Photography by Erin Turner
By Holly Fisher
Since 2014, John Osborne has played a major role in helping Charleston-based startups turn their ideas into full-fledged businesses. He’s co-founder of the Harbor Entrepreneur Center, a business accelerator and mentoring program that has launched dozens of entrepreneurial dreamers into the marketplace.
The center, along with other programs like the Charleston Digital Corridor and the DIG South tech conference, are credited with giving rise to Charleston’s startup scene. In little more than a decade, Charleston has put herself on the map as a place where businesses are born, are nurtured and, ultimately, are thriving.
The Harbor Entrepreneur Center not only helps early stage companies better develop and execute their business plans in its 14-week accelerator program, it also offers coworking space, a focused mastermind group called Forum and classes through the JRS Coding School.
John is stepping away from the day-to-day management but will continue to be highly involved in the center. Over the past few months, he’s weeded through 60 applications for a new executive director. At the same time, he’s searching for a new home for the center. This summer, it will give up its space at Pacific Box & Crate on King Street to solar tech company Palmetto Clean Technology Inc.
Call it a period of transition – for both the center and its leader. John will focus more on venture capital and funding new businesses. He serves as executive administrator of Charleston Angel Partners and as a managing partner of Good Growth Capital, a venture capital platform focused on early stage technology companies.
It’s a shift but not a departure from John’s early vision of fueling entrepreneurship in the Charleston market through the Harbor Entrepreneur Center.
“In my mind, there’s still quite a bit of opportunity to fully realize the vision we had,” he says. “This is a neat milestone to be able to look back and say, in five years, we’ve come a long way. It’s awesome to see and think about.”
A defining moment came when accelerator participant Krissa Watry was honored at DIG South’s first Wild Pitch event in 2014. She won $30,000 for her new software company, Dynepic, aimed at safely connecting kids to the digital world. Shortly after, another accelerator graduate, fundraising platform Bidr, snagged $100,000 when AOL co-founder Steve Case stopped in Charleston as part of his Rise of the Rest bus tour.
Those moments – and there have been many – are proof that John’s efforts and the Harbor Entrepreneur Center have indeed moved the needle in Charleston.
Another bright spot has been the growing number of women starting businesses, garnering venture capital and launching support systems for female entrepreneurs.
John points to organizations like Women in Tech, Hatch Tribe and Women Entrepreneurs of Charleston as strong female-led initiatives. Last year the Harbor Entrepreneur Center collaborated with Women Entrepreneurs of Charleston to host its first all-female cohort of businesses going through the accelerator program.
In addition, Good Growth Capital is one of a handful of female-owned venture capital firms in the country, and John is happy to be part of a diverse organization.
“It’s well documented that diverse teams are outperforming single-gender, single-race teams,” he says, noting also that his female partners at Good Growth are “wickedly brilliant.”
In fact, he says Charleston has the potential to become known for its female-friendly business climate.
Many communities put a flag in the sand and establish an identity, something they’re known for, he explains. Often, that’s an industry vertical such as health care technology. But what if Charleston’s flag were female entrepreneurship?
“We could be the best place in the country, in the world, for women to start a business,” John says. “No one, to my knowledge, has really planted that flag. No one else in the country is even having that conversation.”
Surrounded by strong women, John learns from their expertise, he says, including how they start and run businesses and care for their families. As a father of two young boys, he can help further those conversations about working and parenting and the demands on modern families.
“At the end of the day, I’m thrilled to have the partners I do at Good Growth,” he says. “I learn from them all the time and am proud to be part of a team and have women partners who are absolute badasses.”
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