Create a vibrant entrepreneurial business climate within the region through economic development emphasizing organic, sustainable growth. Enhance the economic vitality, diversity, and dynamism of the region.


The Don Ryan Center for Innovation (DRCI) was established in mid 2012 as a 501(c)(3). The corporation's mission was to function as a business incubator to grow Bluffton's and the surrounding regions economic base by helping innovative start-up or early stage companies. The organization incubated 29 companies and expanded into partnerships with Beaufort County Schools, USCB, TCL, SCAD and the City of Beaufort to promote and support innovation and entrepreneurship for the purposes of economic development.

The Bluffton Public Development Corporation (BPDC) was the Town's 501(c)(3) established in late 2012 by town leaders to pursue economic development within the Town. The corporation's mission was to accept, buy, sell, develop, mortgage, and transfer real and personal property including development rights. Its two other objectives were to assist in the town's economic development and undertake activities designed to promote and support the May River and other watershed cleanup efforts of the town. The corporation was an arm of the Town and was formed because by law, a municipality cannot execute specific financial transactions.


Both organizations matured and evolved to reflect the needs of the Town and the region.

Since both worked in the realm of economic development Town Council authorized the merger of these entities by adoption of a resolution on December 13, 2016 into a single entity know as the Don Ryan center for Innovation, Inc.

This new entity fosters and promote economic development in six general areas:

  1. Business Incubation

  2. Co-working offerings (The HUB)

  3. Education & Outreach

  4. Business Attraction, Expansion & Retention

  5. Workforce Development

  6. Business Startup/Concierge Services


Don Ryan, co-founded CareCore National (now eviCore healthcare) in 1994, and under his leadership it became one of the leading specialty benefits management companies. After bringing the company to Bluffton, Ryan became involved in the efforts to recruit similar companies to the area. Don donated the existing space to the Center which is now named in his honor.



Economic Development

David Nelems is the Executive Director of the Don Ryan Center for Innovation.

The most successful incubator in the Clemson program, the DRCI has formally helped 28 companies through the program in 4 years. These companies employ 88 people in the region and contribute an additional $4.9MM in local payroll. The DRCI has also consulted with another 67+ companies in a more informal process. In addition, the DRCI is engaged with local middle schools and high schools as well as the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), the University of South Carolina Beaufort(USCB) and the Technical College of the LowCountry (TCL). These partnerships allow the DRCI to encourage the idea of entrepreneurship and innovation to multiple demographics in the region.

David’s job is to help these companies identify and overcome their weaknesses so they can succeed. David is specifically qualified to do this as his background has exposed him to every aspect of the start up process. From idea, to prototype to launch, iterative design to funding and hiring/firing staff, marketing and finally a successful exit.

One of David’s most developed skills is that he can “speak geek” and “speak customer”. Many times it is difficult to find someone who can translate complex technical talk into everyday language that is necessary for customers, marketing and executive personnel. David can communicate effectively with both groups. He is a great liaison to keep vital elements from getting “lost in translation”.

Technology & Entrepreneurship

An Atlanta based serial entrepreneur, in 1999 David founded his third and most successful company: ActiveGroup. The privately-held company provided video-streaming services to the marketing research industry beginning in 1998. This company was the first to use video streaming for marketing research and it created a new segment of the industry that is thriving to this day. Recognized as a visionary technologist in the marketing research industry David won numerous awards and accolades for his advance of technology in the field of qualitative research. He envisioned, developed and was first to market with virtually every feature and technology that is used in the space to this day. His company worked with over 80% of Fortune 500 companies eliminating the need for their marketing employees to travel. He grew the organization into a multi-million dollar business, which he sold in 2007.

After selling ActiveGroup David reorganized a small, regional retail company and added a layer of technology and control. He researched, installed and managed the stores first POS system with 400+ SKU’s, handled all accounting and financial functions, created all artwork and promotional material, rewrote the web site and added and e-commerce functionality through two iterations. He also reorganized raw material ordering inventory and management systems and created multiple SOP’s for employees while creating and managing social media pages for company.


His diverse background also includes stints as a CTO, a pilot for Delta Private Jets and a touring rock musician.

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