A Technology Firm’s story of resilience in the South
The year was 1999. Downtown Greenville still was underdeveloped but buzzing with possibility after the addition of the Peace Center and the downtown Hyatt. Rumors swirled that the Poinsett Hotel would soon be undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation. Without a shadow of doubt, Greenville’s potential was rising.
It was during this timeframe that a Furman Alum by the name of Andrew Kurtz began feeling his collar tighten at the company he co-owned with a partner. “We finally agreed there is no problem with us disagreeing (on how to grow the current business), “So I exited the business and it allowed me to start Kopis, which at the time was named ProActive Technology. I was able to take two employees and a few customers, and we focused on business facing software development.”
May 1st, 1999, the doors opened to Andrew Kurtz’s newest entrepreneurial endeavor, a software development firm named ProActive Technology. The company was housed above what is today’s Sassafras in One Plaza in a charming brick laden office.
Young Kurtz, who quickly saw his company skyrocket from 3 employees to 12 in 24 months, quickly outgrow the office space, forcing the company in Fall of 2001 to move to Ivy Square, on top of today’s Southern Tide in a space that could acclimate the promising growth of the company. But the combination of the internet bubble burst, Y2K ending and ultimately September 11 resulted in projects halting completely. “We realized the convergence of Y2K and the founding of the internet doesn’t just happen everyday.”
Despite the setback, Kurtz held on tightly to his dream and downsized to 6 key employees.
“After 9/11, we dropped down to reality and took a stair-step approach to growth,” said Kurtz. The company bounced back, adding employees as needed and growing again to 15 employees within 4 years.
It was around this time that Jeff Pappenfus began circulating the concept of a co-location space for companies in the technology sector. At the time, no other tech firms were aware of one another. Each operated in their own spheres of influence, behaving like islands in the Upstate’s economic landscape. Scott Milwood, Jeff and Andrew began to brainstorm alongside Greenville visionaries like as Irv Welling and other leaders at the Greenville Chamber on how tech firms could work in support of each other.
As a result, NEXT was born and in 2009 ProActive Technology moved from its then location on the top floor of what is today’s Foxcroft Wine Cellar to the newly orchestrated NEXT Innovation Center, located a stone’s throw from Greenville’s historic Sirrine Stadium.
ProActive’s greatest hurdle was yet to come, months after the recession hit in 08. With the pipeline trickling to a halt, Kurtz knew costs had to be cut and hard decisions were going to be made. He gathered his employees around the conference room table and asked them to come up with ideas to cut costs. Some employees took pay cuts, others worked less days a week, some cut budgets. Every single employee had an idea and ProActive scrapped by, but survived, without a single lay-off.
The company has steadily grown since post 2008 recession finally reaching a point where the work grew to be too much for Kurtz to handle alone and they had to restructure the business, top-down and allocate responsibilities to the employees. In 2015, Kurtz promoted Kevin Wentzel to COO and Adam Drewes to CMO with the goals of creating a plan on longevity for the firm, allowing Kurtz the freedom to manage his own schedule and jump in as needed from a higher-level. ProActive obtained marketing services from a local firm, The Brand Leader to assist in re-naming the business to Kopis and establish recognizable and high-level branding tools to build the name recognition regionally.
Kurtz then began a series of acquisitions, starting with ACUMEN IT’s Enterprise Resource Planner (ERP) Division and ended with NWN’s SmartGov Division in early 2018. These two acquisitions alone double the company. “These additions to Kopis, moved us up the strategy chain for our customers. We were placed into areas we had never been before, working with new sectors of clients. We had a more than 40% head-count increase and were forced to change our processes rapidly, “Said Kurtz. In early 2019, Kopis opened its office doors to a doubled in size office space in the NEXT Building, just in time for its twentieth birthday.
Kopis’s capabilities may have increased, but the focus remains largely the same, solving business problems, through technology. The re-branding justifies the ideal, showcase a Kopis sword that sliced the fabled Giordian Knot. “I created this company to do something. We loved solving the challenging problems and helping innovate companies and pushing them to use technology to achieve their business objectives.”
Just like in 1999, when there was a faint whisper of promise regarding the future of Greenville, there seems to be a parallel energy to Greenville’s emerging tech scene. Without a shadow of a doubt, due to the success of the Chamber’s NEXT initiative- Greenville’s identity as a tech hub is rising, and with Andrew Kurtz at the helm, Kopis is along for the ride.