The Lowcountry is home to a large population of movers, shakers, and innovators. The Harbor Entrepreneur Center in particular is home to many of these, and recently selected seven startup companies to participate in Cohort 6 of the Harbor Accelerator Program. Described as a “high intensity boot camp,” the program provides resources and support to help each company take their business to the next level. Cohort 6’s program concludes on Nov. 15.
The companies range from LED lights to an app-based bar tab system to an outdoor content media platform. The one thing they have in common is the solution to a common problem and a drive to succeed. Charleston Business Magazine spoke with each company to find out what they do, why they do it, and what makes them special.
The Southern Trapper
Dane Bligh C. Schemel, President
Southern Trapper makes heirloom quality exotic leather goods that are 15 times stronger than steel; they’re bullet resistant, fire resistant, and radio frequency identification (RFID) blocking.
President Dane Bligh C. Schemel came up with the idea after making a wallet for fun with his elementary school mentee. The student sold the wallet for $1.30 to a classmate, and seeing his satisfaction encouraged Schemel to start a business with him.
“I decided we needed to stand out in the crowded marketplace, and I determined that a bullet-resistant, fire-resistant, and RFID-blocking wallet would resonate well with our target market, so we gave it a shot, literally and figuratively,” he says.
The shot was right on target. Schemel’s business has been a success; so much so that Southern Trapper has funded a 529 college savings plan for his mentee to attend a college of his choice, hopefully to study entrepreneurship.
Southern Trapper’s leather goods are made from the strongest fiber in the world and are extremely durable and long lasting. The new line of bullet-resistant handgun holsters is designed to be the safest way to store and carry a firearm, with life-saving technology to provide absolute protection from injury.
Safety is what Schemel hopes to accomplish with his venture.
“Gun-related accidents and gun violence are prevalent fears that innocent people are susceptible to, and we hope to remove the fear of being harmed by guns by making our leather goods bullet resistant,” he says. “We hope to enable men and women to feel comfortable around firearms, knowing that while the firearm is properly holstered, it cannot cause harm to anyone. We want the population to feel empowered and safe while concealing a firearm.”
Tori Schallot, Founder and CEO
Peter Schallot, Co-founder and CTO
New business Torpsy provides tools to others looking to start or expand a business. From registering a domain name to creating a website, to creating social media accounts and company email addresses, Torpsy does it all. Services can be bundled and various payment plans are offered to help fledgling companies get on their feet.
Tori Schallot, founder of Torpsy and managing partner for The Berry Dispatch, a Charleston-based online grocer and delivery service, came up with the idea for Torpsy while working with local farmers, food providers and home businesses. Many of them had no website, were using personal email addresses, and had no social media presence whatsoever.
Schallot founded Torpsy with her husband Peter, to help these companies market themselves and thrive
“The mission for our company is to help entrepreneurs build the businesses that they want and that they deserve,” Tori says.
Torpsy has a wide network of freelancers in the technical space, and they continue to expand resources with web developers, designers, project managers, social media experts, and even legal and financial personnel.
Even more incredible, Schallot attempts to do all this with the time and budget a small business can typically afford: usually not much.
“Many of these business owners are sinking their life savings into these ventures as they pursue their hopes and dreams,” says Tory. “They aren’t just giving up salaries and job security; they are forfeiting time with loved ones to try to make and grow something of value. We are hoping to help them find and increase that value.”
Dylan Schmitz, Co-founder
Marty Gallipeau, Co-founder
There’s reality TV. There’s umpteen thousand sports channels. Dylan Schmitz is hoping to bring outdoor content to the masses with the creation of Badfish.
A modern outdoor media network, Badfish’s specialty is creating and distributing progressive outdoor content that breaks the mold of conventional media. Their website offers a video feed of fishing videos to view, as well as the ability to upload your own.
“The idea has been constantly evolving, but the mission has always been the same,” says co-founder Dylan Schmitz. “We want to inspire people to get outdoors.”
Schmitz’s goal is to make Badfish the largest creator and distributor of “badass outdoor content.”
The website offers a map view where users can select a location and see fishing videos in a specific area. The site also offers a search feature to allow viewers to search by keyword, such as a type of fish, a location, or keywords such as “how-to.” In an increasingly inert interior world, Badfish looks to break the mold.
Says Schmitz, “We know we’ve done our job when we get someone who’s never fished before to plan a weekend fishing trip after seeing our content.”
Jim Luby, Co-founder and Partner
Drew Wynne, Co-founder and Partner
When coffee is brewed hot, certain oils are broken down, creating a bitter taste. It’s the reason so many people only drink coffee with cream and sugar, and has helped propel ubiquitous sugary-sweet flavored coffee drinks to alarming heights.
Barista Vending is looking to change that. Jim Luby, co-founder of Barista Vending, and his partner, Drew Wynne, began cold-brewing coffee at home after hearing about the benefits. After Wynne noticed cold-brew on tap at a coffee shop in San Francisco, the two bought a kegerator/tap and pitched their cold-brew idea to large offices, cafes, and restaurants in Charleston. Success was quick.
“After positive feedback and immediate re-orders, we realized we were on to something and grew quickly from there,” says Luby.
Barista Vending’s compact tap systems and coffee kegs are ideal for office, re-sale, and catering events. But it’s the taste that keeps customers coming back for more. Beans are sourced responsibly from Brazil, roasted here in Charleston, and brewed for 20 hours. The result is a coffee with up to 67 percent less acidity, making it palatable to folks who previously shunned the brew. It also extends the shelf life of the coffee. For those who still prefer hot coffee, or need a way to keep warm in the winter months, the cold-brew coffee can easily be heated.
Expansion plans are underway to bring the superior caffeinated product to a larger area.
“We want our coffee on tap at every top employer in Charleston by the end of next year,” says Luby. “We also have plans to start bottling our product and distributing to store chains all over the Southeast.”
Marnie Barron Renshler, Founder and Owner
Busy mothers often don’t have time to exercise during daytime hours, if at all. When Marnie Renshler, founder and owner of Mama Lights, tried running with a neighbor at 4:30 a.m., her neighbor stepped on a pine cone and broke her foot.
After a fruitless Internet search for illumination, Renschler met with a client to whom she sold medical devices. He happened to mention LED lighting usage in the health care field, and suddenly a lightbulb went off.
LED lighting would provide the proper light for running, as well as other sporting and leisure applications. Safety is Renschler’s biggest priority.
“My goal is to educate and provide the world with LED lights that will illuminate any outdoor activity, providing them a safer environment to exercise or play in,” she says.
Renschler personally selects each LED product available on her website. There are options for runners, bikers, children, pets, and more. However, after working with her mentor at the Harbor Accelerator Program, Renschler says she may narrow her product offering to the attached armband, branded with her logo, and other companies’ logos as well. But it won’t be her sole product for long.
“Once I master that product in the industry, I’ll go back to selling other LED products currently on my site as well,” she says.
Shaun Lally, CEO
Nathan Adamson, VP of Business Development
The best innovations often come from simple but universal problems. Shaun Lally and Nathan Adamson of Radtab used a common nightlife annoyance to create a new product and company.
“Radtab was created because we were tired of waiting to close our tabs at the bar,” says Adamson. “All too often friends are waiting for each other to close their tabs so they can go to the next location. This problem is now fixed.”
Radtab is an app that automates the payment of your tab at bars and restaurants. Adamson describes it as Uber for the bar. The company’s software bridges the gap from users’ phones to the venue’s POS machine. The customer opens a tab when they walk into a bar that offers the Radtab software; when they leave, their bill is automatically paid – including tip – without the customer having to wait in line to close a tab. A receipt is then emailed to the client.
The customers aren’t the only ones to benefit from this idea. Bar staff can make better use of their time with Radtab, which allows them to focus on tending bar, rather than printing and collecting sales receipts.
Adamson says the goal is to create an ecosystem of venues for users to navigate.
“Imagine going to multiple bars and restaurants in one night and never reaching for your wallet or purse, and never having to wait to close your tab. This is the Radtab way.”
Michael Santoro, co-founder
John Rizzo, co-founder
Jennifer Santoro, founding member
Prashant Chaudhary, CTO
Michael Santoro and John Rizzo, co-founders of Vaetas, didn’t set out to become entrepreneurs. Instead, they wanted to help them.
The pair owned a digital marketing firm for the past eight years. They realized the power of video and searched for a system and tools to make using video in business development more accessible, affordable, and easier, but could never find what they were looking for. The duo then decided to take matters into their own hands and build the system themselves. The result was Vaetas.
“We want to empower the next generation of entrepreneurs to make the impact they have set out to make with the use of affordable interactive video technology,” says Jennifer Santoro, founding member.
The original product is referred to as their “ugly duckling,” which worked but didn’t provide the best user experience. That’s when Jennifer, as well as Prashant Chaudhary, came on board. They had both done individual work with the co-founders but decided to go all-in and assist with the next phase of the journey: the founding of Vaetas.
The ugly duckling is now a swan; Vaetas is a full-fledged software company offering interactive video-based mobile and web tools for business development. Their specialty is helping businesses turn their videos into an actionable step in the customer relationship building process. Vaetas also offers training on best practices and strategies on using video in inbound marketing, sales, and retention efforts. The business is making a splash in the Harbor Accelerator Program, but Vaetas’s team hopes to take their success even further.
“The Vaetas system has been built to support worldwide use, says Jennifer. “We hope to have a positive global impact on business development.”