By James T. Hammond
Published Aug. 31, 2012
Midlands Technical College has added three companies in the past year to its Enterprise Campus in northeast Richland County, and is within a year to 18 months of having one of its tenant companies grow large enough to move into its own facility, said Tom Ledbetter, associate vice president for the Enterprise Campus.
The new tenants bring to five the number of startup companies housed at the Business Accelerator, a facility that provides office and small-scale manufacturing space for emerging companies.
Tom Ledbetter, associate vice president for the Enterprise Campus
Bill Ranson, president of Direct Measurements
The teaching building adjoins the Accelerator. Ledbetter said the proximity of the two facilities will help the companies and students.
“These companies represent the vision of the Business Accelerator,” Ledbetter said. “They are utilizing intellectual property developed at the University of South Carolina; the companies have been formed by professors from USC; each company spent time at the USC-Columbia Technology Incubator; and now they are located here for the next phase of their respective businesses.”
Other companies come into the mix of the Business Accelerator, representing investments from overseas, or from across the United States, Ledbetter said.
“All of these companies have one thing in common: they are in a stage of their growth where definition of business process and development of a workforce are critical to their next success,” he said. “This is the value that the Business Accelerator and MTC bring to the table.”
Bill Ranson, president of Direct Measurements, is a retired USC professor of mechanical engineering. His company, which employs nine people, makes and deploys sensors that monitor stress in structures such as bridges and systems such as power generators. The tiny sensors, the size of a dime, are currently being installed on a bridge in another state. The bridge is under construction, and the sensors will monitor its reaction to stress from the beginning. But the devices also can be used to monitor cracks in older bridges.
All bridges develop cracks over time, Ranson said. The challenge is to determine exactly how long a bridge can live with the stresses and cracks, and be replaced before it fails. The same goes for power generators and other systems operating in a high-temperature environment.
“Our systems are unique in their ability to monitor fatigue cracks,” he said. “These sensors can detect the health of a structure over time.”
Having spent time in the USC-Columbia Technology Incubator on Laurel Street, Ranson moved his company to the Business Accelerator because it provides manufacturing capability. But, he maintains a presence in the incubator because he still wants help developing his business model.
Meanwhile, DPX Labs LLC is making patented pipettes that speed up the process of assessing food and drug safety for institutions such as the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The devices also are used in labs that conduct drug testing for prospective employees by employers.
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He set up his company initially at the incubator, where he could have an office, phones, computers and access to the business mentoring the incubator can provide. He also had a 1,000-square-foot manufacturing site in Lexington County. By the time he emerged from the incubator, he was able to consolidate his offices and his manufacturing operation at the Business Accelerator. He now has 2,600 square feet of manufacturing space, and access to people who can mentor him in sales and manufacturing techniques.
Brewer founded his company in 2007 and began selling products three years ago. He currently has three full-time employees and sales representatives under contract.
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“We save labs time, and time is money,” Brewer said. Some customers have reported speeding up their testing processes by three to five times.
In two more years, Brewer hopes to see annual revenue hit $5 million.
“I think that’s attainable,” he said.
“This facility allows us to network with people with engineering skills and to improve our manufacturing process,” Brewer said. “That’s a big part of why we are here.”
He said it’s possible he might eventually hire some of the Midlands Tech students graduating from the new campus.
“It would cost us more to do this somewhere else,” he said. “Also, the academic environment here is a big advantage. I hope to see my people taking continuing education courses.
“The experience has been great. It has exceeded my expectations. The quality of our products is already improved because we are here,” Brewer said.
Other companies residing at the Accelerator are:
- Trulite Inc., led by CEO Ron Seftik. It supplies hydrogen-powered generators to industries.
- Space Metal Fabricators, Glen Mosser, CEO, which makes a line of process automation/integration solutions.
- Black Art Designs, North America, Ron Wyche, CEO, which provides specialty suspension systems for the automotive sector.
They all represent “home-grown success,” Ledbetter said.
“The companies here will look at these new students as a potential workforce,” he said. “And those company employees can become adjunct instructors for us.”
Reach James T. Hammond at 803-401-1094, ext. 201.