Foundation capital

The Truist Foundation awards grant to Hill Institute’s GVL Starts to support startups

GVL Starts is the flagship program of Furman University’s Hill Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

It started as a casual get-together over coffee just as COVID-19 was making its debut. Anthony Herrera, Chief Innovation Officer and Executive Director of the Hill Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Furman University, asked Merle Johnson, Director of Economic and Community Development for the City of Greenville, “What is your biggest challenge? His answer: “Pipeline of new startups”.

This conversation paved the way for the development of Furman’s The Hill Institute’s flagship program, GVL Starts. The eight-week experience takes aspiring entrepreneurs and founders from idea to launch by connecting them with like-minded entrepreneurs and equipping them with the skills they need to fund and grow their businesses.

A collaboration between the city, Greenville Local Development Corporation, Furman’s The Hill Institute, South Carolina Department of Commerce, South Carolina Research Authority, and VentureSouth, GVL Starts has secured support from the Truist Foundation, which recently awarded $75,000 to startup business accelerator.

“GVL Starts aligns with The Truist Foundation’s mission to work with organizations that build entrepreneurship and enable small businesses,” said Mike Brenan, regional president for Truist in South Carolina. “Through our partnership, entrepreneurs in Greenville and upstate will be able to develop the skills and networks needed to launch and build successful businesses. It’s also another way to achieve Truist’s goal of inspiring and building better lives and communities.

“Furman and The Hill Institute are honored to bring our expertise to GVL Starts and help entrepreneurs turn their dreams into realities. We are grateful to the Truist Foundation for supporting our efforts and recognizing that a thriving and inclusive entrepreneurial climate is critical to the continued success of Greenville and Upstate,” said Furman President Elizabeth Davis.

Since 2021, dozens of entrepreneurs have benefited from the platform, with another cohort of 28 GVL Starts members kicking off on August 25.

In numbers, GVL Starts has:

  • Helped 53 entrepreneurs grow existing startups or explore ways to commercialize ideas. The group aims to accelerate 100 new businesses per year over the next five years.
  • Acceleration of 38 companies and launch of eight.
  • Attracted a diverse and historically underserved set of entrepreneurs with over 50% women and over 50% representing Hispanic or Black businesses.
  • Awarding $30,000 in start-up grants to businesses ranging from restaurants to high-tech start-ups.
  • Raised over $100,000 in follow-on capital.
  • Brought together nearly 30 partners to strengthen the program, offering coaching, coworking space, venture capital, legal assistance and more.

Bottle Titan’s Eric Cooperman came to GVL Starts with a new device concept that reduces spoilage in the premium beverage industry. GVL Starts helped him secure funding to prototype the device and help with legal issues.

LaShonn Edmunds, creator of Cairs Shoes, turned to GVL Starts to access capital and gain an audience with the right investors. “As an African-American woman, I had limited access to ‘Who’s Who’ in my town,” Edmunds said. “GVL Starts gave me the opportunity to meet these people, expand my network and get my business out there.”

“The Hill Institute team is encouraged that the powerful combination of Furman University, civic partners like the City of Greenville, and business partners like the Truist Foundation is proving to be a winning model for creating momentum economic – in this case, through the GVL Starts program,” Herrera said. “Furman’s Hill Institute believes that the support provided by The Truist Foundation will inspire other organizations to join the cause in supporting the successful launch of new businesses in our community.”

Applications and need-based scholarships for the Spring 2023 GVL Starts cohort are available. For more information, contact Bryan Davis at [email protected] Or contact Truist at [email protected]