CHARLESTON, S.C. -- This April 25-27, the fifth iteration of DIG SOUTH ICON (Innovation Conference) will open in Charleston. Quickly becoming a sought-after seminal event along the lines of SXSW, DIG draws a steadily increasing number of attendees with more than 2,000 expected this year. Many will come to network with fellow innovators, while others will come to see high-profile speakers like Liza Landsman, President of Jet.com, and Jason Robins, CEO of Draft Kings. Still others, however, will come to partake in the simple yet exciting goal of DIG SOUTH itself: #SucceedintheSouth.
“It was difficult to start a scalable company in the southeast. There was little venture capital, and much of the talent frequently left the region,” founder Stanfield Gray said of his thinking back in 2011, when the idea for DIG SOUTH started percolating. Gray was working in marketing at the College of Charleston, where he developed a mobile app, when he traveled to the Ad Age Digital Conference in New York City.
Back home, Gray put together the foundation of an event that would feature speakers from national players like Facebook, Twitter, CNN, and other companies coming down to be part of sessions with regional companies like Raleigh’s Red Hat and Charleston’s Blackbaud. To raise funding for the event, he launched a successful Kickstarter campaign, and reached out to regional innovators, entrepreneurial organizations, and incubators in Charleston, Raleigh, Nashville, Atlanta and other southeastern hubs to start building connections and promoting the event.
“We weren’t sure how many people would attend the first year, you’re always worried ‘what if nobody comes?’” said Gray.
Despite concerns, the first version of DIG SOUTH ICON drew 450 attendees over three days and generated positive buzz.
Focusing on his attendees, Gray and his small yet motivated team (which included his wife Sunny, who now serves as CFO) did discovery calls and surveys, boiling down feedback into what attendees wanted from DIG, which was, primarily, content, contacts and capital opportunities. In the years that followed, DIG SOUTH ICON started adding new elements like a hackathon, a pitch event, a panel on regional ecosystems, and a CEO summit event on the front end, where global executives can network directly with those in the region.
“Last year, we had 2,000 attendees,” Gray said.
To support DIG SOUTH ICON and the mission, #SucceedintheSouth, Gray launched www.digsouth.com as a media operation focusing on innovation in technology, business and culture in the South. Publishing news items and features on regional companies doing interesting things, Gray and his team began building a DIG NATION member community of people wanting to help attract more startups to the southeast, leveraging the buzz to draw attendees to DIG SOUTH ICON as well as other smaller events throughout the year.
This year’s DIG SOUTH ICON will welcome thousands of attendees, more than 150 speakers and 100 investors, networking events, exhibitors, food trucks, musical acts, and more. One of the high profile speakers will be Jim Bankoff, CEO of Vox Media, one of the speakers Stanfield Gray heard at the 2011 Ad Age Digital Conference that launched him on the path to DIG SOUTH.
“I’ll admit, it’s pretty cool thinking here’s a high-profile guy I saw in 2011 in New York who’s now sharing his insights at our event here in Charleston. It’s a good feeling,” Gray said.
DIG SOUTH ICON is slated for April 25–27, 2017 at the Charleston Gaillard Center and other locations around Charleston. For more information visit icon.digsouth.com.
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