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Former BMW exec grows exports startup at USC/Columbia Technology Incubator

By James T. Hammond
Published Jan. 2, 2013

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Cherod Webber says he always had a “burning desire” to own a business, but he spent 17 years as an executive for BMW Manufacturing, learning about managing manufacturing and other business skills before he was able to devote himself to being a full-time entrepreneur.

Cherod Webber of Innovative Global Supply LLC
Cherod Webber of Innovative Global Supply LLC

Since May, when he left BMW, he has devoted all of his time and energy to growing Innovative Global Supply LLC, a distributor and exporter of vitamins, food supplements and fortified food products that targets emerging markets in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

IGS is the latest resident company at the USC/Columbia Technology Incubator, and Webber said he found the support network of the business incubator, the city and its business leaders to be the ideal environment to nurture his young company.

In turn, the incubator’s board chairman, Don Tomlin, said IGS is exactly the sort of startup that the USC/Columbia Technology Incubator needs to build the region’s entrepreneurial culture.

“Soon, we’ll have 100 entrepreneurs in this building, all engaged in building companies,” Tomlin said. “There’s a cadre of brains in this building, each company helps another. That really accelerates growth.”

Tomlin said Webber’s company will provide learning opportunities for candidates for masters in business administration from the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business.

“It’s a win-win for everyone,” Tomlin said.

For Webber, moving into the incubator provides welcome support for his long-held dream of business ownership. And, he traces the genesis of his current business plan to his two years working at a BMW facility in Munich, Germany.

Noting that Munich, a city of 1.8 million people, includes about 40% who are from other countries, he said he quickly found an interest among those expatriates in vitamins and other food supplements from his home country.

“Everyone seemed to want American-made vitamins,” Webber said. “I was bringing back suitcase loads from my trips back home. After I moved back to the United States, people in Munich were still asking us to send them products.”

In 2008, he formed his company, and in 2009, his first export of his products went out to Bulgaria.

Webber’s newest line of products includes a line of fortified foods of the type often used to feed people in disaster or famine situations.

“There is a tremendous market overseas, where there is rapid population growth,” Webber said. “These products are now being sold in retail settings in emerging markets.”

Webber predicts “tremendous growth” in his exports next year, based upon contacts with his export partners in other countries. He obtains his products from third-party manufacturers in this country. The goods may carry his IGS brand, or the private brands of the companies he sells to in the emerging markets.

But his business plan calls for IGS to begin making some of its own products in Columbia within 18 to 24 months. Webber expects that, once started, the manufacturing facility would employ 40-50 people within 12 months.

Webber’s experience at BMW positioned him well to start a manufacturing operation, he said.

“I’ve worked in manufacturing for 17 years,” Webber said. “I supervised making paint, and making blended food products is not that different in terms of processes.”

Webber’s company has less than $1 million a year in revenue, but he expects his sales to grow 10-fold in three to four years.

“I’ve been running this business from a home office,” he said. “The incubator will give us more structure, help us to scale up and provide business mentors. We’ll be able to share ideas with other companies. And, we expect to outgrow the incubator in about three years.”

Webber already has received advice and help from the U.S. Department of Commerce, S.C. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Export-Import Bank. He recently was named to the bank’s advisory committee.

Earlier this year, Webber accompanied a group from the Columbia World Affairs Council, headed by Fred Monk, to the African nation of Ghana, where he explored the market potential for his products.

“What Columbia offers us, we can’t find anywhere else,” Webber said. “We believe this is the best place for IGS.”

Reach James T. Hammond at 843-401-1094, ext. 201.

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