The Don Ryan Center for Innovation is designed to support new innovative/technology company formation and development in Bluffton and the surrounding region. The program blends the attributes of hands-on consulting support, resource identification and availability, and long distance learning to help increase the probability entrepreneurs, who we call innovators, will be successful.


This 501(c)(3) community driven organization reports to an experienced nine member board appointed by the Town Council that works to create, accelerate, expand and incubate jobs in our region.


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.


DAVID NELEMS - Chief Executive Officer

Economic Development

David Nelems is the CEO of the Don Ryan Center for Innovation.

The most successful incubator in the Clemson program, the DRCI has formally helped 30 companies through the program in 5 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 102+ 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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