Tony Jeff: Mississippi’s year in technology

January 04, 2017

While there were many interesting things that happened in technology worldwide in 2016, there were also some pretty great things for Mississippi technology and innovation companies in 2016 that are worth a recap. With so many things both big and small, the hardest thing about making a list like this is that I’m going to inevitably miss something, but here is my list of the top technology activities in Mississippi in 2016.

 

The year kicked off as it always does in technology — with the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. In 2016 for the first time, Mississippi had a delegation of start-up companies that launched their products at CES2016. I wrote previous articles about all six companies and the products they introduced at CES and it was a great way to kick off the year — with Mississippi companies getting buzz on an international stage.

 

The biggest story of 2016 was the $500 million sale of Oxford’s FNC to Core Logic — making 45 millionaires from the FNC employees and investors.  FNC had grown to over 300 employees and the world leader in processing of collateral data for mortgages, but I’ve found few people have known the great story of FNC’s founding and growth despite their success. Since Core Logic has taken over FNC, they have invested significantly in a new Innovation Center in Oxford and clearly see the acquisition as an important asset.

Bill Rayburn, one of the founders of FNC, spun off a new company, Mortgage Trade, that launched the day after the FNC sale was finalized, so in addition to the sale and continued growth of FNC, another high-growth company was launched at the same time.

Ironically another notable story from 2016 is from a company literally next door to FNC and also a great company few people know. Next Gear Solutions secured an $11M venture capital investment from Silicon Valley VC Serent Capital. Next Gear Solutions also went over 100 employees and has become the leading company for restoration construction software.

 

In a trifecta for the Oxford area, Curtsy, the dress rental app company that launched in early 2016 was selected for the Y-Combinator Accelerator in Mountain View, California, for the summer cohort of 2016. This prestigious accelerator has launched many now famous companies and Curtsy’s selection was the first for a Mississippi company. They utilized their time there very well and saw tremendous growth through the fall. They are now on 15 college campuses and are looking to launch on 10 more this spring.

 

The summer of 2016 included a story only partially about “technology,” but since innovation and technology are often intertwined, inventors are certainly a part of the innovation ecosystem. Six Mississippi inventors were all selected to become Walmart.com suppliers and set on the path to being distributed through Walmart stores as a part of the retail giant’s 2016 U.S. Manufacturing Supplier Summit. Two of the companies were individually highlighted on the national stage.

 

Even among these great stories, few of the stories from 2016 are likely to have the on-going and growing impact of the launch of the Base Camp Coding Academy in Water Valley. Base Camp Coding Academy is a full-year 40 hour a week academy teaching computer programming — which includes more actual coding instruction than someone would likely receive in a 4-year Computer Science degree. Most importantly, the entire year is completely tuition free because of sponsors including FNC, C-Spire and Renasant Bank.

 

Launched with 14 students in 2016, the program is scheduled to grow to 50 students in the next few years. If this model can be launched successfully in Water Valley, Mississippi, there is no doubt it can be utilized elsewhere as well. This is a great model to watch considering that there are approximately 1,000 computer coding jobs currently open around the state.

 

While 2016 didn’t see any major shifts in the technology landscape in Mississippi, there were significant stories that punctuated a continued growth year for Mississippi’s emerging technology and innovation sector. I’ve written separate articles on several of these stories, and I would really like any input on whether or not I missed any of the stories you thought should have been on the list. While there is unlikely to be another half-billion-dollar acquisition of a technology company in 2017, I’m sure we can look forward to another active and exciting 2017. Happy New Year!

Tony Jeff is the president and CEO of Innovate Mississippi. He can be reached at tjeff@innovate.ms.