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Viewpoint: Charleston prospers when we embrace innovation

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Entrepreneurs built America. 

In commerce, and in politics, they embraced new, innovative ideas and looked beyond the status quo to new opportunities and possibilities. 

Charleston prospered as a seaport because it offered the infrastructure for trade. 

Success and growth in today’s global marketplace will require a return to this entrepreneurial vision.

I founded my first company when I was in high school, my second in college. There’s nothing like the excitement of starting with an innovative idea and helping scale it up to create jobs and make a difference for customers and the community.

As a serial entrepreneur, and through the Harbor Entrepreneur Center, I’ve seen time and again the importance of a favorable business environment. This includes available capital, skilled workers and willing customers. Perhaps most important is public policy intentionally designed to facilitate entrepreneurial opportunity and success.

Commerce in today’s global economy depends on a strong, pervasive wireless communications network. Buyers and sellers, vendors and customers must be able to connect with each other whenever they want, wherever they are.

Just as the industrial age gave way to the information age, the brick-and-mortar economy has given way to the app economy. Whether movie tickets or mortgages, auctions or vacation-planning, there’s an app for that.

Yet we have only begun to scratch the surface of what will be possible in days to come.

This is why decisions being made today at City Hall regarding Charleston’s wireless infrastructure are so important to our economic future. 

Just as highways can accommodate only so many vehicles at once, wireless networks can handle only so many simultaneous calls, web searches and video downloads. 

We’ve all experienced dropped calls or slow connections, even with several bars of coverage. That’s congestion, caused by the ever-increasing demand for wireless data service.

Charleston has prospered because we have embraced innovation while preserving our community’s unique beauty and honoring its proud past. 

We have the opportunity to do just that yet again with regard to wireless technology.  

An exciting innovation called small-cell technology allows providers to “densify” their networks and bring wireless technology to entrepreneurs and their customers via short, unobtrusive equipment that is designed to blend with the surroundings. This brings desperately needed wireless improvements and innovation while maintaining the character of our communities.

Wireless companies are deploying small-cell networks across the country, investing private capital in building infrastructure. It is time for the city of Charleston to take action to encourage the investment of some of those capital dollars here.

Do we want Charleston to be a place where entrepreneurs bring their newest and best ideas? 

Do we want a next-generation communications network that powers innovation and invites next-generation applications?

If so, the city needs to step up and adopt forward-looking policies and appropriate regulations that balance protecting appearances with encouraging the infrastructure needed for sustained economic growth.

Entrepreneurialism is about doing your research, looking into the future, making decisions with courage and moving forward with excitement and confidence. 

I invite Charleston’s leaders to join me in thinking like entrepreneurs.

Patrick Bryant is board chairman of the Harbor Entrepreneur Center and past chairman of the Charleston Metro Regional Chamber of Commerce. He resides on the Isle of Palms.

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