David Nelems

The Don Ryan Center for Innovation
March 2, 2023

Business is getting a boost in Bluffton, where start-up companies are lining up for advice and assistance from a town-sponsored center for entrepreneurs.
From multi-purpose offices off the Buckwalter Parkway, the Don Ryan Center for Innovation is providing guidance and first-hand experience to entrepreneurs and start-up companies that call the area home.

The center’s mission is to help grow business while strengthening and diversifying the Bluffton-area economy.

“We’re really hitting our stride now,” said David Nelems, the center’s chief executive. “We intend to be in the right place, at the right time with the right message.”
In some two decades of activity, the center has helped more than 60 businesses get their start and has provided advice and direction for more than 200 businesses.

Nelems said a variety of early-stage businesses have been served, placing emphasis on those with the potential to “scale up” to serve the national marketplace. Recent start-ups gaining the center’s assistance include a jet-engine manufacturer and a retired English teacher who developed a popular quilting applique.

The center operates as an agency of the Town of Bluffton as the Small Business Concierge, directing businesses to local, state and federal resources. “The Town Council has been a big supporter and a key to success,”  Nelems said.

Among the center’s services include office space and equipment,  marketing and public relations support and pro bono legal advice through partnerships with local legal services.

The center has also launched a “HEROES” program, targeted at Lowcountry military veterans, police, firefighters and medical first responders. The program puts participants on a path to entrepreneurship and provides mentors with military service and business experience.

“They come to us with ideas and ask how to get started,” said Nelems, adding that military experience combined with business guidance are ingredients for remarkable success.

A recent launch, he said, served a military retiree who developed a “no-spill” spout for dog food bags and other applications.
“This area is well-populated with veterans and retired first responders who have sound business ideas,” said Nelems. “It’s our honor to provide the appropriate support.”