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Local entrepreneurs get help from Rock Hill’s Technology Incubator

When the electricity goes down, Kevin Nichols and his employees at Stark Lean Marketing Communications in Fort Mill are likely to call it a day.

In the digital age, there’s not much that can be done offline.

“If the Internet is down, we go home,” Nichols said. “It’s more important than water.”

Nichols might want to slightly modify his opinion. Turns out, water helped put him on the high-tech map.

He was in the shower when he got the idea for a digital app that would help nonprofit groups such as the YMCA promote their schedules.

Stark already was plugged into the needs of Ys. One of its first clients was the Upper Palmetto YMCA. He looked on the various app stores to see what was available. When he didn’t find anything, he developed his own app and marketed it first to his clients, and then to other YMCAs.

The app was so successful that he sold it to a larger competitor in 2013.

But that was just the start for Stark. From Nichols’ work on the scheduling app and Web development for YMCAs, he realized there was a need for a product that could generate emails and other marketing materials that met the brand standards of various organizations. In short, the material had to have the right logos in the right colors. It also had to be easy to use.

The result is MemberThrive, which features more than 150 templates and is growing. The templates are sport- or program-specific. The program can automatically send emails on a schedule. A new YMCA member, for instance, might receive a welcoming email, followed by others about services, hours and programs – all automatically.

Although Nichols had demonstrated he could take an idea from conception to finished product, he sought help on MemberThrive.

He found it at the Technology Incubator at Knowledge Park, a collaborative effort of the Rock Hill Economic Development Corp. and Clemson University. It is part of the Knowledge Park economic development strategy to bring high-tech jobs to the city.

The Technology Incubator helped Nichols develop a bigger and better product.

“The incubator gave us insight, third-party opinion and vision beyond the product,” he said.

As a result, Nichols hired two more people at his agency just to assist with MemberThrive.

MemberThrive was the first client to “graduate” from the Technology Incubator. Others are not far behind.

Daniel S. Godla is the founder, chief executive officer and sole employee of ThoroughCare. With the help of the Technology Incubator, he hopes to start hiring soon.

ThoroughCare is an app that can change how new patients interact with doctors and nurses. Godla’s background is in medical computer software, and his idea is to have patients input medical history electronically, instead of on paper.

As Nichols did, Godla discovered a niche market that wasn’t being served.

Not only does ThoroughCare computerize the process, it is much like a TurboTax program, through which answers to questions lead to more specific questions, rather than a list of items that might not apply.

The obvious advantage of ThoroughCare is that the record is already in digital form.

The advantage to doctors and nurses, Godla said, is that ThoroughCare’s data analysis will help them “identify risky patients.”

The initial market for ThoroughCare is small clinics. Ultimately he hopes to expand to larger health care organizations, but the clinics are giving him the feedback he needs to refine the product.

The Technology Incubator helped Godla figure out such issues as how he could finance the idea and how he could protect his intellectual property, as well as provided some mentoring from health care professionals.

Godla is now seeking investors to help fully launch ThoroughCare.

Right behind Godla is David Miller, who is developing an app called “Simplify,” which would make it easier for manufacturers to upgrade their industrial computers. Miller discussed the product at a recent Rock Hill Economic Development Corp. retreat, telling members he wouldn’t have gotten as far as he has without the assistance of the Technology Incubator.