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10 startups to watch


Abii robots by Vän Robotics | photo courtesy Vän Robotics

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Keep your eye on these early-stage ventures in Columbia.

Columbia is an ideal breeding ground for startups, according to Greg Hilton, co-founder of SOCO + partner at Period Three.

Compared to entrepreneurial hubs like Austin, Minneapolis and even Silicon Valley, we have an extremely low cost of living (office space rent is cheap, comparatively) and super high quality of life (access to the outdoors + culture). There’s also access to incubators and entrepreneurial networks that help support the growth of small companies – and some upstarts are choosing to keep their businesses here vs. moving them because of this. Which is a great thing for our lil’ ColaTown.

Meet 10 Columbia-based startups that are making moves in 2018. Whether they’ve just launched or are 5 years in, each of these are gaining traction quickly, and they represent a range of industries. Conquering a market near you…


Abii robots by Vän Robotics | photo courtesy Vän Robotics

Vän Robotics | 💻 education sector | 💼 5 employees | 👶 2 years old | 📍 SOCO BullStreet

Co-founded by Laura Boccanfuso, PhD + Marilena Mademtzi, PhD, Vän Robotics is a fresh grad of TechStars Austin’s Class of 2018 (a global leader in startup accelerator programs). The company creates robots (named Abii) to tutor K-8 kids – using built-in AI to adapt to kids’ individual ways of learning and help them overcome learning challenges through personal interaction. The company’s pilot program is currently touring schools in S.C. + throughout the Southeast, with 8 robots teaching 22 lessons (all in math). They’re currently working toward getting a SBIR STTR grant – federal funding that supports the commercialization of innovative tech.

RumbleLab | 💻 education sector | 💼 2 employees | 👶 3 years old | 📍 SOCO BullStreet

Co-founded by mechanical engineers Moultrie Ball and Joe Cahill, RumbleLab is now managed + operated by husband-wife team Moultrie (engineer) + Bolling (frontend developer) Ball. RumbleLab builds DIY maker kits to help kids learn about science and engineering on their level. The family-friendly kits spark interest in STEM learning while challenging kids to think “why?” Check out their YouTube channel where they make goofy videos to further reach kids.

DxTEL | 💻 tech sector | 💼 2 employees | 👶 <1 year old | 📍 home office / SOCO member

Co-founded by Robert Gilbert + Eddie Andrews, DxTEL is a big data firm and sister company to Cola-based digital marketing company DXStrategies. DxTEL analyzes customer data from independent telcos, rural cooperatives and other utilities and turns those consumer insights into hypertargeted marketing strategies and communications plans. The company launched earlier this year and is in the final stages of forming an equity partnership with an S.C.-based rural communications provider.

Tyler Digital | 💻 media sector | 💼 1 employee | 👶 4 years old | 📍 SOCO member

Aside from his 9-5 as a video producer at UofSC (he’s the one that dropped those riding in cars with Pastides videos), Tyler Matthews is a digital content entrepreneur/startup specializing in filmmaking, music + podcast production. See his video work here.


Image via Tyler Digital

Krumware | 💻 tech sector | 💼 9 employees | 👶 2.5 years old | 📍 SOCO BullStreet

Founder and CEO Colin Griffin launched Krumware in 2016, and it’s since grown to have 9 employees. Krumware is an enterprise software development company offering clients services like UI/UX design, web application development, skills development + more. They put a lot of emphasis on having a vibrant company culture (which is key when you’re cranking out code day in and day out). Krumware prides itself hiring local development talent + nurturing that talent; and says it’s a badge of honor when employees get scooped up by places like Facebook.

Cognito Forms | 💻 tech sector | 💼 15 employees | 👶 4 years old | 📍 office in The Vista / SOCO members

Founded by Jamie Thomas + Jennifer Dellacroce, Cognito Forms is a SaaS (software as a service, like Netflix + Google Apps) for form building on websites. The company started as a special project of VC3, a Cola-based IT firm, to solve client problems. They tried all of the available form building technologies, and none of them offered the depth of functionality their clients required. So they built a platform that did. They incubated at VC3 and spun out as their own entity earlier this year. Their team of 15 is growing rapidly and gaining ground on incumbent competitors – they’re going to be a major player in their space. (You’ve probably filled out a Cognito form already.)


Image via Cognito Forms

Zverse | 💻 software sector | 💼 20 employees | 👶 5 years old | 📍 office off Shop Rd.

Zverse is a 3D design on-demand software platform founded by John Carrington. They use machine learning technology to provide big manufacturers a quick path from an idea to a physical part. They’ve created items like a 3D model of the highly-anticipated future South by Southwest HQ building to unveil at its groundbreaking, and of Clemson’s Memorial Stadium for IPTAY donor gifts. The company has raised $7,000,000+ in venture capital funding.

Terrastride | 💻 tech sector | 💼 10 employees | 👶 5 years old | 📍 office in Forest Acres

Founded by Lanford Holloway, Terrastride is a mapping technology company for land management, hunting, real estate mapping + ultra-high resolution map printing. Their consumer-facing app, HuntStand, allows hunters and land managers to map public/private land borders, track where they’ve seen game, communicate with + track other users, see plots of land for sale and more. It’s had 2+ million downloads, was named by Outdoor Life Magazine as “the best hunting app in the country,” and is one of the most popular Sports apps on the App Store + Google Play Store. TerraStride’s other product, TerraStride Pro, serves land brokers throughout the country and has more than $6.5 billion worth of property listed on it.


HuntStand app | image via App Store

NineFX | 💻 tech sector | 💼 4 employees | 👶 3 years old | 📍 office on Main St.

Founded by veteran Drew Varner, NineFX is a software engineering and cyber security firm specialized in the Federal market; currently incubating over at the USC/Columbia Technology Incubator. Certified as a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) and a Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) company, NineFX teams up with big corporations on large, multibillion-dollar government contracts. Their federal customers include the Department of Defense and Health and Department of Health and Human Services, and commercial customers include Nokia and Ubiquiti Networks.

Epworth Ice Cream | 💻 food + bev sector | 💼 2 employees | 👶 <1 year old | 📍 SOCO BullStreet

Epworth Ice Cream is a just-launched, socially-responsible venture by Columbia’s iconic, century-old Epworth Children’s Home for kids + families. The ice cream company was founded by The Friends of Epworth as an homage to Epworth’s staff + residents during the Great Depression. Workers would make peanut butter ice cream as a special treat for the kids with cream from their own dairy cows, plus extra peanut butter rations from the government. The company now makes its flagship Original Peanut Butter flavor – along with 3 others – and 100% of the proceeds benefit Epworth Children’s Home. They distribute to several Midlands stores/restaurants and plan to grow retail throughout the Carolinas + beyond.


I’d heard of most of these startups, but wasn’t sure what each of them really did – it’s cool that we have so much talent right here in Cola.

What budding companies are you watching grow in Columbia? Let us know.


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