By TED CARTER / Hattiesburg Business Today
The University of Southern Mississippi is set to begin marketing the approximately 520-acre technology park component of The Garden.
Once home to the university’s golf course, the innovation and commercialization park on Shelby Thames Drive already has curb cuts, water and sewer and fiber lines. But until this year USM lacked clear authority to sell and lease parcels. Mississippi legislators took care of that with a bill allowing USM to market the parcels, said Chad Driskell, USM’s vice president of external affairs.
“Now we have a clear path where the companies can come to the university and purchase a piece of land or enter into a long-term lease,” Driskell said.
A priority will be to attract companies that work with composite and high-performance materials, he said. “We could have landed an industrial piece but we just don’t think that fits into the niche of the university.”
The park is the third cog in a set up that also includes the Mississippi Polymer Institute and The Accelerator, the flagship facility located in The Garden. The 60,000 square-foot Accelerator is home to both start up and established companies working on product development and commercialization.
Formally the University of Southern Mississippi Innovation and Commercialization Accelerator, The Accelerator’ job is the spin-out of university-developed technologies for development into commercial applications and for commercially-driven research activities, said Robbie Ingram, a veteran economic development professional who heads The Accelerator.
The Polymer Institute, an extension of the School of Polymers and High Performance Materials, is USM’s industrial outreach arm. It leverages USM’s technical and scientific strengths and provides analytical testing, applied research and development and operational training.
The university created the three entities more than a decade ago to establish research and business relationships within both the public and private sectors, Ingram said. “The goal is to generate business opportunities for companies across the spectrum and to build further relationships with the university and private enterprise.”
When the efforts go as planned, the private-sector entities hire USM graduates. “Most of these companies are hiring students out of the university, so that they don’t have to leave home and can get a good job working in their own field,” Ingram said. Though The Accelerator does work with startup and early-stage companies, its role goes beyond business incubation, Ingram emphasized. “The idea is to provide the environment that facilitates and accelerates the innovation process of scaling new technologies from the lab bench to the level of commercial viability and pilot production – to incubate the technology, not necessarily the company,” he said in an email
The focus is on technology, but that emphasis does not exclude “assisting the businesses when and where we can,” Ingram added. “Additionally, we offer the same services to existing industry.” Clients span the range of early-stage/start-up companies to publicly-listed corporations, according to Ingram.
Residents of The Accelerator include the $1 billion Emergent BioSolutions, an international specialty pharmaceutical company that has had an operation in the USM facility since acquiring a company housed there. “Rather than relocating they saw the value in our services” and decided to expand there, Ingram said.
The global company is manufacturing a reactive decontaminate skin lotion for the Pentagon that serves as a first-line of defense in a chemical weapons attack. “It is actually a medical device,” he said, describing it as a sponge filled with the decontaminate lotion, “A solider would take one of the sponges and wipe off the skin,” Ingram said.
In addition to the Defense Department, other NATO countries are buying the sponge, according to Ingram.
He said Emergent BioSolutions will be an anchor tenant for years to come. “They recently invested about $1 million in the facility to expand their operations,” he said. “They will be there at least for the next decade.”
The Accelerator also has a Fortune 100 company but just who the company is and what it is doing there is confidential. “I’m not at liberty to talk about that,” said Ingram, who said the secrecy is necessary to keep the company’s competitors form knowing what it is doing.
As tenants of The Accelerator grow and evolve to the point the facility is not large enough to accommodate their projects, the hope is they will build or locate to another facility in The Garden, Ingram said. “This is a long-term goal that should build out slowly over the next several years.”