- Associated Press - Sunday, April 16, 2017

FORT MILL, S.C. (AP) - Theron Pickens just wanted to make his Clemson football tailgate better. What he ended up with could improve the game day experience for Tiger, Gamecock and other fans throughout South Carolina and beyond.

Now one South Carolina group is putting $200,000 toward making it happen.

South Carolina Research Authority announced three investments April 4 for its SC Launch program. P2 Ops in Fort Mill received money for its TV TOC Box product. Charleston-based companies working on health care management and philanthropy platforms each received the same amount to help grow their ventures.

“These companies are creating unique products in South Carolina that are garnering national attention,” said Bob Quinn, executive director with SCRA.

Pickens, a retired civil engineer from Fort Mill, is no stranger to business development. He has years on the Fort Mill Economic Council. He is incoming chair of the York County Regional Chamber of Commerce. So when he saw a need before and after Clemson games, he went for it.

“It goes back a couple of years,” Pickens said.

“We attend a lot of the tailgates from Clemson and things like that, and just from past experience we knew about the difficulties of having your TV there. You can drop your TV, or your TV falls. We were just looking for a way to protect your TV.”

The TOC Box - television outdoor carrier - transports and protects televisions up to 43 inches. It’s similar to concepts used to protect mobile phones. What begins as a waterproof carrying or storage case converts to a base, cover and outer frame protecting the television mounted inside it. They retail online at tvtocbox.com for $299.99.

“We’re also looking at some smaller versions that will be of value for folks who want to take a TV camping, RVing, that type of thing,” Pickens said.

With possible uses from camping to outdoor living spaces, a main focus remains on tailgating season. The recent grant will be used to rev up production heading into the fall. Already there was an expo in Atlanta, and a national hardware and tailgating show is coming in Las Vegas.

“We have a product that no one knows about,” Pickens said.

If the TOC Box takes off, it will be a true South Carolina success story. Pieces are formed in Greenville and assembled in Rock Hill. It began as a Knowledge Park technology incubator program idea. Local businesses like Comporium and Williams & Fudge are investing. A Clemson business student is coming on to help promote it.

Pickens isn’t even above, gulp, marketing it to Gamecock fans.

“We’ve already reached across those lines,” he said.

Since December, units have been sold from South Carolina to Texas to California. Units are portable, can hang up in a garage and are good for tailgating or “homegating.” Not to mention, Pickens said, the product changing the way many enjoy those same football games that first sparked the idea.

“It’s one of those things where we see the ability to enjoy the TV is more value than going into the game,” he said.

At large tailgates, on-site televisions are ways to watch other games before and after the one inside the stadium. It’s easier to gather dozens around a television, Pickens said, than to buy that many tickets for everyone. Some people, his wife included, choose to stay and watch the game on television rather than enter the stadium.

“She’s more comfortable watching the game there, she gets a better viewing experience,” Pickens said. “Those types of things make a difference.”

For Pickens, the new product is part of an “encore career” but also something he hopes will bring people together. Even across lines of fandom running deep in a state he couldn’t have created his product without.

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