily and affordably get from place to place and we do not have the negative impacts of sprawling growth and congestion, then we have to decide collectively what we want and how we are going to work together and invest our resources to create a different future.

We have many of the ingredients needed, but do we have the willingness amongst our residents, elected officials and business leaders to actually start making different choices and investments towards the future of our region?

The Connecting Our Future initiative is designed to help create a vision for what we want as a region and then develop strategies for how to get there.

Not every effort needs to be done collectively, in fact future success will require local initiatives and investments. However, if we are all working from the same playbook and moving towards the same goals, then collective success is surely obtainable.

What will be critical for the outcomes of Connecting Our Future to truly be impactful in changing the trajectory for future growth in the Upstate is that every stakeholder group must be at the table and willing to play a role in making a difference. It is not someone else’s problem or something someone else will fix for us.

The time to impact our collective future is now and it is up to all of us who call the Upstate home to play a role in ensuring that our region is a great place to live, learn, do business and raise a family for generations to come.

If you are interested in being involved with Connecting Our Future please contact us through

Finalists Announced for 2017 Hughes Investments Elevate Upstate Grants

Ten at the Top (TATT), an organization created to foster collaboration, partnerships and strategic planning across the Upstate, has announced the finalists for the 2017 Hughes Investments Elevate Upstate Community Vibrancy Grants.

The five finalists were chosen from a total of 22 applications submitted for the two grants available in 2017. Hughes Investments is contributing at least $10,000 per year to the program with two recipients each year receiving $5,000 to support a new vibrancy initiative in the Upstate. The program began in 2013 in conjunction with a series of Community Vibrancy Workshops hosted by Ten at the Top. Since the inception of the grants program, Hughes Investments has contributed a total of $57,000 to community vibrancy initiatives in 17 communities across the Upstate.

During the Ten at the Top Celebrating Successes Brunch on November 16th the five finalists will each provide a brief overview of their initiative before the 2017 recipients are selected and announced. The cost to attend the brunch is $35, prior registration is required. The event will be held from 11:30 am -1:30 pm at the Greenville Marriott. To register go to

Here are the five finalists (applying organization, project name and brief summary):

Art of the Horse – City of Landrum – In celebration of the 2018 World Equestrian Games being held in nearby Tryon, NC, the city will be displaying as public art a life size painted fiberglass horse. The city is looking to use the Elevate Upstate Grant to allow for the display to become a permanent component of the public art in the City of Landrum.
Farm to Fork Dinner – Abbeville County Farmers Market – The Abbeville County Farmers Market is looking to host a “farm to fork” dinner to highlight the vital role of local farming and farmers markets in creating local vibrancy in Abbeville.

Food Truck Plaza – Main Street Laurens USA, Inc. – As a part of a larger Downtown Master Plan for the City of Laurens, the Food Truck Plaza would be a dedicated space within the city where food trucks would be located for residents and visitors to enjoy a variety of dining experiences. The plaza will include colored shade sails, brick pavers and picnic benches as well as power and water for the food trucks.

Art Wall at Monarch Park – City of Seneca and Blue Ridge Arts Council – As part of the Eagle Scout project for a local student an art wall has been created in Monarch Park, located within walking distance of Main Street Seneca. The Elevate Upstate Grant would be used to commission three-dimensional butterfly art for the wall and park.

Bee smART – Greenwood Arts Center – The City of Greenwood received the Bee City USA award in 2016 and would use the Elevate Upstate Grant to develop educational and interactive art programs designed around the Bee City designation.

The selection committee for the Elevate Upstate Grants Program includes Phil Hughes (President, Hughes Investments), Ingo Angermeier (SmartPulse), and Terence Roberts (Mayor, City of Anderson).

Creating a Sense of Place Helps Grow Economic & Community Vibrancy

Creating a Sense of Place Helps Grow Economic & Community Vibrancy

By Dean Hybl, Executive Director, Ten at the Top

There was a time in America when regardless of the size of the community, the commercial heart of any town or city was its downtown or main street. These commerce centers were typically oozing with energy and vibrancy as they included stores, banks, restaurants, the post office, local government buildings and many other components of an active community.

As communities began to spread out in the 1960s and 1970s, many main streets and downtowns went from being the epicenter of the community to a forgotten and often dangerous place where few good things happened and most dared not venture.

Having only lived here in the Upstate since 2010, I have a hard time imagining a time when Downtown Greenville was not a vibrant showpiece. However, I have heard from many who did grow up in this area that for many years the main street was little more than a vehicle thoroughfare for people passing from one part of town to another.

Of course, today Downtown Greenville is lauded as a national model for creating both community and economic vibrancy and is a one of the more attractive features for making the Upstate a tourist and business destination.

Many main streets, downtowns and neighborhoods of all sizes across the Upstate have a rich history of being the local epicenter for their community. When Ten at the Top developed the Our Upstate Vision through the engagement of more than 10,000 Upstate residents in 2010 and 2011, one of the areas identified as being important for the Upstate was to maintain and grow the vibrancy of our individual communities, downtowns and neighborhoods.

While not every downtown has prospered to the level of Downtown Greenville, there are many other places across the Upstate that have recognized that returning vibrancy and commerce to their downtown core and neighborhoods is a key strategy in growing their economic base as well as developing a “sense of place” for their local residents and visitors.

In 2013, Ten at the Top and USC Upstate partnered to develop “Great Ideas for Community Vibrancy”, which highlighted 50 examples from across South Carolina and the United States of communities and neighborhoods of all sizes that had cultivated their local vibrancy through a project, event or initiative. We then brought representatives from 10 of those programs to the Upstate and held four community vibrancy workshops across the region.

In conjunction with those workshops and to help with creating new vibrancy initiatives across the Upstate region, local developer Phil Hughes established the Hughes Investments Elevate Upstate Community Vibrancy grants. The original commitment was for $10,000 per year (two grants of $5,000 each) for five years.

Since the first grants were awarded in 2013, Hughes has actually provided $57,000 in funds for vibrancy initiatives in 17 communities across the Upstate.

Because vibrancy, sense of place and local needs are different in all communities, the projects funded through the program have also been very different, but all have helped reinvigorate main streets, neighborhoods or even organizations across the Upstate.

Included amongst the projects was creation of the Greer International Festival, which though it was funded only once through Elevate Upstate has become an annual event in Greer with an estimated economic impact of more than $100,000 for the local community. The City of Laurens created their Finally Friday music series in 2015 through an Elevate Upstate Grant and the monthly event has become a key component of the Main Street program in Laurens.

Though Ram Cat Alley has long been a staple of Downtown Seneca, it was through a grant to the Blue Ridge Arts Council that they were able to create a series of artistically painted cast iron cats that now dot the landscape of the community and have become a favorite scavenger hunt for children in the area as the cats are regularly moved from place to place in town.

Those projects represent only a handful of the vibrancy initiatives that have popped up across the Upstate due to Phil Hughes and the Elevate Upstate program.

For 2017 the grant process brought 22 applications that have now been narrowed to five finalists. Those potential projects are for new vibrancy initiatives in Landrum, Seneca, Abbeville, Laurens and Greenwood. Each finalist will make a final “pitch” during the Ten at the Top Celebrating Successes Brunch on November 16th and then the 2017 grant recipients will be announced that day.

If you would like to learn more about the Elevate Upstate Grants, Ten at the Top’s Community Vibrancy initiatives or register to attend the November 16th Celebrating Successes Brunch, please visit the Ten at the Top web site (

Connecting Our Future: Working Together on Transportation and Mobility in the Upstate

Connecting Our Future: Working Together on Transportation and Mobility in the Upstate

By: Dean Hybl, Executive Director, Ten at the Top

Imagine living in an Upstate region where no matter which city, town or county you lived in or your level of income, you knew that you had access to dependable and affordable transportation that could take you to your job, appointments or shopping and then back home again in a timely and relatively easy manner every single day.

While many of us are fortunate enough to have daily access to our personal automobile, chances are it takes you noticeably longer to get from place to place today than it did even five years ago. In fact, within the Upstate region, 94% of all people who work travel to their job using an automobile, with 85% driving alone and 9% car-pooling. That works out to somewhere around 690,000 vehicles on the roads across the Upstate every day just to get people to and from work.

A recent study by INRIX reported that the average motorist in Greenville spent 11.5 hours in 2016 stuck in congested traffic. They also estimate that traffic congestion costs the average motorist $1,200 per year in wasted gasoline and time.

However, while the biggest issue related to transportation for many of us is congestion, there are others within both the urban and rural areas of our region who simply do not have reliable personal transportation. While there are many places across the country where public transportation helps alleviate access issues, that isn’t really the case here in the Upstate.
Across the region, only 0.4% of all workers (roughly 3,000 of the more than 750,000 people working in the region) utilize some type of public transportation to get to their place of work. Those without dependable transportation often struggle to find or maintain employment because they can’t easily get to a job location.

So to reach our imagined future of a region where transportation is available and timely for all, access and congestion become two prominent issues that must be understood and addressed.
In partnership with more than 20 transportation and community partners, Ten at the Top is coordinating a year-long effort known as Connecting Our Future to develop a vision, strategic goals and impactful actions that can ultimately make it easier to move people and goods across the Upstate while reducing congestion and increasing mobility opportunities for all residents.
Since 2010, the Upstate has added more than 60,000 new residents, which based on employment numbers means every day there are between 30,000 and 40,000 more cars on our local roads than there were seven years ago.

Between now and 2040, the region is projected to add another 321,000 residents and 256,000 new jobs. That means unless we start doing something differently in terms of how people get to work every day, by 2040 we will have nearly a million cars on the road every day just to get people to work (not counting school buses, trucks or people traveling for appointments or shopping).
When I moved to the Upstate nearly eight years ago I heard from many people that they were glad to be living in a region with a solid and growing economy, but that they didn’t want to see this region consumed by some of the same characteristics of sprawling growth, traffic congestion and endangered natural resources as our neighbors in Charlotte or Atlanta.

The reality is that while we are not quite to the point of either of those areas, most of our current policies and investments put us on a collision course with that future. Models from the recent Shaping Our Future growth study showed that if we continue our current land use trends over the next 25 years, we will more than double the amount of land used for our built environment by 2040.

Transportation and specifically how we move people and goods from place to place is an important component of that land use and an area where doing things differently can have a significant impact on how we grow moving forward.

Communities that have successfully addressed transportation and mobility issues have typically done so through developing partnerships that include the business community, transportation stakeholders, local governments and other community partners. We hope through Connecting Our Future to develop a coalition of stakeholders who not only create a connected vision for mobility and transportation, but will work together to identify and implement strategies and solutions that will help make this a region where we no longer have to just imagine that every resident can get from where they are to where they need to go in a timely and affordable manner.

If transportation and mobility are important to you, please join us for the kickoff of Connecting Our Future on October 18th from 9:30am—2:30pm at the TD Convention Center. Details are available at