Small businesses are an important economic driver in Mississippi. The Mississippi Small Business Profile, 2017, published by the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, reports that Mississippi small businesses employed 432,231 people, or 47.7 percent of the private workforce, in 2014 and that small businesses created 5,423 net jobs in 2014.
The report also noted that 1,371 establishments started up in the second quarter of 2015, generating 6,454 new jobs in Mississippi.
The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Mississippi, but taking the first step to turn an idea into a business can be daunting. Mississippi Public Universities are here to help the next generation of entrepreneurs take that first step and support them along their journey.
The University of Mississippi’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship works to inspire and assist students in creating new businesses by providing the knowledge, skills and experience necessary to becoming successful entrepreneurs. The center’s activities including coordinating scholarships and internships for students, providing guest speakers to inspire and mentor students, and sponsoring the annual Gillespie Business Plan Competition, which earns startup funds for winning entrepreneurs.
The Trent Lott National Center for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship at the University of Southern Mississippi works with public entities, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individuals to plan and implement activities designed to generate jobs and income. Special consideration is given to rural, impoverished areas of Mississippi. The center provides client-requested assistance and offers expertise in strategic planning and leadership development; education and training; community analysis and research; and other technical support.
At Mississippi State University, the Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach in the College of Business provides a world-class launch pad for startup ventures. The 12,000 square foot facility provides expansive collaboration space, offices, meeting areas and workstations. Built through $6 million in endowments and private donations, the E-Center and business incubator has helped students from 40 different majors start their own businesses.
Cross-discipline faculty serves a vital role in preparing entrepreneurs to tackle evolving technology and understand economic demands. They help refine ideas through a standardized track resulting in step-by-step game plans for implementation.
Programming includes the opportunity to network and possibly connect with future business co-founders, while alumni offer guidance from the business world. Through an executive-in-residence program, regional senior business leaders and entrepreneurs keep in-person and remote office hours for entrepreneurs seeking advice and encouragement. Other offerings include quick-start workshops help move projects through the development pipeline, assistance developing prototypes and the opportunity to participate in state and national competitions that provide valuable market testing.
In January, Jackson State University’s Margaret Walker Center received a $300,000 grant from the NoVo Foundation to work with young women of color throughout the South in conjunction with Natalie Collier and the Lighthouse project. Founded by a gift from businessman Warren Buffett, the NoVo Foundation – “Novo” the latin word that can mean to make anew, refresh, revive, change, alter, invent – states that its mission is to foster a transformation from a world of domination and exploitation to one of collaboration and partnership, according to the foundation’s website.
The Lighthouse project targets southern girls with a goal to create a more balanced, equitable world by changing social attitudes, relationships and institutions that perpetuate injustice for girls and young women of color in the South.
An outreach of The University of Southern Mississippi Center for Economic and Entrepreneurship Education, the Southern Entrepreneurship Program (SEP) youth series is a statewide event designed to provide students with an introduction to the entrepreneurial mindset, as well as the wealth of opportunities that exist in Mississippi.
Advancing innovation and entrepreneurship education in Mississippi, the SEP has provided interactive training sessions for more than 4,000 high school students, with topics including opportunity recognition, business planning, and market validation, in its decade of existence.
Following a brief Q&A with guest entrepreneurs, student teams are presented with a unique Innovation Challenge, yet to be disclosed. Some challenges required student teams to identify a business opportunity within their individual high schools and develop strategies for launching new school-based enterprises.
The 10 highest scoring teams during the live event advance to an online round of voting, where the top three ideas receive seed funding, provided through the generous support of Georgia-Pacific Leaf River Cellulose, to help make their ideas a reality.
Delta State University hosts an annual Summer Youth Entrepreneurship Program. The program, in partnership with the Indianola Promise Community, is sponsored by Delta State University’s College of Business and Aviation. Targeting male students ages 15-19, the camp provides instruction in business vocabulary and practical work experience to enhance entrepreneurial skills and develop work ethics. The IPC is funded by the Delta Health Alliance.