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 Explore the story of how NEXT came to be and the roadmap for where we’re headed.

Our Story

In 2005, Greenville entrepreneur Jeff Papenfus scrawled a question on a bar napkin: “Why aren’t we doing this in Greenville?”

The “this” in question was an initiative to build and maintain a network of entrepreneurs and supporters with the aim of nurturing and promoting local economic growth. Jeff saw that the model worked, and he knew it would work in Greenville, too. Soon after, a group of Greenville entrepreneurs began the efforts that would form NEXT.

From the start, NEXT’s goal has been to connect innovative entrepreneurs to a rich network of support and to provide education and opportunities for growth. High-impact small companies are critical to true economic development. In creating a local ecosystem where these ventures will thrive, high-quality jobs and a rich economy will follow.

In Memory of Jeff Papenfus

On July 30, 2011, NEXT co-founder, entrepreneur, community leader, outdoor enthusiast, and husband Jeff Papenfus passed away unexpectedly while doing something he greatly enjoyed: mountain biking. His passing was a shock to the family of entrepreneurs here and his leadership and commitment to action is greatly missed. However, Jeff’s infectious smile and entrepreneurial spirit lives on in the work of NEXT and the hard work and dedication of the many entrepreneurs he touched through the years.

Our Staff

It takes teamwork and collaboration to fulfill NEXT’s mission. None of us could do what we do alone.

Eric Weissmann

Executive Director

Susan Durden

Marketing Communications Manager

Peter Micali

Startup Success Program Manager

NEXT Milestones

From Idea to Thriving Initiative

Since its founding in 2006, NEXT has demonstrated the ability to generate a critical mass of high-impact companies in the Upstate region of SC. NEXT has built a collaborative, dynamic ecosystem to support an entrepreneur community of 134 high-impact companies.


NEXT begins offering Entrepreneur Support Services such as monthly peer networking/learning events and concierge services resulting in strategic introductions & connections for NEXT entrepreneurs.

NEXT seeds the Upstate’s first angel investor network, Upstate Carolina Angel Network (UCAN). UCAN is rated one of the to 10 angel networks in the country.



The NEXT Innovation Center, an award-winning space for entrepreneurs, is created.

NEXT launches the first TEDx Greenville event.



NEXT provides seed capital to found the first Greenville accelerator, The Iron Yard, which became a member of the Global Accelerator Network.

NEXT High School, a free, public charter school with small class sizes and a project-based learning model, opens thanks to NEXT’s advisory leadership and connections.



NEXT on Main, a second space for entrepreneurs, opens in downtown Greenville. That same year, NEXT launches its Venture Mentoring Service, a team-based mentoring program developed by MIT to strengthen NEXT entrepreneurs in growing businesses.

The first annual Venture Pitch Conference is held to connect entrepreneurs to venture capital. NEXT Manufacturing, a third space for entrepreneurs in the manufacturing sector, opens.



NEXT creates its Virtual Incubator to support early stage entrepreneurs in the startup process and launches its startup jobs board to connect talent to entrepreneurs. In addition, the NEXT Fellows program begins to help engage and retain top entrepreneur talent at Clemson University and Furman University.

See Everything NEXT Has to Offer

Explore our resources for entrepreneurs.