March 22, 2016
Tech startups and companies are not often synonymous with the Southeast. Down here we have amazing food, wonderful people, and historic cities, but we’re often not recognized like California, New York, or even DC. However, that is starting to change and DIG SOUTH is the destination to prove it.
Started in 2012, DIG SOUTH is an interactive festival based in Charleston, SC, and is consistently growing to embrace and highlight the innovation happening in the Southeastern states. That is not to say the conference excludes others, many of their keynote speakers hail from all your typical locations, and include people such as Gary Vaynerchuk, DC’s Paul Singh, and Re/code Senior Editor Peter Kafka. In fact, according to DIG SOUTH Founder Stanfield Gray, “many of our presenters come from New York and the Valley, and our goal is to pair them with companies in the south.”
This year’s festival will focus on power. From creative branding, to data, and renewable energy, power is generated in many different ways. As in years past, DIG SOUTH will be home to the latest startups, industry thought leadership, access to investors, live music, amazing food, and a pool of viable talent. They are now up to three different startup pitch events as well. They expect more than 200 presenters and 2500 attendees are set to join from across the nation. Gray will also be giving away badges to startups, an effort to give back to the tech community and invest in their future.
Like many budding tech hubs, Charleston and the other surrounding Southeastern states face similar issues outside of Silicon Valley. “Capital is hard here, and so is recruiting the right talent and finding good mentors,” said Gray. Although capital will always be a challenge for startups, there are organizations such as CRDA, Charleston Open Source, and the Digital Corridor looking to solve the other two components. Similar measures can be found in Atlanta, Chattanooga, Raleigh, and other Southeastern budding tech hubs.
For Gray and DIG SOUTH, the conversation doesn’t end when the festival closes. This year, they are launching a new community focused on three core components: content, contacts, and capital. Although DIG SOUT does not invest in startups directly, they do facilitate conversations and introduce entrepreneurs to those who have can.
When asked why he initially launched DIG SOUTH, Gray discussed finding a gap area and the need to solve it. “We didn’t have the same opportunities, so I’m going to plant the flag.” Having run events in the past, the right connections in tech, and the College of Charleston signing on, legitimacy was not hard to find. Having the festival in Charleston simply closes the deal for most attendees outside of the area. In their first year they brought in 450 attendees, last year 1,170, and they will nearly double that in next month.
“This should be happening in the South East. I started looking at what other big tech entrepreneurs are from the South. Tim Cook. Sheryl Sandberg is from Miami. John Skipper, President of ESPN is from North Carolina. The talent is here, but they are all leaving to chase other companies. They are chasing the money and other opportunities. This should be happening in Charleston,” said Gray.
After having attended Ad Age’s conference in 2011, Gray became inspired and frustrated. As a result, one of their primary goals is to convince leading brands to grow market share in the South.
DIG SOUTH will take place in Charleston, SC from April 26-28. See the full speaker lineup here.
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