GREENVILLE — Clemson University’s Spiro Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership presented alumni Joe Erwin and Greg Smith Innovative Spirit Awards at its recent gala.

The Thursday night gala was the inaugural event in what will become an annual celebration honoring two alumni every year who exemplify the spirit of creativity and innovation in their chosen fields and demonstrate ongoing dedication to the advancement of Clemson University. The recipients were selected from a pool of nominees by an independent panel of judges.

The gala served as the grand opening of Clemson’s Greenville ONE facility and featured a keynote address by President James P. Clements. While congratulating the honorees, Clements spoke of the importance of innovation in helping Clemson reach its goals of becoming a top-20 university and challenged everyone in the audience to keep moving Clemson forward.


President James P. Clements presents the Innovative Spirit Award to Joe Erwin.

Erwin is the president and co-founder of Erwin Penland, which represents national and regional clients, including Verizon Wireless, Denny’s, Michelin, Lockheed Martin and General Motors.

Erwin began his career at Greenville’s Leslie Advertising and soon was recruited to join DMB&B in New York, where he worked on the Corning Glass Works and Quincy’s Family Steakhouse accounts.

In 1986, Erwin and his wife, Gretchen, also a marketing professional, returned to Greenville to purchase Penland Advertising. Together they opened Erwin Penland with one account, two employees and a big goal:  extraordinary work coupled with extraordinary customer service.

In 2012, they made an investment in the future of marketing by making a gift to Clemson University to establish the Erwin Center for the Study of Advertising and Communications.


President James P. Clements presents the Innovative Spirit Award to Greg Smith.

Smith earned his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Clemson in 1984 and also holds a master’s degree in international business from the University of South Carolina.

In 2000, Smith co-founded and was CEO and chairman of Advectis Inc., the exclusive provider of BlitzDocs, which is the most widely used solutions for electronic document collaboration in the mortgage industry.

Xerox acquired Advectis in 2007, with Smith staying on for four years to serve as vice president and general manager of Xerox Mortgage Services.

In 2011, Smith formed Blue Vista Ventures LLC, where he is president. Blue Vista advises and invests in early-stage technology companies.

Smith is a member of numerous professional and advisory boards. He and his wife, Carol, whom he met at Clemson, are actively involved in philanthropic efforts supporting several ministries domestically and around the world.

The award trophies were designed and handmade by Nina Kawar, a Midwest native with a Palestinian heritage who is pursing a Master of Fine Arts degree in ceramics at Clemson.


For more information about the Innovative Spirit Awards or to nominate a Clemson alumnus for next year’s award, visit