Opinion: Innovate Mississippi leads the way

On a bright November day, hundreds of influencers gathered at the sleek and chic Westin Hotel in downtown Jackson to chart how Mississippi can turn into an entrepreneurial engine, building high-tech companies and new age and jobs for decades to come.

The buzzword was “entrepreneurial ecosystem”. The organization behind the event was the nonprofit Innovate Mississippi, which describes its mission “to drive technology-based innovation and economic development for the state of Mississippi.”

Over the past 20 years, Innovate Mississippi has helped develop over 1,500 new businesses and matched them with over $ 181 million in seed and venture capital, resulting in the creation of new jobs. well paid in our state. The company offers support and a connection to resources for entrepreneurs thanks to the generous support of our public and private sponsors.

The chairman and co-founder is William Rayburn of Oxford. Rayburn is a former Ole Miss teacher who was co-founder of FNC and CEO of the company for many years, helping that company achieve a $ 475 million sale to CoreLogic in 2016. He is currently developing a second company. , MTrade, which also involves applying technology to the home mortgage industry.

Speaking to a crowd of around 500, Rayburn said, “Innovate Mississippi is a public-private partnership between our universities and the private sector, which takes your creative ideas as entrepreneurs and turns them into businesses that create jobs. This will increase our collective qualities of life.

Innovate Mississippi has established regional seed funds to provide capital and funding sources for new products and ideas.

“It’s about giving the entrepreneur the essentials to turn these ideas into businesses to employ people,” Rayburn said.

Joe Donovan, director of the Mississippi Development Authority’s Office of Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said, “We have really made a lot of progress as the driving state of the knowledge economy. He then introduced keynote speaker JF Gauthier, a serial entrepreneur who founded three successful businesses (and two that failed.)

Gauthier is currently the founder of Startup Genome, which Donovan has described as “the best in entrepreneurial ecosystem development in the world”, having researched and advised over 100 countries around the world.

Gauthier is a charismatic speaker. He said he grew up in the backcountry of northern Quebec where the entire economy was centered around a large paper mill and the largest aluminum plant in the world.

These big companies attracted the brightest minds in the workforce and this maintained their value, but eventually the world changed and the region had to struggle to reinvent its economy because it had no culture of entrepreneurship and job creation.

Gauthier eventually landed a job with a start-up company and got hooked. Since then, he has worked in the world of startups.

“On our last company, we created the first major research into what makes a startup successful. What are the success factors? We decided to keep this research and start helping regions like you to replicate the model ”

The Kitchener-Waterloo region in Ontario, the size of Metro Jackson, has been a tremendous achievement. Its economy was devastated by the recessions of 1981, 1990 and 2001. But in recent years, the region has generated 1,000 startups and 25,000 well-paying jobs, or 10% of the region’s total employment.

Waterloo has 900 startups per million inhabitants compared to an average city like Phoenix which has 250 startups per million inhabitants.

Gauthier estimates that the 25,000 jobs for startups have, in turn, multiplied by 100,000 new jobs in total for the region as a whole.

One thing according to Gauthier should be avoided like the plague: direct government subsidies to startups. It is a disaster and is undermining the private seed capital industry. The government should not provide the capital, but rather should help create an enabling environment for entrepreneurs and investors to meet.

A key success factor has been “local connection”. It means a tight-knit community of talent, founders, funders, and government and university support programs.

Jackson’s “local connection” was on full display at the Westin. Dozens of organizations had exhibition booths touting services designed to help young start-ups, from robotics to accounting to legal services. Innovate Mississippi hosted two days of seminars on starting a new business. There were sessions connecting seed funders with entrepreneurs.

It was all very impressive and made me optimistic about the future.

Times are changing and the old big business model is being challenged by a more dynamic ecosystem of entrepreneurship and ad hoc collaboration. Instant access to knowledge and resources via the Internet is certainly an important factor in this equation.

The Internet itself is the engine of the very technology by which it was created. It’s a positive cycle that bodes well for the future.

We need to create a culture that encourages risk taking and entrepreneurship. When entrepreneurs fail, it shouldn’t be a shame, but rather a positive sign of effort and energy. In the startup world, failure is an integral part of the whole process.

Without entrepreneurs, progress stops. Jackson desperately needs entrepreneurs, a culture and an ecosystem that allows them to thrive.

Hopefully Mississippi can get on that train. Innovate Mississippi’s dynamic leadership indicates that we have the leadership to make it happen.


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