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DEAL FLOW ANGELS ARE ORGANIZING, FOUNDERS ARE PITCHING AND CAPITAL IS FLOWING FOR A MONI NEW WAVE OF STARTUPS LOBAKI BID IN MISSISSIPPI

C OV E R S T O R Y: MISSISSIPPI STARTUPS RECEIVED UNPRECEDENTED FUNDING IN 2019 IN THE ISSUE: R E G I O N A L PA R T N E R S H I P S C I T I Z E N H E A LT H // W S N L I V E T E DX J A C K S O N


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CONTENT TONY JEFF PRESIDENT & CEO JANET PARKER MANAGING EDITOR TODD STAUFFER CONTENT DIRECTOR ELLIE TURNER CREATIVE DIRECTOR

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121 NORTH STATE STREET THIRD FLOOR, SUITE 500 JACKSON, MS 39201 601-960-3610 INNOVATE.MS CONNECT: @INNOVATEMS

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ENTREPRENEURIAL DEVELOPMENT DEAL FLOW

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2019 was a record year for getting high-growth technology and innovation companies funded.

MICARE PATH / BIDMONI / DUET TECHNOLOGY / LOBAKI / WISPR EASY KALE / CITIZEN HEALTH / SONIDO ROCKETING SYSTEMS / WSN LIVE COFLYT / STAYCOOL CAPS / TORRUS LIVE MUSIC NETWORK

INNOVATION ECOSYSTEM REGIONAL ROUNDUP

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FOR INNOVATION REPORT 2020 WE DECIDED TO TAKE A CLOSER LOOK AT MISSISSIPPI’S FOUR MAJOR RESEARCH UNIVERSITIES.

SPARTAN MOSQUITO / GLOBAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP SUMMIT MS FAST GRANT / MS CODING ACADEMIES TEDX JACKSON / MENTOR NETWORK ANGEL FUNDS / REACTIVE SURFACES

EVENTS STARTUP WEEKEND

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FROM MARCH 1-3, 2019, ABOUT 50 PEOPLE TOOK PART IN TECHSTAR’S STARTUP WEEKEND JACKSON, AN INTENSIVE BUSINESS ACCELERATOR PROGRAM THAT INNOVATE MISSISSIPPI ORGANIZED AT COALESCE COWORKING IN DOWNTOWN JACKSON.

MS NEW VENTURE CHALLENGE ACCELERATE 20TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE / UMMC HIT FORUM 2019 LEGISLATIVE OPEN HOUSE MAGNOLIA JS / COMPANY AND INVESTOR SPOTLIGHT

Letter from the president This year’s Innovation Report highlights an unprecedented year of activity, funding, and growth in the innovation ecosystem throughout Mississippi. We’re hoping that these pages can give you a glimpse of what’s going on in Mississippi’s energetic startup community. We can’t help but brag on the great emerging companies that are the beating heart of Mississippi’s startup scene as it was another great year for startups and investors with even more deals funded than the record year before. We hope you enjoy some of their stories and are inspired to help join in the effort to build our innovation ecosystem. In addition to startup growth, further expansion of coding education through both the Mississippi Coding Academies and Basecamp Coding Academy has led to more job growth for Mississippi’s tech companies. Coders and virtual reality designers are already making their mark with Mississippi employers and helping to create an even better ecosystem for technology companies in Mississippi. On behalf of Innovate Mississippi’s staff and Board of Directors, I hope this issue of Innovation Report inspires you through the breadth and energy of Mississippi’s startups. I also hope it moves you to get involved, whether as a mentor, a sponsor, an investor, or an entrepreneur yourself. I know that with your help we can make the next year just as exciting for innovation and help make a better Mississippi. I N N OVAT E . M S

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The Bean Path is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization based in Jackson, MS with a mission to sow technical expertise in order to grow networks and fertilize communities.

Our initiatives include: • Tech Office Hours every month. • Engineering & coding workshops for youth. • Scholarships/grants for students & community organizations. 8

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thebeanpath.org @thebeanpath info@thebeanpath.org


SPONSORS Advantage Business Systems Advantage Capital AT&T Mississippi BankTEL Systems Barksdale Management Corporation Bilal’s EasyKale BKD CPA’s & Advisors Bradley Bruce Deer, Entrepreneur in Residence C Spire Christopher Raggio Cornerstone Government Affairs David Pharr Law Draw Management Edgetheory Entergy First Commercial Bank Fuse.Cloud Grantham Poole Jackson State University Jan & Lawrence Farrington JFP Digital Services Jimmy Payne Family Foundation Jones Walker KDL Solutions, LLC Kengro Corporation Lobaki Madison County Business League & Foundation Madison County Economic Development Authority Mama Nature’s Juice Bar Matthew McLaughlin, PC Matthews Cutrer & Lindsay, P.A. MDA Entrepreneur Center Millsaps Else School of Management Mississippi Development Authority Mississippi Economic Council

Mississippi Economic Development Council Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce Mississippi Polymer Institute Mississippi State University mTrade MWB Creative Oxford Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation Pileum Pinpoint Commercial Real Estate Port of Gulfport ProofPort Renaissance Loan Fund Sanderson Farms Smartzweb Spark Outbound Spartan Mosquito The Beanpath The Maxbit ThinkWebstore University of Mississippi University of Southern Mississippi Upton Technologies Vigilant Healthcare Westin Jackson Wilson Day, Raymond James Financial

Thanks to the support of our many partners, Innovate Mississippi is making a solid and meaningful impact on Mississippi’s workforce and economy. Want to join our mission and be part of the innovation transformation? Contact Janet Parker at jparker@innovate.ms or 601-960-3611.

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2019

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Connecting startups with investors

Focusing on innovation development within industry


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Private investment raised

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Jobs created by Innovate Mississippi Entrepreneurial Companies (not including former manufacturing division)

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Mississippi entrepreneurs are developing products and launching businesses that will soon employ our residents and impact our lives. In these pages, you’ll find stories about some of Mississippi’s most successful startups in 2019. SECTION

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COVER STORY

MISSISSIPPI GAINS STARTUP FUNDING MOMENTUM

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The 2019 year was unprecedented in Mississippi for getting high-growth technology companies funded. While Mississippi has had its share of success stories in the past decade, this one closes out the “twenty-teens” with some exciting momentum, as several funding mechanisms kicked in to vault an eclectic mix of companies into their next phase of development. In the pages that follow, we’ll detail the stories of five companies that saw significant funding in 2019: BidMoni, Duet Technology, Lobaki, MiCare Path, and WISPr. With products ranging from fintech to barber’s clippers to virtual reality, what these companies have in common isn’t their products, the markets they target, or their founders’ backgrounds. What they have in common is that investors believe in them. The Mississippi Seed Fund was part of the funding mechanism for all but one of these companies and proved to be the catalyst of investment for which it was designed. In 2019, Bidmoni received its second $100,000 investment from the Mississippi Seed Fund under the New Technology Business category, bringing the total from the Mississippi Seed Fund to $200,000 in two years. Bidmoni budgeted that investment for product development and marketing, according to Clay Lewis, director of the Mississippi Seed Fund. On top of the seed money, Innovate Mississippi connected Bidmoni (p. 17) with the Mississippi Angel Investor Network and, ultimately, the North Mississippi Angel Fund. The result was a $500,000 angel round announced in September of 2019. “The folks at Innovate Mississippi were able to connect us to the full Mississippi Angel Network, and we presented to the various groups,” Daigle said in 2019. “The North Mississippi Angel Fund...decided to invest, do due diligence, set the terms, and allow other parties to build a round and get it closed.” Lobaki (p. 20), the “extended reality” startup, has exploded onto the scene from Jackson, installing virtual reality labs in 11 states and developing virtual reality programming for several customers. With $100,000 from the Mississippi Seed Fund, the company was in the enviable position of just needing to spend money to fulfill current agreements. “They were very thorough and spent a lot of time with us, asking lots of questions,” said Kevin Loud, COO of Lobaki. “There were few other companies in Mississippi operating in the early stages of a multi-billion dollar industry growing at a 58% CAGR, which we knew they appreciated.” Lobaki has gone on to leverage the seed money into an angel round led by the North Mississippi Angel Fund, closing one tranche toward $1 million. The presence of the North Mississippi Angel Fund, which started doing deals in 2019, is already being felt throughout the state. According to fund manager Steve Mercil, who has launched more than 40 angel funds throughout the country, the LLC-based fund model is ideal. “It has the advantage of the group being committed, so... you have a base of capital to work with,” Mercil said, meaning the fund can make decisions and then put a percentage of every fund member’s dollars into the deal. “Investors can customize their portfolio by adding money into any investment they want to alongside the fund.” In 2019 and early 2020, the North Mississippi Angel Fund itself invested about $200,000 in three companies; those three have leveraged that into roughly $500,000 by getting additional investment from members of the fund and accredited investors from outside the fund, Mercil said.

MiCare Path (p. 16) saw its stock rise when they won the pre-revenue division of the Mississippi New Venture Challenge organized by Innovate Mississippi in 2019. “We were looking for local area startup competitions last fall, and we’re lucky to have found Innovate Mississippi through a web search,” said Scott Laster, CEO of MiCare Path. “Their team embraced us from the start and fostered us quickly through the onboarding and availability processes to present at the New Venture Challenge.” MiCare Path used the prize money to get their corporate paperwork in order, and have since gone on to raise an early round of funding from individual investors, with plans to pitch angel networks in 2020. The Bulldog Angel Network invests only in companies with ties to Mississippi State University. Although those companies could locate anywhere and still get funded, most are in Mississippi, said Wade Patterson, president of the network. Batesville-based WISPr Systems (p. 23) raised $450,000 from the Bulldog Network in 2018, and then completed a series A round for $750,000 in 2019. Patterson said he initially didn’t understand the problem that a drone could solve for installing wireless networks. Because WISPr’s CEO was an MSU student, Patterson took the time to understand it fully and realized there’s a market there. “If I’d have given up on him initially, I would have missed out on understanding and helping him get launched,” Patterson said. “It’s hard to pull the context out because the students are immersed in it — they don’t understand what you don’t understand.” Duet Technology (p. 18), a student startup with new offices in Starkville, has raised $439,000 from the Bulldog Angel Network, Patterson said, for their next-generation design for barber’s clippers. “It was a similar situation. [Duet Technology’s founders] were talking about barbers clippers that don’t overheat, but I’ve never seen them overheat,” he said. “But when I realized they were specifically looking at African American and Latino customers, overheating is a big problem in that market. It made sense.” Patterson said he sees momentum in the state for two reasons. First, there are more “fundable” student startups each year. Second, with more angel funds and networks, there’s more “capacity” for funding companies that need more starting capital to launch the company. “I think there’s a strong difference between what I was seeing when I first got involved in 2015 versus today,” he said. “I’m very encouraged.” To that end, the Central Mississippi Angel Fund—modeled on North Mississippi’s—is forming in early 2020 and could do deals by mid-year. Fund organizer Matthew McLaughin is bullish on the prospects of getting businesses funded in and around the Jackson Metro. “The Central Mississippi Angel Fund is something we’ve needed for a long time, and it’s exciting to be getting started,” McLaughlin said. “We’ve got great startups and leadership teams in our region that need an organized mechanism for angel funding.” “There’s really interesting deals in Mississippi, just like there are in other places,” Mercil said. “Mississippi can be competitive, but it takes the ability to organize capital and organize the advice and expertise. That’s the advantage with an angel fund or network.”

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Scott Laster, Brian Childress, and Terdema Ussery have a combined 50 years experience seeing patients suffer from musculoskeletal disease. That’s why they decided to find a solution that would benefit both patients and physicians. The three founded MiCare, the company behind Micare Path, a remote patient management solution designed for the more than 127 million people struggling with musculoskeletal disease. All three worked at the same company that supports surgeons -- in implant design, manufacturing, and sales. There they got a unique perspective into the struggles people have with the disease. That perspective, Laster said, coupled with the knowledge that patients spend up to 15 years living in pain before deciding to have surgery, compelled them to seek a better way for patients to take control of their lifestyles. Using the software, patients can manage their conditions and gain peace of mind because they are under the watchful eye of their physicians long before they have surgery. “Each founder has a very personal story where such a solution would have made a meaningful impact in our own lives or the lives of a loved one,” said Laster. “So, this is certainly a personal mission as much as a business.” To patients, MiCare Path is a mobile app that provides communication to their physicians, a coach to help them live the fullest life possible, and a guide for wellness, Laster said. To physicians, it is a dashboard that helps them prioritize patients with the most urgent needs and keep a watchful eye on their health indicators—instead of just a checkup every six-to-eight months. The fact that U.S. patients spend an astounding $874 billion (about 33% of healthcare GDP) on musculoskeletal care is evidence that the industry needs more tools to provide a data-heavy, light-touch solution to optimize the balance of cost and quality, Laster said. “For the nation, it can save costs. For areas like Mississippi, where the population is more rural, it can provide critical access to knowledge and care that otherwise doesn’t exist.” While companies in many industries can jump in with a “minimum-viable” product and test the market, that is not the case in healthcare, Laster said. It has taken MiCare a full

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year to begin product development since they first had to clear pathways for insurance reimbursement, meeting regulations, and ensuring privacy. The co-founders initially self-funded the business while they explored its viability. They’re now transitioning into a formal funding round, where they have seen interest from physicians, surgeons, individual angel investors, and angel networks. And they already have customers lined up—more than 30 orthopedic surgeons throughout the country have committed to using the app once it hits the market. The MiCare team was humbled to win first place in the “pre-revenue” division of the Mississippi New Venture Challenge in October 2019, Laster said, because it was the first competition they had entered. They used the $3,000 prize money, in part, to trademark their brand name and restructure the business. “We feel we have been fully embraced by the team at Innovate Mississippi,” Laster said. “They shepherded our team through the process from the start, and similarly, after the event, we have held regular meetings to discuss our current phase of the business and strategy around key areas of our next steps. [We’ve discussed] closing our current round of funding needs and socializing the business within the medical community.” Laster said the company’s short-term goal is to fully launch and grow the current version of the product in 2020. With that success, the team will listen to the market and pivot accordingly to provide solutions and open up new markets in the otherwise untapped area of digital solutions for medical needs. As they prepare MiCare Path to hit the market, Childress, Ussery, and Laster are cross-training on all the startup work the company requires, each learning to be a jack of all trades. One of the biggest lessons learned so far is that a quick “no” can be as good as a “yes.” “Time and tenacity are your biggest asset in this phase of a startup,” Laster said. “So don’t quit. Turn the ‘no’s’ into a spring-board for your next relationship. Every conversation is, at its worst, good practice for your pitch—and a great education for how to improve.”


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BIDMONI BidMoni CEO and co-founder Stephen Daigle set some pretty ambitious goals for 2019: to handle $1 billion in retirement dollars, grow into a national company, and become a serious player in the 401K marketplace. A year later, he has accomplished those goals with his company’s online marketplace for retirement plans, Fiduciary Shield. He’s also made some necessary adjustments along the way, having learned that a great product has little value if people don’t take notice. “I think there are so many distractions in people’s lives and so much information, and that’s the number one struggle. If you have something great, but nobody knows what it is, you don’t go anywhere,” he explained. “So we’ve learned a lot, we’ve pivoted, we’ve changed our focus on who’s going to be our go-to-market strategy with what we build. I think it’s put us in an incredible position with where we are now.” After testing his platform by going both directly to companies that offer 401K plans, and to the financial advisors that typically sell them, he realized that it made more sense to partner with advisors and give them the tools to grow their practices. He and his group shifted their focus to selling solutions to firms comprised of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of advisors. That allows BidMoni to scale the use of their software by simply convincing one person of the benefits of the technology, instead of acquiring each user one by one. Fiduciary Shield now has advisors and clients using its system in every state in the country. But Daigle and his team have had to be patient. “In the space that we’re in, it takes longer,” he explained. “People are making decisions that run and govern their entire practice. People don’t make quick decisions. Somebody told us at a conference that the average life cycle to sell a client in the financial technology space is longer than the average company stays in business.” Daigle does not doubt that the retirement industry considers his company a serious player. Money 20/20 named BidMoni one of the Top 100 FinTech start-ups in the world. BidMoni was featured at Finovate, a conference that showca-

ses cutting-edge banking and financial technology through demos. “We’re at a point now that our strategic partnership is with the most well-respected group in the retirement plan industry,” he explained. “And we have multiple very, very large firms across the country that we’re in discussions with soliciting our product.” BidMoni’s success allowed the company to double its staff in 2019, growing from five to 10 employees in areas including marketing, sales, and development. “We’ve built things that nobody else has, and I think it’s surprising that we did it from Mississippi. I think that’s where strategically aligning ourselves with people outside the state and across the country in bigger hubs is giving us credibility as we move forward in that next phase.” In 2020, the goal is to grow as a company. “I think we were an idea, and then we were a product,” Daigle said. “And I think now we’ve validated that there’s a fit and we can be something pretty major. (The next step) is to finalize some new strategic relationships push forward with our goals, and then raise the capital.” Daigle, whose company received two $100,000 investments from the Mississippi Seed Fund, one in 2018 and another in 2019, has no doubt Innovate Mississippi will continue to support the company. “The community that Mississippi has built, although it’s small, I think it’s been the core reason we’ve made it, that we continue to grow,” Daigle said. “We continue to lean on our attorney Matt McLaughlin, who has done tremendous work for start-ups and our accounting firm Grantham Poole that has been in the ecosystem. So just everything around Innovate Mississippi, we’ve really adopted them.They’re a part of our team that’s pushing us forward.” Daigle credits Innovate Mississippi with one of his most important mentor relationships. “Jim Lowery, who we met through Innovate and has been the most crucial aspect of probably our entire company, is now one of our executive board members,” he said.

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DUET TECHNOLOGY Duet Technology started when Thomas White, now CTO of the company, noticed that electric hair clippers in widespread use tend to overheat, requiring many barbers to have multiple sets.

Overheating clippers is an issue that plagues African American and Latino barbers, who tend to have their clippers running for most of a styling session. CEO Tyler Anthony, meanwhile, had worked a co-op at Kopis Mobile and had 3D-printing experience as an engineering student at Mississippi State. Together, Anthony and White took the idea of “building the next generation of barber tools” to the Mississippi State University Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach, or E-Center. Anthony had taken a class from Eric Hill, director of the E-Center, and thought it was worth a try. So, while working on their company pitch, business plan, and financials, they went about designing prototype clippers that regulate heat and look more fashionable than the current standard models— the first significant redesign of barber’s clippers in a generation. Duet Technology raised $7,500 from the MSU Venture Catalyst program to jumpstart their prototyping. Then they were

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referred to Innovate Mississippi to pitch to the Mississippi Seed Fund, where they received a $10,000 investment in 2018 to create a proof of concept. In 2019, they raised about $140,000 from the Bulldog Angel Network, which will allow them to complete their prototype and prepare it for manufacturing. The company is also moving into office space in downtown Starkville. Working with marketing director Vicki Jordan, the company also runs BarberStyleDirectory.com and its social media channels, where they focus on YouTube and Instagram to reach a younger generation of barbers and their clients. “We brought Vicki on to help build up that marketing platform for us,” Anthony said. “By doing that, we’ve reached 150,000 barbers around the country just through social media.” They expect their social media following will be a built-in market when they’re ready to start selling their clippers in 2020. Anthony says the most stressful times so

far have been when they get ready to pitch to investors, you feel like you’re close to done, but have to go back for revision after revision to get the business plan just right. He credits Innovate Mississippi and resources like the MSU Entrepreneur Center for supporting student entrepreneurs. “They’ve changed us as individuals, and we’ve been able to become entrepreneurs,” Anthony said. “And I love that they don’t just give you the money,” Jordan chimed in. “They want to mentor you. They want to help you. They are super-involved in every step in this whole process.” With help from their investors and mentors, Duet Technology has hired two additional engineers who have taken products to market before. The company also plans to manufacture the clippers in Mississippi, which may add somewhat to the cost, but allows them to be hands-on about the quality of the final product.


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If Vince Jordan has his way, the Magnolia State could become the “Extended Reality” capital of the South.

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His company, Lobaki, Inc. is reshaping the world with XR technology, and it’s not just fun and games. “Though most of XR is currently originating out of the West Coast and Northeast, the market is still wide open,” said Kevin Loud, Lobaki’s chief financial officer. “Lobaki offers Mississippi the possibility to develop a real technology hub, producing high-paying technical jobs not easily outsourced to foreign countries or taken over by machines.” XR comprises virtual reality, or VR; augmented reality, or AR; and 360 VR video; all of which is generally experienced via headsets and other wearable technology. XR technology

and “experiences” are poised to quickly reshape how the world interacts and learns. The industry is projected to grow from $4.2 billion in 2017 to $61 billion in 2022, according to Artillery Intelligence; Goldman Sachs pegs conservative estimates at over $80 billion by 2025. “We’re impressed with the technology, the opportunity and the team,” said Tony Jeff, president and CEO of Innovate Mississippi. “And early investment in Lobaki could really pay off by seeding this high-growth industry in Mississippi.” Loud said the seed funding will help finance the creation of XR experiences for healthcare, industrial training and


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education. Lobaki is also building XR academies within K-12 institutions, community colleges, universities, and workforce development centers, where a necessary workforce can be trained in creating XR experiences. The Lobaki team’s experience is an important differentiator because not all XR products are of the same quality, Loud said. “In many ways, it’s like making a movie, where the outcome of the movie is very dependent on the skills of the writers, directors, actors, cameramen, soundmen—and in many cases, thousands of CGI technicians,” Loud said. “The reason XR is so compelling is because it is a technology that can create more empathy than any other

technology now known in the world, and through empathy, knowledge is transferred.” In the healthcare field, Lobaki is creating VR experiences that will train first responders and nurse practitioners to perform critical tasks. “Though clinical results are somewhat limited, most studies show that knowledge learned through XR is retained 50 percent more than through other sources,” he said. Along with creating XR experiences, Lobaki has recently set up “VR academies” at two Mississippi universities. The team designs the academies, procures the hardware and software, and installs the systems. Lobaki’s software toolkit—the VR Educators Metaverse Association, or VREMA, platform—assists teachers in adding VR experiences to their lesson plans, while teaching students VR development skills they can take into the workforce. Lobaki’s academy model has proven popular outside of Mississippi as well; they’ve worked in seven different states, recently completing academies in Kentucky and Illinois. “Unlike most other early-stage companies, Lobaki is in the unique position

of having too much backlog. Most companies at this stage use the early rounds for sales and marketing. Lobaki has more sales than it can handle and will use the capital to hire and train people to monetize its backlog,” Loud said. Loud said the Lobaki team was honored to receive the Mississippi Seed Fund Investment, but not too surprised, because the company is operating in the early stages of a billion-dollar industry growing at 58 percent annually. “The Mississippi Seed fund is managed by some very knowledgeable and skilled individuals,” Loud explains. “We could see they ‘got it’ regarding what Lobaki does, and we could see they understand how important XR is going to be in the coming years.” Support from the Mississippi Seed Fund lends a credibility that is critical at this early stage, Loud said, noting that Lobaki recently received its first order from one of Mississippi’s largest companies. “It’s a relatively small order, but it gets us established to do bigger things with them in the future. It may have taken us 12 months on our own had we not received the [seed fund investment],” Loud said.

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WISPr A lot has happened in a year for Conor Ferguson and his company, WISPr Systems, which creates commercial drones that help broadband companies find the optimal locations when installing wireless internet. Ferguson said WISPr, which he co-founded as a college senior in 2017 with Austin Ratcliffe, used funding from the Bulldog Angel Network and the Mississippi Seed Fund to develop the hardware and software to get the product market-ready. In 2019, they created the internal infrastructure so they could efficiently manufacture and ship their drones. “The funding also allowed me to build a support team, which helps with marketing and supporting the products in the field, helping customers stay happy,” said Ferguson. WISPr has added four new employees (for a total of 10), including Innovate Mississippi’s entrepreneur-in-residence, Bruce Deer. “With Bruce assisting with the sales and marketing side of the business, it has really helped us engineer new product developments to better assist wireless internet service providers and draw interest from new 5G companies.” Ferguson and his team attended five trade shows in 2019, which accounted for 60 percent of their initial sales and helped pique the interest of stores that sell wireless internet service provider (WISP) equipment. That enabled WISPr to acquire an ISP reseller. They’ve also fine-tuned manufacturing and the overall

flow of the drone purchasing process. As sales increase, the plan is to move some of their in-house manufacturing and assembly out to a local shop in Batesville, where the company is located. “We need to be doing higher quantities to meet the price point we need to make it economical for us, but we are not far off from that. We have been working on the logistics for that move,” Ferguson explained. “By using the surrounding machine shops to economically and efficiently build our parts, we can improve our output rate significantly.” The goal for 2020 is to sell and deliver over 350 drones, and though Ferguson said there is no competition in the market yet, he believes it is only a matter of time. He hopes to continue to develop and improve the company’s unique software, making it more integral to the WISP industry. “I feel the current WISP management software companies will try to be competitors in the future, so I would like to become a threat to them before they become a threat to us.” Even as WISPr has grown and gained a national footprint, Ferguson says he attends most of Innovate Mississippi’s events and finds them invaluable. “I think they help build our reputation and relations with people and companies inside of Mississippi that we wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet otherwise.”

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EasyKale When Innovate Mississippi’s Tasha Bibb announced EasyKale as a first prize winner of the 2019 Mississippi New Venture Challenge Pitch Competition in October, Bilal Qizilbash didn’t hear her. Having participated in the competition every year since 2016, and failing to win each time, the 33-year-old entrepreneur and scientist wasn’t optimistic that he’d be going home with the $3,000 cash prize for the post-revenue division. EasyKale is a powdered kale that you can shake onto almost any food or into your daily recipes to add the benefits of kale without the taste or trouble of cooking it. “This was the fourth time,” explained the Queens, New York native. “I didn’t think I was going to win. But I kept trying. I was standing all the way in the back eating when they called the first place winner in the post-revenue division and called my name. I was still eating, and everyone turned, and they said, ‘Bilal, you won.’ ‘And I said, ‘Nooo.’ I kept eating, and they were like, ‘Bilal, we’re serious.’ I had to run up to the stage, and when I got on stage, I didn’t think it was real. I said, ‘Is this happening?’ “I’ve gotten a little used to being recognized outside of the state. But we were not getting a lot of recognition in the state until recently, especially after the Forbes article. It took that for people to go, ‘Oh, you guys are the real deal.’” In the October 9, 2019, Forbes article “Perspectives on the Future of Snacking,” Qizilbash was one of 10 industry leaders invited to offer insight on how the snack food industry is changing in response to consumer demand for healthier options. He wrote that as technological innovations in the next decade allow companies to more cost-effectively produce healthier options, consumers will see more freeze-dried options and snacks sweetened either naturally or with low sugar, at reasonable prices. In addition, EasyKale Labs was selected as one of 50 finalists (out of 937 applications) to present at SXSW Pitch 2020 in the Consumer Technology & CPG category, the marquee event of South by Southwest® (SXSW®) Conference & Festivals (March 13 – 22, 2020). EasyKale’s customers are mostly in major cities, including Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago. But sales spiked from the Jackson-area after the Forbes article, Qizilbash said. EasyKale is currently available only online from Amazon.com, where it’s an “Amazon’s Choice” designated product. Still, Qi-

zilbash said at least one to two customers weekly are requesting that he sell it at local retailers and locally available chains such as Whole Foods. “Demand is increasing,” he explained. “But right now our main focus is still Amazon because most customers go there, they use Prime shipping, and also Amazon goes through a stringent approval process, especially with food items. So the fact that we had to give them an analysis, heavy metal testing report, and things like that, that’s built confidence within the Amazon platform.” Qizilbash’s desire to give consumers a quality product, while being eco-friendly, will be realized this year when EasyKale becomes available through Loop, a zero-waste delivery system that eliminates disposable, single-use shipping materials. Customers purchase select products in reusable packaging from Loop, and when done with the product, send the empty packaging back to Loop to be cleaned and reused, eliminating the need to recycle or trash. In 2020, Qizilbash says he will release sugar-packet sized EasyKale. The packets, the equivalent of about a cup of kale, will be sold in a box of 30 or so, making it easier for consumers to measure quickly or carry when they’re on the go. He’s also working on a super-enhanced version of EasyKale with an added natural enzyme that enhances the availability of the “good stuff” within the kale, he said. Despite the accolades, Bilal continues to do in-vitro cancer research in a partnership with Belhaven University. He also feeds the homeless every Friday in Jackson’s Smith Park. Though several investors are courting his company, he says he’s in no hurry to sign on the dotted line. “Just because people offer you a lot of money doesn’t mean you should take it,” he said. “You’ve got to be very careful who you take money from because there are strings attached to it. And the reason why we’re even more careful is that we’re a ‘triple bottom line’ company, so we give back to the community, and we’re very much about helping the needy and poor. “It takes a special kind of investor to be interested in that. Most investors are not interested in you giving back. But many of the investors we’re working with are humanitarians at heart. So they dig what we’re doing.”

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CITIZEN

HEALTH

Creating a Market and Mechanism for Cash-Based Healthcare

Brennen Hodge has a problem with healthcare. He thinks it’s inefficient to use insurance to pay for it. In 2019, his company, Citizen Health, launched a private beta of Medoplex, an online “Amazon for healthcare,” where physicians and labs that are interested in offering direct primary care can post their services and prices. Patients can then shop Medoplex for reasonably priced healthcare services, cutting out the insurance company by paying the provider directly when they visit a practitioner or clinic. While Medoplex has shown a lot of promise—Hodge says over 1000 providers are ready to go—he says the launch also exposed another challenge. Because most people have insurance through their employer, the government, or an ACA marketplace, it’s hard to convince them to pay out-of-pocket for most of their healthcare. So, Hodge says in 2020 he is once again targeting the goal he initially had when he first launched Citizen Health. “I’m actually going to try to execute the original vision I had back in 2016,” he said. “That is to create an alternative to health insurance.” For starters, Hodge is converting Citizen Health from a public-benefit corporation into a public-benefit cooperative. Like a credit union, the cooperative business model will enable Citizen Health to sell shares to its members. Members then participate in a healthcare program that works for everyone involved—something Hodge likes to call “Health Assurance” to differentiate from health insurance. Hodge notes that cooperative medical systems are common around the world. In the U.S., a model already exists in healthcare-sharing ministries, where religious organizations create a financial system for supporting the healthcare needs of their members. And those members are exempt from the ACA insurance mandate thanks to their membership. Hodge says membership in these groups has grown 10x since 2015, suggesting the potential popularity of a cooperative healthcare model. “There’s a huge opportunity for something new, something that targets the gig economy and millennials,” Hodge said. He believes that young adults coming into the workforce, or those just old enough to come off their parents’ healthcare plans, might be a key market for a new insurance alternative. With Citizen Health, Hodge says the combination of a Health Assurance plan and modern technology will make a more transparent healthcare system possible. Using blockchain technology, for instance, allows for “smart contracts” that quickly agree on prices and transmit payment to the doctor.

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ED “So that’s what we’re doing with our healthcare card. Patients can go anywhere; everybody is ‘in-network,’” Hodge said. “When you pay, claims are adjudicated at the point of service. That’s huge.” He notes that with traditional health insurance, you have to submit a claim, and the provider may need to wait for 30, 60, or 90 days or more for payment. In the Health Assurance system, the doctor will receive the payment before the patient has left the building. A question he hears often is: “What happens if I get cancer?” In this case, a Health Assurance program isn’t that different from the way insurance companies operate—a portion of the membership fee goes into a pool to pay for the treatment of doctor-verified catastrophic illnesses. The difference would be that a member might get a lump sum—say, $100,000—in healthcare dollars to spend with doctors and hospitals. That fixed amount, the theory goes, would be enough to cover full treatment when healthcare pricing adjusts to the transparency and efficiency of the model. Hodge says that once he’s formed the cooperative, he’ll be able to raise considerable capital by selling memberships. He’ll then create an advisory board of medical professionals and incorporate the smart contract work he’s already been doing. His goal is to launch Health Assurance by July 4, 2020. Hodge notes that, in the current U.S. system, providers can spend up to 50 cents for every $1.00 they get in revenue. He believes there’s a better way that uses transparency and technology to build a more efficient system. “E-commerce is revolutionizing everything else we do,” Hodge said. “Healthcare is just 20 years behind.”

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CALLING ALL ANGELS

Connecting Investors to Mississippi’s High-Growth Startups

MISSISSIPPI’S HIGH-GROWTH startups seek investment

through Innovate Mississippi and the Mississippi Angel Investor Network. Whether an investor wants to see a pitch and make their own decisions or participate in local or regional investment funds that will manage the deal closing, investors across Mississippi have the opportunity to get in on the ground floor with the state’s fastest-growing companies. There are also many opportunities to invest alongside investors with a wide range of industry and investor experiences. Pitch meetings occur across Mississippi—including Jackson, Oxford, Tupelo and the Gulf Coast. Investors who are unable to do all this leg work can still reap the benefit of the Angel Network by investing in Innovate Mississippi’s Angel Fund. The fund fuels Mississippi’s latest crop of entrepreneurs and provides investors with vetted, reliable opportunities. If you are an accredited investor, we invite you to join the Mississippi Angel Investor Network to interact with investors, gain access to quality deals and grow Mississippi’s innovation economy.

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2019 MS

Seed fund

SONIDO Brady Hoggard got the idea for Sonido Software while he was running his music studio in Oxford, Miss. A native of Utah, Hoggard moved to Oxford when a Mississippi-based competitor acquired the startup where he worked. After a two-year stint with the new company, he transitioned to another role that allowed him to spend time on his other love: running an audio recording studio. That meant managing the business, booking client sessions, and making sales. And it was in those processes where he found pain points with existing software tools. “One day, I was working on a project in my studio, and I received and responded to a new lead requesting studio time. I communicated with the lead and entered all necessary details into these systems. The data entry was taking too much time. I wanted the process to be more automated and simplified,” Hoggard said. “It dawned on me that this inefficiency is a challenge that studios of all sizes struggle with in the audio production industry,” he said. “I recognized that I’d solved this very same problem before with technology in a different industry… and that I could use the same concepts to bring all of these components together into a single system that would make my studio, as well as many other studios, more efficient and positioned for growth.” After performing an industry analysis, Hoggard recognized that there was a hole in the music industry and a desire for solutions to existing studio-management pain points. Given his previous experience with startups, he decided to create Sonido, a studio-management software application designed to manage contacts and projects, track studio-space reservations, quote prices, and invoice clients. It also has

industry-specific features for secure file review and audio file delivery to clients, along with other tools designed to streamline recording-studio processes. As he was overseeing the software and building the company, Hoggard began networking with other entrepreneurs in Oxford. He eventually found himself talking about Sonido with Jim Lowery, managing director of strategy at mTrade who also serves on the Mississippi Seed Fund Board. Lowery encouraged Hoggard to get in touch with Innovate Mississippi. Once connected with Innovate Mississippi, Hoggard pitched for and received a $10,000 Proof of Concept Investment from the Mississippi Seed Fund. The award helped him implement a critical beta testing program that “was phenomenal,” he said. It offered

“I wanted the process to be more automated and simplified.” him feedback from industry customers that led to the release version, which launched on November 18, 2019. Around that same time, Hoggard was invited by Innovate Mississippi to pitch Sonido at the Company and Investor Spotlight, a part of the Accelerate 2019 conference. He’s had some promising discussions with investors as a result and says he’s “actively seeking the right angel investment partner to increase growth opportunities.”

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ED

Rocketing Systems When Calvin Waddy, Shelby Baldwin, and Brandon Johns placed second in the post-revenue division of the 11th Annual Mississippi New Venture Challenge, it was a nice boost for their company, Rocketing Systems. The prize came with a little cash, some mentoring opportunities, and it increased their visibility in Mississippi’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. The trio—aged 24, 22, and 20, respectively—met as students at Mississippi State University, where they were all active in the MSU Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach, or E-Center. Starting in the spring of 2018, they worked on a number of projects together, culminating in the founding of Rocketing Systems in July 2019. “Mississippi State’s E-Center gave us the confidence to get our company started in college,” said Baldwin, the company’s chief marketing officer. “Brandon came to MSU specifically for the E-Center, and all three of us had seen ourselves doing entrepreneurship as business majors at MSU. Brandon and Calvin even had previous entrepreneurship experience before we all started together as business partners.” The software development company focuses solely on e-commerce clients, creating software platforms to help online retail businesses scale. “We bootstrapped everything for about seven months, but lately, we have received funding by winning pitch competitions,” said Baldwin, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marketing in May 2019. In addition to their success at the Mississippi New Venture Challenge, Rocketing Systems placed first at the SEC Student Pitch Competition in 2019, garnering the startup (and MSU) bragging rights as “#1” in the entire Southeastern Conference. They also placed third at the 2019 Women’s Business Enterprise National Council Student Entrepreneur Program Pitch Competition in Baltimore, MD. The company raised its first round of capital with the Bulldog Angel Network in August 2019. Buzzbassador, Rocketing System’s first product, is an influencer-marketing automation tool for managing brand ambassadors. It’s also the product they pitched at the Mississippi New Venture Challenge, where they won $2,000. “Innovate Mississippi has been a huge help for connecting us with relevant opportunities and keeping us informed about the resources available to us as young entrepreneurs,” said Baldwin.

In addition to the three C-level founders, the company employs five part-time employees, three in-house contractors, three full-time contracted software developers, and one contract UX/UI designer. “The most important roles we have filled by far are our software development roles,” said Baldwin. “Our developers and designers are crucial to our business, and we are thankful to have built some really great relationships with them as contractors.” The team launched the Buzzbassador Shopify app in January 2020 with plans to onboard a record number of customers and become a top Shopify app in the first year. They are also working with an attorney on securing trademarks, copyrights and patents for Buzzbassador and the overall brand. They plan to seek significant additional funding in 2020. “The most important lesson we’ve learned is to ‘move fast and break things,’” Baldwin said. “We’ve learned that whether you inch along, afraid to take risks, or jump all in and just start, things are going to go wrong either way.” The biggest challenge has been navigating the software

“The most important lesson we’ve learned is to ‘move fast and break things.’” development process as non-technical founders. The year-long process has been a learning experience, she said. There’s also the task of trying to balance everything. “But, then again, there will never be a ‘perfect’ time to start a business. We are all proud that we took the initiative to start and stop overthinking it. If we would’ve sat around thinking about how hard it was going to be or how people were going to doubt us, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

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N S W LIVE STREAMING SUCCESS THROUGH PIVOTS AND PERSEVERENCE

In 2010, Charlie Helms and Russ Robinson decided they would build websites for schools as a way to generate revenue through ad sales. Soon, they updated the idea and decided to offer broadcast sporting events as part of their service.

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Their initial plan, which included charging $16 for pay-per-view high school games, “failed miserably,” Helms said, laughing. They moved to $8 per game. “The most we had was 72 people,” he said. “It was a great idea, and people said, ‘wow, this is cool,’ but the quantity wasn’t there.” Helms said they went back to the drawing board and called an audible on their streaming plans. Now, watching games would be free to the user. WSN was the first company to be live on mobile devices with high school games—that was 2011. WSN Live sold its solution to a dozen new schools and was about to close an investment round with Sprint and two local investors. Then, Helms found he needed emergency heart surgery. He learned he was sick during a routine physical while applying for a “key man” life insurance policy to secure that round of fundraising. “We had to back up and punt,” he says now, “I’m glad we did because we weren’t as ready as we thought.” After retooling, revamping, and becoming experts in what they offer, WSN Live now has clients from coast to coast. They hope to complete a round of funding in 2020 to help boost their marketing and sales efforts. Today, WSN Live allows schools, churches, city governments, and other organizations to broadcast sports, commencements, concerts, religious services, and other events live to their own “channel” on Roku, Amazon Fire, and Chromecast devices, along with directly to PCs, tablets, and smartphones. They have customers from California to Virginia, with a plan to double their revenues in 2020. Aided by over 25 years of broadcast experience, WSN has created a proprietary blend of hardware, software, and unique business processes that are reliable and effective for customers. “Many schools and churches try the ‘do-it-yourself’ streaming approach because it sounds easy. Unfortunately, we’ve seen the negative effects of programs getting banned from services like YouTube. Fortunately, we were there to help.” Helms credits Innovate Mississippi with helping throughout the years. Innovate Mississippi has worked with WSN to improve its business plan and has connected them with several mentors to help them develop the company.

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“When investors look at us, we’re more polished.”

“When investors look at us, we’re more polished,” Helms said. Today, Helms has a full team, including partner Mike Manning and Chief Technology Officer Dave Edwards. They also have outside advisors, such as Mark Ledbetter, who was recently chief marketing officer for a private equity-backed SaaS company that experienced 10x growth over three years. The team at WSN has put together an aggressive growth plan and is ready to scale. Helms attributes their success to experience and perseverance. Now at 64 years old, he notes that he could have quit after heart surgery. “As soon as the doctors cleared me, my wife put me in the car, and we sold fourteen schools that year. Don’t quit,” he advises. For seeking funding and going national, he recommends getting expert help. “It’s like the Farmers Insurance says, ‘We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two,’” Helms said. “That’s where we are. Innovate Mississippi has assisted with that. We’ve been able to work with them and get their people to help groom us for a true equity round to take us national.”


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COFLYT Eric Hill promises that he didn’t start his company, Coflyt, to compete with his students. As the director of the Mississippi State University Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach, also called the MSU E-Center, he’s an instructor and mentor to hundreds of students and faculty members seeking to start companies. But even though “entrepreneurship” is his day job, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t also have the bug for a side-hustle. “Coflyt came about from experiencing this pain with my own aircraft,” Hill said, talking about all of the record-keeping it takes to keep a private plane in the air, especially when more than one person shares ownership in the aircraft. “I have an airplane that I own with two other guys, and part of that experience is a whole bunch of administrative burden: paperwork, finances, requirements to keep it flying and legal,” Hill said. When he took on the administrative role for his partnership, he started by writing some software to automate reminders of critical issues. Soon, he saw a market opportunity. Hill recruited Tal Clark, a friend and fellow airplane owner, as CEO in the spring of 2019; they brought on Stephen Rainey, who has significant software development experience to begin rebuilding the Coflyt app. The company officially formed in June 2019 and released its product in September at an industry event. To keep a private plane legal to fly requires regular maintenance, pilot observation, and paperwork to please inspectors and keep your mechanic in the know. When you own an aircraft with partners, which is common, you need to split costs, keep up the records, schedule the plane’s trips, and communicate any problems that any of those pilots observe. The Coflyt team designed their app to do all of that, making the cost-sharing and information tracking for a jointly

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owned airplane a lot more manageable. And the demand appears to be there—within months of launching, Coflyt is already helping to track nearly 200 aircraft, it’s generating revenue, and the team is looking at a few new opportunities to pursue. Hill pitched Coflyt in the post-revenue division of the Mississippi New Venture Challenge in 2019. However, he specifically requested not to be in the running for a cash prize since that might take away from one of his former-student companies from the E-Center.

“Coflyt came about from experiencing this pain with my own aircraft.” He says the experience of launching the company and pitching it at contests and conferences has reminded him of some of the things that are hard to do in startup ventures, adding to his empathy for the CEOs he mentors. “You tend to forget what is really hard sometimes,” Hill said. “It’s been great to be reminded of those lessons where I need to be more patient, explore more... and how much of a head game it is.”


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STAYCOOL CAPS The StayCool Cap just keeps getting, well, cooler. Two years since hitting the market, the USB-powered fan-in-a-cap is about to roll out a new hard-hat model, an updated soft cap with a smaller fan and lighter power pack, and new color options. But that’s not the best part, says creator Earl Washington. As soon as his team finishes molding the hard hat to comply with industry specifications, he will be operating under a distribution deal that will make the process of building his products quicker and cheaper. The original caps, now $49.50, will sell for $29.95 via e-commerce, a savings of 40 percent. They will also be sold in big-box stores, though the price may vary. “I feel great, like Tony the Tiger,” the 74-year-old inventor says. “A marketing team comes with the distribution deal for domestic, government and international. You can have your product in Walmart, Home Depot and Lowe’s, but you need to make sure the consumer knows it’s there.” To date, nearly 5,000 original caps have sold, with virtually no advertising. Customers include corporate buyers trying to protect employees who work under extreme conditions, as well as leisure consumers who use the caps for fishing and other sporting events. With the addition of the hard hat, Washington expects sales in construction and warehouse arenas to increase. The Class C hats have a 2-inch brim all around, with the density and strength of a traditional hard hat. The cooling element works the same as in

the original soft caps. Already, 350 hard hats are on hold, waiting on approval of the design. “To get the cost down, we’re working with China and possibly Vietnam,” Washington explains. “Right now you save a lot of money going out of the country to make them. But if we can get the volume high enough, and I think we will, we will be able to bring it back locally and you’ll be able to save.” Though the redesigned baseball cap model features a smaller fan and lighter power pack than the original, the output and runtime are the same, Washington says. The cord has been replaced with a power button on the cap, making it more user-friendly, and new color choices have been added to appeal to a broader demographic, including pink and camouflage. Innovate Mississippi has played an integral role in the company’s growth, Washington said, advising him every step of the way. “They have been great. They helped with the marketing plan and distribution deal. They make sure you’re proficient to whoever you present to, and they make sure you get to the best companies.” Both the updated soft cap and the hard hat should be available online and in big box stores around spring, just in time for those looking for relief from the heat. Washington says his team is ready. “We have a marketing campaign that will hit all media, coming up. Once the new caps and hard hats are sent to the stores, we will blitz the market.”

TORRUS Ask Josh Frazier how his education assessment platforms are doing, and he quickly shares impressive numbers. In the last five months of 2019, educators used his data collection tools to make 3 million data requests, upload 260,000 scores, complete more than 33,000 forms, and document over 1,000 meetings. Through his company Torrus, Frazier offers school districts two unique products. Capture, a data solutions tool, allows educators to collect and manage data about student intervention, special education, and assessments. The goal with Capture is to make it easier for teachers to capture required data so they can spend more time focused on teaching. Kinly, launched in 2019, is a tool for tracking observation data of K-12 teachers. It offers built-in state rubrics that allow administrators to record observations, rate educators, create and monitor goals for individual students, track school meetings, and manage growth plans. So far, all of Torrus’ customers have opted to purchase both solutions, available in the same suite, Frazier said. With over a decade of experience as a teacher and administrator himself, Frazier had considerable insight when developing his products. “When you begin the startup journey, the tendency of most founders is to focus on what the competition is doing,” he explained. “So, founders will try to copy the competition’s feature set, get some customers, and then start adding new innovative features. The problem is that while you are working to copy what they are doing, they are already developing the next great feature for their platform. You end up in a game of chase with the competition.” “My strategy was a little different. I focused on the innovative

features first and worked backward. If I wanted my platform to solve ‘X’ problem, what components did I need to develop to get there? In education, we call that ‘beginning with the end in mind.’” Frazier believes an education technology company’s goals should never be to maximize profits, so he keeps the costs low on his software. He said his short- and long-term goals are the same: developing tools that help educators do a great job by making data tracking easier. “You can ask any person who their favorite teacher was, and they will give you a name,” the father of two explains. “Educators carry the responsibility of moving our society forward. It is a constantly evolving process to educate children, and I want to be there in the ‘trenches’ helping them with the software I develop.” Without the support and networking opportunities provided by Innovate Mississippi, Frazier said he’d be way behind in achieving his goals. “Education companies rarely get much attention at competitions. I’ve competed in several challenges. In most challenges, a consumer-focused or medical tool wins.” Working with Innovate Mississippi has helped him stay top-ofmind with his education-technology, or EdTech, tools. But, he says, EdTech also requires its own ecosystem for success. “I believe that the future of EdTech funding will need to come from funds specifically established for education,” he said. Despite the success of his education tools, Frazier has kept his day job in school-district administration, explaining that he doesn’t want to become disconnected from the needs of his customers. Working in education allows him to keep his “ear to the ground,” he said.

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2019 MS

Seed fund

c i s u M e k v r i L two e N Two years ago, college students Logan Martin and Sam Miller founded Live Music Network in Starkville, Miss. Their goal was to revolutionize the way fans and musicians interact. In the first 45 days following its October 2019 launch, their mySet mobile phone application signed up over 20 bands and 100 music fans. Available for iOS and Android, the app connects live music performers to the crowd and allows fans to request songs, tip musical artists, purchase merchandise, and see more information about their favorite artists. Both founders are live-music lovers. The two created the app out of Martin’s frustration of wanting to tip bands at concerts he’d attended, but not being able to because he didn’t have cash on hand. After receiving a proof-of-concept award in 2019 from the Mississippi Seed Fund, the company has been able to release and market their app. The goal is to allow music fans to support the bands they love directly. “Our app is a highly technical solution that crea-

tes a new revenue stream for a subset of an entire industry with a high potential for growth,” said Miller, the CEO and a 2019 graduate of Mississippi State University. Martin, the COO, earned his degree from MSU in 2018. When they applied for the program at the encouragement of mentors from the MSU Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach, they hadn’t yet started developing the app. Miller and Martin are using the $10,000 investment to help market their app through physical and digital campaigns, as well as to cover development costs and help fund salaries. The Bulldog Angel Network—comprised of more than 20 investors and mentors—has also helped fund and guide LMN’s efforts, with a $242,000 investment in the fall of 2019. The Live Music Network is temporarily working in Nashville, Tenn., where the team hopes the app will prove popular with music groups in the music-centric market. From there, they will move on to other live music markets, including the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Memphis, New Orleans, Atlanta, Austin, Fort Worth, and St. Louis. “We have proved people want and need to use it,” said Miller. “Now, our goal is to get the app in the hands of as many people as possible.”

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Innovate Mississippi promotes an environment in which entrepreneurs and innovators can thrive statewide. We are grateful to our many partners who support entrepreneurship in their neck of the woods. Hereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a report on many of their exciting accomplishments. SECTION

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For Innovation Report 2020 we decided to take a closer look at Mississippi’s four major research universities—the University of Mississippi, Mississippi State University, Jackson State University, and the University of Southern Mississippi—and the innovation ecosystem around each. What we found was surprising and intriguing. In two cases—UM and USM—there’s a new partnership initiative aimed at making the school and community more responsive to entrepreneurial needs. In Oxford, it’s the “Delta Force” which includes both on-campus and municipal leaders looking at ways to build businesses in the area. At USM, it’s “The Hatchery,” an effort spearheaded by the Trent Lott National Center to better focus a variety of university resources—from the Pine Belt down to the Marine Research Center on the Gulf Coast—on economic development and entrepreneurship. At MSU and JSU, new maker spaces are the centerpiece of

efforts to bring students, faculty, and community together to prototype new ideas and breed innovation. And partnerships abound, as well. Allyson Best, director of the Department of Technology Commercialization at Ole Miss mentioned three: JSU is helping UM bring the I-Corps program to its campus. UM has a partnership with JSU to work with eight other states for funds and mentors for biomedical startups. UM and MSU are part of the XOR partnership among SEC schools to find CEOs for startups from within the pool of alumni from Southeastern Conference schools. Read on for a look at four different parts of the state and how entrepreneurship, higher education, and economic development are putting startup businesses and public-private partnerships front-and-center in 2020.

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INNOVATION

FOCUSED ON CREATIVITY, COLLABORATION AND BUILDING A COMMUNITY WHERE USERS CAN LEARN, EXPERIMENT WITH NEW TOOLS/CONCEPTS, DEVELOP SKILLS, AND BECOME INNOVATORS AND DESIGNERS

MAKERSPACE XR ACADEMY LEARNING COLLABORATORY COLLABORATIVE ROOMS AUDIO VISUAL ROOM

EDUCATION

PROVIDE OPPORTUNITIES FOR EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING TO HELP INCREASE STUDENT ENGAGEMENT, EMPOWERMENT, AND CONTENT LEARNING, AS WELL AS FOSTER THE DEVELOPMENT OF 21ST-CENTURY SKILLS

RESEARCH

IDEATE, CREATE, AND INNOVATE COLLABORATIVELY FROM MULTIDISCIPLINARY PERSPECTIVES AND APPROACHES TO IMPACT RESEARCH

ENTREPRENEURSHIP

DESIGNED TO FOSTER AN ENTREPRENEURIAL CULTURE AT JSU TO HELP DRIVE ECONOMIC PROSPERITY THROUGH BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, MENTORSHIP, TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER, AND COMMERCIALIZATION 46

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STARKVILLE Jeffrey Rupp is still pretty much a mayor. Once the elected mayor of Columbus, Miss., Rupp is now the director of outreach for the Mississippi State University College of Business. But when he tours you around Starkville, he’s just as likely to talk about “mayor” stuff as “college” stuff. Just ask him about “Pumpkinpalooza” in downtown Starkville in the fall of 2019. In front of the Idea Shop, a project of the university’s business school, Rupp spearheaded the inaugural “Talledegourd 500.” Participants used Idea Shop tools to add “two axles and four wheels” to their pumpkins. They then raced the pumpkins down a big ramp built in the street. “Hundreds of people were watching. You should have seen the pumpkin carnage,” he laughed. “Next year, it’s a ‘thing.’ The part of me that is a former mayor loves this stuff.” The Idea Shop is a storefront and maker space in downtown Starkville that is run by the MSU Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach, or E-Center, where Rupp has his office. Members of the Idea Shop have access to the Turner A. Wingo Maker Studio, which features tools for woodworking, electronics, laser engraving, and 3-D printing. Idea Shop members can also display and sell their products to the general public in the storefront. Membership in the Idea Shop is open to students, MSU employees, and the general public. Newcomers can take workshops to get acquainted with the tools. “We have over 90 paying community members of the Idea Shop,” said Rupp. “We’re looking at adding another building downtown.” Rupp calls the overall idea that the university is pursuing “blurring the line between ‘town and gown.’” By investing in the town, the university improves the quality of life for everyone who lives in it. As the quality of life improves, more students and faculty decide to keep their startup businesses in Starkville. So far, the plan is working. At the Greater Starkville Chamber Partnership in downtown Starkville, student and former-student companies have low-cost

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offices away from campus, with shared reception and conference facilities. As a result, those young companies remain a part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem represented by the blending of the university’s resources with the city and county economic development efforts. “As a company and as individuals, we’ve been given nothing but support, encouragement, and enthusiasm from the Starkville community in our journey to grow and thrive,” said Rahul Gopal, CEO of student-founded CampusKnot. “The proximity to the university has helped us understand our goal of classroom engagement even better with the cooperation of educators and students.” Just down the street from the main downtown strip, Glo, another student-founded company behind Glo Cubes and Glo Pals, has a charming, porch-wrapped headquarters for its burgeoning empire. The company, which just announced a partnership with Sesame Street for its Glo Pals products, overflowed with boxes from its Black Friday orders when we visited in December 2019. “I don’t think Glo would still be around had we not stayed in Starkville. Having such a close association with the talent at Mississippi State has allowed us to grow incredibly quickly, while also fostering amazing community support,” said Hagan Walker, CEO of Glo. “I feel like everyone in Starkville has rallied around us, and it truly has allowed us to continue to grow and to give back.” The hub of all this innovation activity is on campus, at the MSU E-Center, inside the business school. Glass walls covered in dry-erase marker divide conference rooms from offices and open collaboration space. On the day we visited, the student entrepreneurs behind Duet Technology sat around a table and told us their story. DueTT

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has developed a new type of electric clippers for barbers, specifically aimed at African American and Latino barbers. Rupp said later that DueTT, which has funding from the Bulldog Angel Network, would soon be moving into a new office in downtown Starkville. “A large percentage of Mississippi State’s students are first-generation college students,” said Eric Hill, director of the E-Center. “Getting any student to start a business—and believe they can do it—depends on how well we deliver the message that MSU is the place for entrepreneurial ventures.” Students or faculty can make use of the E-Center, where the core offering is MSU VentureCatalyst. The curriculum helps prospective

“Having such a close association with the talent at Mississippi State has allowed us to grow incredibly quickly.” entrepreneurs build their business plan, test their product ideas, and learn to pitch their company to investors. Along the way, entrepreneurs can raise up to $7500 by reaching predefined benchmarks. Many of the businesses that succeed in the E-Center go on to pitch the Bulldog Angel Network, which focuses on funding high-growth businesses started by MSU alumni. Hill says that in FY2018, over 100 companies went through the program, raising over $600,000 in seed capital,

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mainly from the Mississippi Seed Fund and the Bulldog Angel Network. Many of those companies have remained in Mississippi; not a few of them are still in Starkville. “Wins bring more wins,” Hill said. “We want our entrepreneurs to stay and set up shop here. We need to make it make sense for them. A $100,000 investment goes three times as far here. And when you have a huge order, our team will come and help you stuff boxes.” Hill notes that there are now five successful student startups in downtown Starkville, which shows student entrepreneurs that success is attainable. He credits the university’s leadership and Jeffrey Rupp for embracing the town and gown philosophy. “It’s going to be very exciting to see where things are in five years,” Hill said.

E-CENTER

1. GLO PALS The company, which just announced a partnership with Sesame Street for its Glo Pals products, overflowed with boxes from its Black Friday orders when we visited in December 2019.

2. E-CENTER This innovation hub on MSU’s campus has glass walls covered in dry-erase marker divide conference rooms from offices and open collaboration space.

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OXFORD Jon Maynard gets visibly excited when he talks about what he calls the “Delta Force.” It’s an ad-hoc group of people from the University of Mississippi and the economic development community in Oxford-Lafayette County who have been meeting over the past six months to talk about entrepreneurship and economic opportunities. “In the past, there have been initiatives from the University that were more about plugging users into programs at the University,” said Maynard, the CEO and president of the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation. “Now, there’s a strong push to work strategically with off-campus partners. We’ve noticed that really growing in the past 12 months.” With the full name “Entrepreneurial Delta Force,” there’s no doubt that these meetings have been a significant step to grow the entrepreneurial ecosystem in and around Oxford. “Delta Force” members said repeatedly that there is strong support for entrepreneurial initiatives from the university’s highest levels of leadership. “It seems like there’s been a new push from the top, from the university, especially from Provost Noel Wilkin, to empower their folks to go out and accomplish things for economic development and entrepreneurship,” said Allen Kurr, vice president of the Oxford-Lafayette County EDF. Maynard says that the University of Mississippi’s new chancellor, Glenn Boyce, has said that he’s an innovator and is on board with finding ways for the university to get out into the community to make things better. “I’ve been at Ole Miss 25 years now, and I’ve never seen such a culture of cooperation and support for economic development and all that implies such as workforce development and partnership with industry,” said Allyson Best, director of the office of technology commercialization at UM. What the economic developers hope is that this push from the university

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will lead to more jobs and growth in a community that is already economically strong. But with the universityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s resources brought to bear on issues such as turning academic discoveries into products and companies, all the boats in the region could start rising. On the edge of campus, just down the street from the softball field, sits Insight Park, where several new projects are in the works. A big one is the expansion of the Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (CEED) program, to its new space in the facility, which will be a virtual reality lab installed by Jackson-based Lobaki. CEED, run by Dr. J.R. Love out of the McLean Institute, offers scholarships to students to help them engage with business and community leaders in surrounding counties. The students gain both entrepreneurial and economic development experience, working on projects such as the James C. Kennedy Wellness Center in Charleston, Miss., where students served as interns while completing market research and surveys to determine the viability of the workout facilities and outreach programs for public health. Insight Park will also soon be home to the new UM Biomedical Research Facility, complete with a cadaveric biomechanics lab, biomechanics testing lab, and co-working space (in separate areas, thankfully). William Nicholas, director of economic development for the University of Mississippi, noted that the biomedical facility will support the medical device industry and productizing other innovations by faculty and students. After a trip to Memphis, where Nicholas and others learned that 41 medical device companies are headquartered, they realized Oxford was missing out in a big way. â&#x20AC;&#x153;We believe the impact of the research center could be significant. If we begin to conduct research and testing in Oxford, it will attract startups as well as mature medical device companies. Nicholas said. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Regardless of whether

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we support a startup or attract an existing company, the economic impact over time could be notable.” When you talk to members of the “Delta Force,” the emphasis on enterprising faculty members and administrators comes up often. “Noel Wilkin, UM’s provost, takes the lead; Josh Gladden, vice chancellor for research; Allyson Best, director of the office of technology commercialization; Dave Puleo, dean of engineering; Matt O’Keefe, executive director of the

“It’s about building an ecosystem instead of just what one entrepreneur needs.” Center for Manufacturing Excellence; Darren Van Pelt a recent addition to engineering did amazing things with SpaceX and Lockheed-Martin, and now he’s back at Ole Miss, Nicholas said. “This strong commitment from leadership trickles down to our faculty and students. Adam Jones in computer science teaches virtual reality enabling UM students to create original applications for VR and AR.” Oxford is already known for several successful startups in the past decade or so, such as FNC, NextGear, mTrade. And the flow from university to the city and back is palpable. General Atomics moved from the Oxford Enterprise Center (a large barn of a business incubator where mTrade still has offices) to Insight Park, because of the close proximity to the National Center for Physical Acoustics. “We work well together; they have different requirements of their tenants for them to move into Insight Park,” said Holly Kelly, executive director of North Mississippi Enterprise Initiative, which runs Oxford Enterprise Center. “When William (Nicholas) has somebody who pops up there, and he can’t fulfill what they need, he’ll send them to me.” Maynard wants to see those shared spaces for businesses expand in Oxford, and has his eye on real estate in different parts of town where that could happen. Successful businesses sharing space with research facilities and startups could create synergies that benefit them all. That’s one of the best outcomes possible from the “Delta Force”—networking and communication that makes it easier for entrepreneurs to find the resources they need on or off campus. “It’s about building an ecosystem instead of just what one entrepreneur needs,” said Maynard, who, as an economic developer, is a critic of subsidizing large industrial relocations. “The real issue is helping startups answer the question ‘Is this a good idea or a bad idea?’” That comes from all of the players in that ecosystem—the “Delta Force”—talking to one another. “It’s a continuum of different assets: idea generation, startup assistance, maker spaces, a database of talent,” Nicholas said. “And as we all work together, the solutions will become more apparent.”

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HATTIESBURG & GULF COAST “You don’t have glasses. Take these.” Dr. Monica Tisack, director of the Mississippi Polymer Institute, handed me a pair of plastic safety glasses and led the way into a secure lab where scientists test materials to see how they hold up under extreme temperatures.

“[Imagine a device] is going to go into space,” she said while pointing to a hulking Instron testing machine that scientists use to determine how materials change in different conditions. “What properties will it have when it gets really cold?” From there we moved to the “wet lab” where chemists were hard at work checking instruments and jotting down notes. Beyond that, we entered another room with a human-scale “walk-in hood” and oversized stainless-steel chemistry equipment. “You wouldn’t think it looks really special, but (the walk-in hood) is highly coveted in the world of scale-up,” she said. That day, it had been taken over by Chromis Technologies, a New Jersey-based company that came to Mississippi for some development work with MPI. The company eventually opened a permanent lab in the Accelerator, with plans to expand in 2020. As we toured the Accelerator with Robbie Ingram, director of the Innovation and Commercialization Park, it became increasingly apparent that the Mississippi Polymer Institute is a big deal. Its capabilities and expertise draw private companies to Hattiesburg to set up labs for testing the materials in their products. Some then build production facilities for bringing innovative products to market and shipping them out. And MPI’s services are offered at relatively low cost, particularly for Mississippi companies, as they’re ultimately a part of the University of Southern Mississippi. The Accelerator sits on a 500-acre park where Ingram says over the next ten years he hopes there are ten or more new buildings, many of which could be research-driven companies or corporate R&D departments newly located in Mississippi. That’s a big piece of the strategy for USM and Hattiesburg economic development: Attract companies to Mississippi because of the polymer and materials expertise,

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and find ways to spin research out from the university into companies that locate on campus or close by. But that’s just one puzzle piece. Recently, an initiative called “The Hatchery” has sought to identify the other pieces—entrepreneurial and economic development resources on campus—and get them all working and thinking together. “’The Hatchery’ is an internal title we use to describe the ways innovation can happen with a research university. It’s how we connect faculty and the new technologies and innovations they’re discovering with product development—and even launching new businesses,” said Dr. Shannon Campbell, director of the Trent Lott National Center for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship. “We are also encouraging our students to think more entrepreneurially as they’re going through the different programs they’re studying.” The Trent Lott National Center is celebrating 40 years of offering an advanced degree in economic development, and Campbell said it’s one of the few degree programs of its kind in the country. That also makes the Lott Center a logical “hub” for connecting USM’s research expertise with the companies that need those services. “We look for ways to connect with industry sectors and business needs so that what we’re working on is relevant for job growth and business growth,” she said. “It brings more value to the companies and the university when we can partner.” Along with the Mississippi Polymer Institute, another example of that public-private outreach is the Marine Research Center at

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the Port of Gulfport on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. USM designed the MRC specifically to work with private companies or organizations such as the U.S. Navy or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. The goal is to create a space for prototyping and testing devices or products that happens closer to real-world applications. “This isn’t necessarily bench-type research. It’s late-stage development,” Campbell said. “It’s very appealing to be able to walk out the back door, launch those devices, and be able to test them in the bay area of the Port.” A second facility, the Roger F. Wicker Center for Ocean Enterprise, is under cons-

“It brings more value to the companies and the university when we can partner.” truction now at the Port. Back on campus in Hattiesburg, the Eagle Maker Hub is a 3000-square foot maker space in the student union. It opened in 2016, and it was the first publicly available maker space offered by a Mississippi university. While its array of 3D printers, laser cutters and woodworking tools are different from the tools available at MPI, in a way, the


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TRENT LOTT CENTER

mission is similar—finding ways to make research and science accessible and practical for USM students and faculty. “Since I’m a teacher-educator, I focus on our future teachers being able to use this technology in their classrooms,” said Dr. Anna Wan, director of the Eagle Maker Hub. “Most of the schools out there have this technology; it’s just the math and science teachers don’t have access to it.” Wan, a mathematics professor, travels the state working with secondary education professionals to help them integrate hands-on prototyping tools into K-12 curricula to make learning more fun and relevant. “When I told [USM] my research was integrating this kind of technology in teaching K-12, the university put money behind that,” Wan said, when telling the story of being recruited to the university. “I felt very welcomed by that.” Ingram lists the USM departments and projects that comprise the Hatchery: Mississippi Polymer Institute; Eagle Maker Hub; the School of Ocean Science and Engineering. He also name-checks Dr. Brian Cuevas in the Office of Technology Development, Dr. James Wilcox of the Center for Economic and Entrepreneurship Education, and Dr. Campbell at the Trent Lott National Center. Plus, there’s the Southern Entrepreneurship Program for teaching startup basics to Mississippi’s youth. And USM’s course “Hacking for Defense” is an initiative with the Department of Defense that exposes students to lean startup principles as they seek to build tools for military and first responder applications. Given all those components now working more closely together than ever, Ingram predicts success. “I think when you come back to do this report in ten years, it’s going to be a much more dynamic and robust entrepreneurial and innovative ecosystem,” he said. “I’ve been here three years; I worked in industry for 20 years before that,” Tisack said while we sat in the Accelerator after our tour of MPI. “And what’s attractive is that it’s so different from most of the places I’ve been. I realized that here’s a good chance to make a difference.” Campbell says she hopes the Hatchery improves outcomes for students and faculty over the next decade. “We have more students coming out who have not just core knowledge in particular programs, but they’ve learned from an entrepreneurial perspective how to be a better employee or even own their own business,” said Campbell. “And helping faculty members think about how something could be applicable in business and valuable to society—that’s an innovation,” she said. “Helping faculty get exposure to the concepts of entrepreneurialism broadens their perspective.”

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JACKSON Get a tour from Dr. Almesha Campbell of the new Center for Innovation at Jackson State University, and it’s easy to believe she had a busy 2019. The Center, located on the second floor of H.T. Sampson Library, had a formal opening in January of 2020. It includes a virtual-reality lab; 3D printers; computers for graphic design work, 3D modeling and software development; machines for textiles and button-making; reconfigurable lecture space, and small rooms for entrepreneurial breakout sessions.

As director of technology transfer and commercialization for Jackson State University, Campbell realized a few years ago that the role of “tech transfer” was changing. Traditionally, universities have helped faculty or employees license or otherwise monetize the intellectual property they create through discoveries and inventions. But Campbell sees that role as evolving. “I’ve been doing tech transfer and commercialization for about ten years, and then began moving into the entrepreneurial space because... tech transfer has changed,” Campbell said. “We are now expected to take you through the entire process of commercialization. Traditionally, we would do licensing, but now we are expected to get these startups going, teach them entrepreneurship, and help them find investors and industry partners.” Campbell said when she started with the university, the focus was on faculty-driven licensing and businesses. But now the university wants to help both student startups and established businesses outside of the university. “I love dealing with students; I’ve seen how entrepreneurial they are and how they have all these ideas, but they don’t know what comes next.” JSU has implemented the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps model, where a JSU student works with a STEM faculty member and a business mentor to test a science-driven idea for commercialization. The model requires a lot of customer interaction to validate potential product ideas, which Campbell says is good. But, in the past, students would have to go to the engineering school or other parts of campus for prototyping while

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JACKSON STATE UNIVERSITY meeting elsewhere to discuss building the business. Instead, she liked the idea of offering tools for prototyping and business-building in one central location: the Center for Innovation. “A lot of this equipment was already on campus; they just had to go to a lot of different places to use it,” she said. “I’m bringing it all to a location that is more visible, more utilized, where students are trying to use all aspects of it to create a business. Then I’m here to help them with technology transfer, commercialization and entrepreneurship.” Along with prototyping and design equipment from other parts of campus, The Center for Innovation has a new VR lab installed by Lobaki, which has established labs at the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University as well. Campbell said that one thing she likes about the VR lab—and encourages throughout the Center—is the fact the students in a variety of majors can engage with the equipment and accomplish things. “After taking some VR design courses myself, I realized I need art students; I need computer science students; I need engineers,” she said. “But I need marketing and journalism students, too, because I need them to help do some stuff in this space.” The Center has a small, soundproofed studio with a fully contained vlogging and podcasting system; Campbell sees journalism and marketing students using that equipment to help student startups communicate, market, and get the word out. The Center pays a handful of student fellows to learn how to use all of the equipment and then help students, faculty, and community members who come to the center for product prototyping or other entrepreneurial support. Campbell also expects the Center to be a resource for the community. In the basement of the library, she can offer incubator space for local startup businesses, which can then take advantage of the 3D printers or other resources in the Center. She says that organizations such as Innovate Mississippi or The Bean Path can use the facilities for meetings or programming. Campbell hopes to see some of her student startups qualify for Mississippi Seed Fund awards and national I-Corps funding, and would like to feed angel networks with good prospects. For now, exposing students to the tools and principles of entrepreneurship is already rewarding. “At this point for the Center, success would be for the students to have this experience on their resumes,” she said. Dr. Nashlie Sephus, the founder of The Bean Path, said the initial goal of her non-profit organization is something similar: helping regular people in Jackson gain exposure to technology. Sephus, who works for Amazon on artificial intelligence initiatives, was part of a startup, PartPic, that sold to Amazon in 2016. A Jackson native, she spends a few days most months back in Jackson working on her non-profit and planning a new development in downtown Jackson that will be a live-work-play “Tech District.” The Bean Path, in 2019, helped over 200 people with their technology problems or challenges during volunteer-driven

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“Office Hours” held once per month at a Hinds County library. While many of the people they are helping are senior citizens and lower-income citizens who need help with computing basics such as posting on social media or building a website, the Bean Path’s volunteers help potential entrepreneurs from a variety of backgrounds as well.

“Eventually, you will see a community in the city of Jackson that embraces technology and tech entrepreneurship.” “At least five potential founders sought guidance, and four of those have formed companies and will soon launch apps,” Sephus said. She notes that simply giving people more exposure to technology can empower them to come up with creative ideas. “Our target is the people who you would least see in tech areas. What is simple to many people, others are afraid to tackle these things,” she said. “We can peel back those layers one-by-one. Eventually, you will see a community in the city of Jackson that embraces technology and tech entrepreneurship.” Sephus said she’s excited about the Center for Innovation and hopes to continue working with Campbell on joint outreach and entrepreneurship opportunities. “I think what she is doing is pretty amazing. A lot of companies get business advice but not technical guidance,” she said. “Creating that safe space is what she’s doing and what the Bean Path is all about.”

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SPARTAN MOSQUITO BY BRYAN CARTER

We often recognize companies that have dazzling products as being “innovative.” However, the same culture that embraces innovation sometimes drives more than products. An innovative culture can drive operations, marketing, outreach, and ultimately the company brand.

Companies that really stand out apply innovative thinking to other parts of their business and their community, specifically by having a noble purpose. The result is an entirely different story arc for the company and the opportunity to be present for real people in an important way. AC2T, Inc., doing business as Spartan Mosquito, started their company in late 2017 by introducing a highly innovative mosquito control product. Since that time, Spartan Mosquito has become a company with over $100 million in revenues. While that is an incredible achievement in its own right, the company’s leadership has leveraged that success to expand into other products, start several nonprofit organizations, and help thousands of people through philanthropic efforts, sponsorships, and giveaways to people in need.

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Spartan’s business mission is to give back, and the company’s leadership team lives that mission on a local, national, and even international level. They have gone around the country to provide mosquito protection giveaways for veterans and service members alike. Since Hurricane Irma struck in 2017, Spartan has provided disaster relief efforts for areas hit by hurricanes and flood water. Internationally, the company has funded the construction of a children’s school located in Laos, a nation in Southeast Asia. Here, the children are taught English from accredited teachers who have been fully-sponsored by Spartan. They are also a proud, goto source in the assistance of organizations such as SWAT Teams, Girl Scouts, police departments, sports teams, and more. On January 16, 2020, Spartan Mosquito announced a significant partnership with Togo in Africa to help a population that suffers one of the highest malaria infections per capita in the world. To help startups and emerging businesses, Spartan has launched a nonprofit organization, Southern Magnolia Foundation, and a new business accelerator, LaunchMS. In coordination with institutions of higher learning, the business accelerator is arranging participants around a six-week academic schedule. It will provide direct mentorship in the areas


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of finance, technology, marketing, and operations to help elevate those companies to success. The accelerator enables Spartan to help businesses move from the idea stage to funding, to a prototype, and finally to the effective execution of the startup. While these initiatives are separate from the companyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s product branding, all of these innovative efforts help build Spartanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s overall corporate brand and reputation, which can raise awareness and respect for the company and ultimately translate into better business. More sales means more resources and opportunity to do more great things. While Spartan may be one of many Mississippi-born companies that are known for their philanthropy, Spartanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s commitment to make it an integral part of their business is admirable. In a state known for its charity and hospitality, examples like Spartan Mosquito can further a trend and inspire other innovative companies in Mississippi to think outside the box and formally incorporate works of good into their business model.

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GLOBAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP

SUMMIT Four Mississippi business leaders—all friends of Innovate Mississippi—attended the invitation-only 2019 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in The Hague this past June. The U.S. Department of State invited Gary Butler, chairman and CEO of Camgian; Tim Mask, president of MWB; Bilal Qizilbash, CEO of EasyKale Labs LLC; and Brennen Hodge, CEO of CitizenHealth to participate and travel to the annual gathering in the Netherlands. During the three-day summit, 2,000 global leaders discussed policy, funding, and issues affecting entrepreneurship worldwide. Talks ranged from the future of cities and energy, to advanced manufacturing, women in global business, and access to capital. “It was an honor,” said Qizilbash. “They treated me like royalty. Out of the entire country, they only chose 200 of

the most innovative companies. And ours was one of them. I was ‘repping’ Mississippi proud and hard.” Qizilbash said that during the all-expenses-paid trip, at the State Department’s request, he announced his company’s liver cancer breakthrough. He also met with entrepreneurs at several private events. “Essentially the U.S. is showing off its entrepreneurial awesomeness,” said the Queens, N.Y. native. “Out of the 155 other countries represented, they have some brilliant people.” Butler said he was excited to have the opportunity to showcase his company’s latest AI and IoT innovations. “We were honored [to be invited by] the State Department to be a part of this prestigious group and represent our country on this important global stage.”

INNOVATE MISSISSIPPI AWARDED

FAST GRANT In 2019, Innovate Mississippi was chosen as one of 24 organizations to assist Mississippi small businesses in getting federal grants. The U.S. Small Business Administration chooses one partner in selected states as part of its Federal and State Technology (FAST) Partnership Program. The objective of FAST is to improve outcomes for under-represented entrepreneurs in SBA’s Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Programs, and increase participation for women-owned, rural-based, and socially and economically disadvantaged firms. R&D-focused small businesses can apply for funding to help write grant applications and will receive specialized training, outreach, mentoring, and technical assistance. MS-FAST, the Mississippi partnership, is led by Innovate Mississippi and The University of Southern Mississippi’s Business and Innovation Assistance Center. MSFAST helps Mississippi small businesses better compete for research grants by providing expertise, assistance, and

funding to encourage commercialization of technologies. This year’s grant has an additional focus on improving outcomes for under-represented entrepreneurs via the SBA’s Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Programs (SBIR/STTP). In particular, the plan is to increase participation for women-owned, rural-based, and socially and economically disadvantaged firms. “The MS-FAST Program and our partnership with USM to help Mississippi companies has previously shown tremendous increases in awards of SBIR/STTR grants for the Mississippi companies we have assisted, and we are excited to once again have the program in place,” said Tony Jeff, president and CEO of Innovate Mississippi. “We appreciate the support of SBA in bringing this assistance to Mississippi small businesses.” You can find more information by visiting www.mistcluster.org/ms-fast or contact Tasha Bibb at 601-960-3610 for assistance.

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MISSISSIPPI CODING ACADEMIES The Mississippi Coding Academies graduated its second cohort in May, and one thing is for sure—both the organizers and coders have learned a lot. As a result, the non-profit, tuition-free program had a larger graduating class the second time. “We upgraded our selection process and made it more rigorous, and our recruitment at local high schools was better-focused,” said Javier Fidel Peraza, an instructor in the Jackson program. “Twenty out of the thirty coders accepted into the Jackson location graduated. Thirteen of the fourteen coders accepted into the Starkville location graduated as well. The Jackson location shifted its curriculum to focus on basic front-end web coding (HTML and CSS) first, changed the back-end programming language they teach (now JavaScript), and hired additional staff. The Starkville location curriculum still uses C# as the primary language but has added the React framework to its Web development portion. The results speak for themselves. Graduates from the program have secured jobs statewide at various and diverse organizations, including Think Webstore, Jackson Free Press, the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers through HX5, American HealthTech, International Paper, BankTEL and more. Though Memphis-based Sedgwick and Fairfax, Virginia-based SmoothStack recruited one graduate each, Peraza said most of the Academy’s graduates, whose new salaries range between $35,000 and $55,000, prefer to stay in Mississippi. “The demand is high—especially when employers come in and interact with our coders,” he said. “The biggest hurdles are in educating companies to grow junior developers within their company. All but one of our first 31 graduates from [the Jackson cohort] got jobs or went onto higher education, the military or further technical training.” Acceptance into the program is not guaranteed. The

non-profit, for which Innovate Mississippi provides administrative and fiscal support, received more than 200 applications for the 30 available slots in Jackson’s most recent cohort. “Interest has definitely increased due to name recognition,” Peraza said. “Another reason for the increase in interest is our results.” Peraza notes that their hiring rate is impressive, and the state of Mississippi has recently recognized the program as the equivalent of a two-year degree in a related field. The graduation rate for the second Jackson cohort increased from 50 percent to 67 percent, which Peraza attributed to a better screening process, and the administration’s improving ability to judge which candidates will be successful. “Grit,” Peraza says, is what he looks for when selecting students. “At the end of the day, do you have what it takes, and are you willing to put in the effort to be a great coder? That is the question people need to ask themselves to be successful in any endeavor. We want people to be curious, think critically, and to have enough pride in their work to go the extra mile.” To further maximize the learning experience, instructors have also developed better lesson plans, and they require that students do supplemental learning online. The teaching team has worked hard to establish a “workhard, play-hard culture” that includes game days, holiday celebrations, and cook-outs. On those days, students do nothing related to coding. The Coding Academies focus more on current industry needs and technologies, as well as a stronger emphasis on writing code, Peraza said. In addition, coders receive one-on-one time with instructors who have the flexibility to adjust the curriculum quickly to not only meet industry standards, but to manage the rate of instruction to ensure coders are progressing and understanding the material.

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DRIVING MISSISSIPPI’S ECONOMY THROUGH TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION

MISSISSIPPI WOMEN IN STEM

LIGHTING THE WAY Mississippi’s Light Festival isn’t just fun and games. See how one woman is using the event to shine a light on something much bigger.

In a field where America desperately needs talented individuals to create and fill jobs, these Mississippi women are stepping up in a big way.

DEVELOPING TOMORROW’S LEADERS TODAY

Learn how Mississippi innovators are majorly shifting the economic landscape.

A PUBLICATION OF INNOVATE MISSISSIPPI

THE MISSISSIPPI CODING ACADEMIES For those who don’t plan to attend college, this Code MS initiative could provide a viable alternative that is feeding the national job market. Could this be the beginning of the “Silicon South”?

Audience Business Professionals // Higher Education // Public Policy Leaders // Higher Income

D R I V I N G M I S SI SSI P P I ’ S EC O N O M Y T H R O U G H T EC H N O LO G Y AN D I N N OVAT I O N

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TECHNOL O GY

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2020 A P U B L I C AT I O N O F I N N OVAT E MISSISSIPPI

CARE PAT MI H

WISPR

Digital Editions Go to innovate.ms to view previous issues of the Innovation Report.

DEAL FLOW BID

ANGELS ARE ORGANIZING, FOUNDERS ARE PITCHING AND CAPITAL IS FLOWING FOR A NEW WAVE OF STARTUPS LOBAKI IN MISSISSIPPI

MONI

C OV E R S T O R Y: MISSISSIPPI STARTUPS RECEIVED UNPRECEDENTED FUNDING IN 2019 IN THE ISSUE: R E G I O N A L PA R T N E R S H I P S C I T I Z E N H E A LT H // W S N L I V E T E DX J AC K S O N

Pricing Contact Janet Parker at jparker@innovate.ms to inquire about pricing.

ADVERTISE IN THE NEXT ISSUE

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With focuses on entrepreneurial development, the innovation ecosystem in Mississippi and events celebrating innovation, our magazine is where your brand meets the future.

Contact Janet Parker to reserve your space. jparker@innovate.ms or 601.960.3611


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TEDX JACKSON The fourth time was a charm for TEDxJackson, according to organizers who said the 2019 event, called “The Next 200,” was the best yet. Instead of trying to convince prominent people to present, organizers relied more on the TEDx application process, resulting in talks that fully embodied the spirit of “ideas worth sharing.” “We sort of let the event come to us more than we have in the past,” said co-founder David Pharr, a Jackson-based attorney who serves as lead organizer of the series. “And I think our successful track record helped us attract a higher cut of speakers through that process. Some of my all-time favorite Jackson TEDx talks occurred this year.” Tim Mask, president of MWB, a Jackson creative content and marketing agency, said, “There might not have been some of the marquee names we had in the past, but from the standpoint of substance, I feel like it was the strongest one. And that’s the feedback we’ve gotten.” Because the event, held February 14, followed the state’s bicentennial year and was to be held in the Two Mississippi Museums auditorium in downtown Jackson, organizers chose a theme that focused more on the future than the past, with solution-focused content and talks. “The state had just made those amazing investments in documenting our past accurately, and we wanted to use that platform to imagine our future,” said Pharr. Innovation was the most prominent theme at the event, with speakers presenting new ideas in public policy, healthcare, technology, business, religion, and art. Christina Dent, an advocate for drug-policy reform and

host of the podcast “End it for Good,” was one of the standout speakers of the group. “She was extremely captivating,” said Mask. “I think what was so engaging about her ideas and her talk was that it had implications that were local, statewide, national, and even international.” A supporter of TEDxJackson since the beginning, Innovate Mississippi’s outreach and marketing helped fill the auditorium with an audience of about 250. The partnership with Innovate Mississippi is a natural tie-in, said Pharr. “We’re always going to focus on innova-

“Some of my all-time favorite Jackson TEDx talks occurred this year.” tion, so it’s a perfect partnership.” The TEDxJackson team is in the process of deciding when the next event, which takes five to six months to plan, will be held.

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MENTOR NETWORK At events such as the Mississippi New Venture Challenge and 2019 Startup Weekend, seasoned entrepreneurs and industry professionals mentored more than 50 startup company executives connected to Innovate Mississippi in 2019. When members of the network, comprised of roughly 30 innovative founders and business leaders, met for strategic planning last year, they developed ideas for activities that will help them better connect with mentees, said Tasha Bibb, director of entrepreneurial development for Innovate Mississippi. Bibb said the plan for 2020 is to recruit more mentors and implement more regular convenings of mentors and entrepreneurs through events such as monthly CONNECT gatherings and the annual Accelerate conference so that there will be more opportunities for interaction. “When an entrepreneur has a specific gap that begs for an individual with that experience, it’s a value-add to be able to go to the network and pair the entrepreneur with a mentor,” Bibb said. “We also have mentors that have general knowledge and experience in building businesses. We will work to recruit more of both types.” Jim Lowery said he agreed to serve as a mentor because it’s hard to get an early-stage technology company off the ground, especially in Mississippi. “Anything that I can contribute of value to the effort of that entrepreneur or team gives me personal satisfaction,” said Lowery, managing director of strategy with mTrade. “It is always rewarding for me to hear the words ‘you were right’ when the advice you gave the entrepreneur turns out to be spot on.” Lowery, who has worked closely with the Mississippi Angel Investor Network and Mississippi Seed Fund, said he always encourages mentees to think big when planning

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their strategies. Too often, he said, people believe they have to think small just because they are in Mississippi. “We need lots of early-stage technology companies in all different kinds of markets to be successful in Mississippi to move the needle,” Lowery explained. “Hopefully, the companies that I get involved with can be successful in their own right and contribute to the overall success around the state. This success will create jobs and wealth for our citizens.” Lowery, like Bibb, wants to see more mentors join the network, especially those with experience in finance, sales

“It’s a value-add to be able to go to the network and pair the entrepreneur with a mentor.” and marketing, intellectual property law, fundraising, and general business strategy. “We all tend to have opinions and expertise based on our own experiences in our careers,” said Lowery. “We need mentors from different industries and markets with various skill sets to assist these entrepreneurs and teams with their issues.”


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ANGEL FUNDS Regional angel funds are becoming a reality in Mississippi. In 2019, the North Mississippi Angel Fund made its first investments. The fund led a $500,000 round for fintech startup Bidmoni, and it closed the first tranche of a $2 million round for Lobaki, a virtual reality startup. The North Mississippi Angel Fund was the first regional, member-managed fund in the state, and it serves as a model for those to come. “The angel funds work in parallel with the Mississippi Angel Investor Network, where individual investors can make decisions about funding startups,” said Tony Jeff, president and CEO of Innovate Mississippi. The Central Mississippi fund was created and announced in 2019. The fund opened for investment in early 2020 and expects to be open through April 30, 2020. Angel investors must be accredited investors as defi-

ned by the Securities and Exchange Commission. They buy into each angel fund that they want to participate in, generally buying “units” of $25,000 or $50,000, which then is invested in promising companies on the decisions of the fund members. Preliminary discussions with investors and partners have taken place for two other angel funds: Oxford/Delta and South Mississippi. Jeff expects work to begin on those in 2020. “We want to give investors options on how they invest and how they become involved in these early-stage companies,” Jeff said. “And, we want to give the companies an easier process to engage with investors. Angel funds make both of those a reality.” For more information, contact Tony Jeff at 601-960-3610 or tjeff@innovate.ms.

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REACTIVE SURFACES Reactive Surfaces has been doing cool stuff with coatings for many years. By adding enzymes and other bio-molecular additives to polymer coatings, Reactive Surfaces can create solutions that seem a little like science fiction: self-cleaning grout and surfaces that de-grease themselves, requiring only a wipe with a towel to keep clean. In late 2018, they decided to take on what Steve McDaniel, co-founder and chief technologist, called the “Moon Shot.” After reading reports in October 2018 that stressed the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, McDaniel wondered if living cells could be added to paint, where they could perform photosynthesis, thus pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and turning it into cellulose for products. “This past June, we had done it. We had photosynthetic algae in coatings that fix carbon and produce cellulose.” As their carbon-capture technology continues to improve in the lab, it’s also getting noticed by the scientific community. Papers they’ve written on the technology are up for awards at conferences such as the Waterborne Symposium in New Orleans and the American Coatings Conference. Beth McDaniel, president of the company, is a presenter

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at the European Coatings Leading Women’s Conference in Finland, where part of her presentation will recommend the formation of a consortium of industry leaders and academics to fully explore and exploit the potential of carbon capture coatings, or CCCs. “(Reactive Surfaces) can perfect this technology and continue working on it, but we don’t do anything beyond commercialization,” she said. “We license the technology to paint companies, and they manufacture and distribute. We’ve always been an innovation and technology-development company.” Steve McDaniel said there’s no other company he’s aware of that is putting algae in paint to capture carbon or nitrogen. While other initiatives focus on planting trees to process atmospheric carbon, Reactive Surfaces envisions creating farms of “massively iterated vertical surfaces,” or MIVS, which can remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and turn them into useful byproducts such as cellulose and ammonia. Eventually, the paint could have architectural, industrial, and marine applications as well—something that Reactive Surfaces is very interested in seeing their licensing partners


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engineer and bring to market. And planting trees to capture carbon has its challenges, too. “Beth has a graphic in her presentation. To plant a trillion trees, you’d need a surface area equivalent to the Continental United States,” he said. “And the trees won’t pull down carbon dioxide for 20 to 30 years.” Using CCC-MIVS technology, a surface area equivalent to the Samoan Islands would have the same effect, he said, and as soon as it was installed, it would start capturing carbon. McDaniel gives credit to Innovate Mississippi and the University of Southern Mississippi, where their laboratories have been for over ten years, for the success they’ve enjoyed in their quest to use rugged biological additives to chemical coatings. “We started at North Dakota State, then moved to a university in Florida. We were looking for a home. Although those places were OK, when we finally found the University of Southern Mississippi, it’s so pro-business… they came in right away and started helping us,” McDaniel said. As a long-term tenant at USM’s Accelerator, the symbiotic relationship and USM’s focus on polymers has been a big win for the company, according to McDaniel. “We’re not leaving Mississippi to go back to Texas, because this doesn’t exist in Texas.” McDaniel notes that Innovate Mississippi has been a reliable partner and champion of Reactive Surfaces, both through networking and via the Mississippi Seed Fund, which loaned Reactive Surfaces money to explore the possibilities with anti-microbial additives to coatings. He said Innovate has done a fantastic job of connecting them with other entrepreneurs in the state, and helping them raise their profile through events and funding.

Aside from improving their technology in the lab and building a CCC consortium to expand on the technology as fully as possible, Reactive Surfaces has already filed patents, created relationships and formed businesses in China, by far the largest carbon emitter in the world. Steve McDaniel said that, even though China is still building coal-fired plants, it’s also aggressive in see-

“When you’re pulling carbon out of the air, you can trade that as a commodity.” king carbon-capture solutions. “We hope to be able to have a large impact in China very quickly,” he said. Beth McDaniel feels that because much of the world’s leading nations and scientists assign a great deal of urgency to the problem posed by greenhouse gases, CCC will have a massive impact on the world economy going forward. “The economics of it are out of this world. When you’re pulling carbon out of the air, you can trade that as a commodity,” she said. “It, economically, will be like no industry we’ve ever seen.”

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Innovate Mississippi hosts and promotes several events throughout the year to inspire creativity and connections for entrepreneurs, investors, and service providers throughout the state. From Startup Weekend to Mississippi New Venture Challenge to our annual Accelerate conference, here are some highlights from our 2019 calendar. SECTION

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SMART PEOPLE. SMART BUSINESS. SMART SOLUTIONS. We solve problems by improving business practices and technology. Technology should be used to make a business more profitable and more efficient. We don't believe in selling cool technology just because it's cool.

THAT'S THE PILEUM DIFFERENCE.

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STARTUP WEEKEND JACKSON From March 1-3, 2019, about 50 people took part in TechStar’s Startup Weekend Jackson, an intensive business accelerator program that Innovate Mississippi organized at Coalesce Coworking in downtown Jackson. Participants began by each presenting a business idea to the group. The group voted six of those ideas through to the next level, and then created teams around those ideas. Those “companies” then researched the market, interviewed customers, honed their core idea, and built prototypes or presentations to describe their product. For the final step, each company pitched to a panel of judges, and three of them walked away with prizes. Grant Carlisle was the professional facilitator that Techstars flew in for 2019’s Startup Weekend Jackson. He told the story of a team that started with one idea but made a significant “pivot” to their final service based on research and feedback. The team’s initial product was an app that would help its users break bad habits. They quickly realized that there were already strong competitors on the market. Then, after interviewing a manager at Planet Fitness, they altered their idea. The company decided to create a solution to the problem the gym

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manager has when members miss their personal-trainer appointments. “This past year, we saw teams do a good job of absorbing the feedback from the mentors and market research,” said Tasha Bibb, director of entrepreneurial development for Innovate Mississippi. “Their activities over the weekend made me feel like they got the value of the event.” Carlisle points out that, nationally, only about 12 percent of Startup Weekend “companies” move past the weekend and continue working on their product or service. “What you’re getting is practice with the tenets of entrepreneurship. You pitch your idea on Friday; share ideas and listen to ideas from your team; then teams share skills,” Carlisle said. “Ultimately, you walk away with this new network. You have a handful of people you know well, and you’ve had meals with 3050 people you can re-reference.” For Startup Weekend Jackson 2019, the teams were judged by a panel that included Richard Sun, director of the Mississippi Coding Academies Jackson; Kristen Ley, founder and CEO of Thimblepress in Jackson; Charles “Bubba” Weir, managing principal of Innovative Ventures of Mississippi; Hartman Holliman, director of the IT Project Management office at UMMC; Nashlie Sephus, an artificial intelligence expert at Amazon and founder of The Bean Path; and Ivan Walker, software development engineer at Amazon. Three teams placed in the final day’s competition. In third place was LifeVault, an app for cloud storage of essential household and legal documents, so that a user could securely upload and access everything in one location. Trendy Tots won second place with their fashion line for “big and tall” toddlers. M2 World won first place, pitching an app designed to connect international students on a college campus. Their tool allows experienced international students to mentor first-year students while creating a network for mutual support. When explicitly asked for his impressions of Startup Weekend 2019 in Jackson, Carlisle points to the role that Innovate Mississippi plays. “It’s super rare to have a ‘Tasha,’” Carlisle said, referring to the experience that Bibb brings to these events. “The fact that these events have been ongoing for 15 consecutive years; that the lead organization is Innovate Mississippi; that the lead organizer is Tasha—is special. The average organizer lasts three to four years, an organization for maybe five to ten years.”

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The 11th Annual Mississippi New Venture Challenge Pitch Competition, produced by Innovate Mississippi, saw startup companies from all over the state of Mississippi pitch their companies in one of three categories based on their company’s current status: Pre-Revenue, Post-Revenue, and Student. The annual pitch competition, which took place on October 3, 2019, at the Clyde Muse Center in Pearl, Mississippi, drew over 30 competing startup founders who gave pitches attended by entrepreneurs, investors, and mentors who are part of Mississippi’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. First-place winners were MiCare Path (Pre-Revenue), EasyKale, LLC (Post-Revenue), and Crystal Game Works (Student). “Mississippi New Venture Challenge enables Mississippi startups to pitch when there is money on the line,” said Tony Jeff, president and CEO of Innovate Mississippi. “It’s gratifying to see the work these companies put in, and the experience they gain is invaluable.” Founders and executives from each competing company had just 10 minutes to pitch their startup to the judges by explaining their product or service, projecting their revenues, and


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2019 Mississippi New Venture Challenge Winners Student Division:

First Place: Crystal Game Works ($3000 from Spartan Mosquito) Second Place: Hickman Farms ($2000 from Mississippi Development Authority) Third Place: CampGem ($1000 from Smartzweb)

Pre-Revenue Division:

First Place: MiCare ($3000 from Spartan Mosquito) Second Place: Citizen Health ($2000 from Bradley) Third Place: Convoloop ($1000 from Spark Outbound) communicating what makes them unique. The founders then took questions from judges in a two-minute lightning round; after that, the next presenters hit the stage with less than 60 seconds to get rolling. “We hope participants found value in each part of the process, from working one-on-one with a mentor to going through the exercise of developing a succinct and effective presentation,” said Tasha Bibb, director of entrepreneurial development for Innovate Mississippi. “Our goal is to offer several opportunities for growth.” Each division had a panel of judges, with a mix of successful entrepreneurs, industry professionals, and investors who all specialize in startup businesses. “It was wonderful hearing the pitches from such a diverse set of businesses,” said Jim Lowery, managing director of strategy for mTrade, who was a judge in the post-revenue division. “Although very different in their respective markets, they all feature a founder with a vision to solve a specific problem and create a company while doing it. EasyKale is a great example of this, as they are leveraging technical innovation to deliver healthy food to the market.” In the post-revenue competition, EasyKale LLC, took first place, which included a $3000 cash prize sponsored by Spartan Mosquito. EasyKale offers USDA-organic powdered kale, in a shake-on container, that features the nutritional benefits of “superfood” kale, but in a less-bitter form. The idea is to shake kale on other foods or add it to recipes and smoothies. In the pre-revenue competition, startup MiCare Path also won $3000 from Spartan Mosquito. The company offers a simple application designed to provide custom care paths and health monitoring for 127 million people who have musculoskeletal pain and disease but who aren’t yet candidates for surgery. Crystal Game Works LLC took first place in the student competition with Kaylin Brassfield’s pitch to develop story-driven video games and graphic novels for a young

Post-Revenue Division:

First Place: EasyKale ($3000 from Spartan Mosquito) Second Place: Rocketing Systems ($2000 from Fuse.Cloud & ThinkWebstore) Third Place: CampusKnot ($1000 from Jones Walker)

“It’s gratifying to see the work these companies put in, and the experience they gain is invaluable. female market. Bassfield’s company, which has already released 20 games with over 35,000 downloads, also won $3000 from Spartan Mosquito. “Each year, the Mississippi New Venture Challenge seems to give several new companies momentum,” Jeff said. “The more these startups pitch, get feedback, and take home some cash to put toward marketing and development, the more likely they are to move on to seed funding, angel funding, and get their product in the market.”

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ACCELERATE: 20TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE ON TECHNOLOGY INNOVATION

With the highest attendance we’ve had in years, Accelerate: The 2019 Conference on Technology Innovation in Mississippi was a huge success for us at Innovate Mississippi and our many partners and sponsors. The two-day event, which was powered by mTrade, was held at the Westin in Jackson, Miss. on November 12 and 13, 2019. “We are excited to see this conference build each year thanks in part to the strengthening of our partnerships across the state,” said Janet Parker, director of business development & marketing at Innovate Mississippi. “There is a lot of momentum as we move into 2020 to work together to improve the innovation ecosystem, especially for startups.” The conference launched after lunch on Tuesday, November 12th, with the Company and Investor Spotlight (see page 90), followed by a cocktail reception for speakers and sponsors who enjoyed some early-evening networking as sponsors finished setting up their Innovation Alley booths. Entertainment was, appropriately enough, provided by Jeffrey Rupp, the multi-talented guitar-playing director of outreach for the Mississippi State University College of Business. Wednesday kicked off with a breakfast keynote by newly elected Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann, who offered a look at the economy he’d studied and promoted as Mississippi Secretary of State. Hosemann noted that since the state’s economy is near full employment, the goal now is two-fold: to increase participation in the labor market and to encourage high-school graduates into higher-paying jobs. Hosemann specifically encouraged the companies participating at Accelerate 2019 to reach out to high-schoolers with internship and mentorship opportunities, and he shouted out programs like the Mississippi Coding Academies for giving students from under-privileged circumstances an opportunity for higher-paying work. The second half of the breakfast program was a discussion of web security issues; moderator Joel Lawhead, CIO of

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EV NVision Solutions, guided an expert panel through a wide range of cybersecurity issues and concerns, ranging from Mississippi higher education challenges to those faced by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. The group emphasized the systems that need to be in place to avoid “phishing” and other human-error (or social engineering) attacks that can lead to data breaches or even monetary loss if your company doesn’t train employees to avoid those scams. After breakfast and a networking break, Accelerate 2019 broke into two tracks: “Block and Tackle” and “Big Ideas.” The Block and Tackle track featured six talks on different aspects of the startup journey, from customer validation (and pivoting based on customer feedback) to building your customer base, fundraising, marketing, and encouraging your team. Participants included startup attorney Matthew McLaughlin; marketing expert Jonathan Sellers, entrepreneurs Hagan Walker, Anna Barker and Loren Stark; Innovate Mississippi’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence Bruce Deer; and project management expert Judy Johnson. On the second track, “Big Ideas,” three visionary entrepreneurs offered their thoughts. Entrepreneur Jeremy Hirsch told his story of fast growth for Spartan Mosquito, the Hattiesburg-based startup that’s grown to over $100 million in revenue in two years. Joe Stradinger of EdgeTheory talked about combining human and machine intelligence to improve marketing outcomes. Dr. Nashlie Sephus spoke about her exciting work with Amazon’s “Fairness in Artificial Intelligence” team, and how they’re working to make sure AI isn’t discriminatory or problematic for human rights. While the content tracks were going on, entrepreneurs met with mentors and service providers in the VIP Investor and Mentor Lounge. The VIP Investor Lounge enables startup CEOs to bounce ideas off VIPs Bill Rayburn and Lois Lovelady of mTrade; investors Jan and Lawrence Farrington; and Ben Walton, president of the Mississippi Angel Fund, L.P. Simultaneously, in the Mentor Lounge, entrepreneurs could meet with specialists in marketing, legal services, and accounting—to get a quick evaluation of their current systems and challenges. After another opportunity to network, drink more coffee and visit Innovation Alley, everyone moved into the main gallery for the luncheon keynote—a “fireside chat” between Mississippi’s Jim Barksdale (venture capitalist and former CEO of Netscape) and Steve Case, the co-founder and former CEO of America Online, and current chairman of the Case Foundation. Barksdale and Case are long-time friends (AOL acquired Netscape in 1999), and their conversation ranged from talking about the “Dot Com” bubble at the end of the 20th century to what Case calls the “Third Wave.” Case believes that the next phase of growth in technology innovation will come from updating older industry sectors, mainly by connecting everyday devices, appliances, and machines to the internet. At the same time, he believes we’ll see the tech industry decentralize so that more of those startup companies succeed in places such as Mississippi. Case is the founder of “Rise of the Rest,” a bus tour (and seed fund) that visits locales and companies outside of Silicon Valley, Boston, and New York to find and invest in promising companies and industries that are likely to be successful in the third wave. When Barksdale pressed Case to return to Mississippi on a future Rise of the Rest tour, Case joked, “I’m here now!” Case said that Mississippi is well poised for high-tech growth, as indicated by impressive attendance at the Accelerate 2019 conference and the quality of startups that he had been able to meet with during his short trip to Jackson. “We’re thrilled at the turnout and feel, now in its 20th year, that the Accelerate conference has exceeded expectations,” said Tony Jeff, president and CEO of Innovate Mississippi. “But it’s an indication of the growth and opportunities we have for innovative startups in the state. We have a fantastic entrepreneurial ecosystem that is only continuing to grow and support startup culture in Mississippi. Innovate Mississippi is pleased to have a role in it, and we’re looking forward to an exciting new year of innovation in 2020.”

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The Voice Of Mississippi Business

The Mississippi Economic Council works to create a robust business climate for all Mississippi companies, no matter the industry or size. We tackle broad issues that affect all Mississippians and shape legislation and initiatives to build a sustainable workforce and the infrastructure our state needs to be economically competitive. Join the more than 11,000 members from 1,100 organizations throughout Mississippi that support MEC. To learn more, go to mec.ms.

MEC Programs

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I N N O V A TP.O. E MBox S 23276 Jackson, MS 39225-3276

Phone: 601-969-0022

www.mec.ms


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UMMC

HIT Forum The 2nd Annual Health Innovation and Transformation (HIT) Forum produced winning ideas that could be life-altering for two of the most vulnerable sectors of the population: senior citizens suffering from dementia and children with behavioral disorders. Hosted by the University of Mississippi Medical Center in May, the HIT competition consisted of five participants who advanced from a pool of 20. Innovate Mississippi and WeHealth, a division of French pharmaceutical company Servier, sponsored the event and selected the winners. Teresa Clayton’s Engage 360 invention won the Innovate Mississippi prize, which includes coaching and incubation support from Innovate Mississippi. Anne Morrow’s GraciYes concept received the WeHealth award, for which she earned a trip to the Plug and Play Summer Summit in Sunnyvale, Calif. “Both of the winners had ideas that improve human connection,” said Terrence Hibbert, director of innovation at UMMC. “Annie’s use of clever technology stands a real chance of helping parents understand the little things they can do to improve their relationship with their children. Teresa’s, at the other end of the connection spectrum, aims to help grandparents and grandchildren spend more time together. The benefits of these ideas are intuitive and significant.” Engage 360 is a shared virtual reality experience that allows users to enjoy a video tour together from the comfort of their living rooms. Clayton came up with the concept because she wanted her children to be able to watch VR videos with her grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s, when they visit her in the nursing home, without having to take turns using the headset. When she couldn’t find a pop-up 360 projection dome that allows four people to sit inside and experience it together, she set out to create one. “I believe the judges agreed this idea would solve a problem and would be marketable to a large segment given the aging population we have today,” said Clayton, a business and clinical operations supervisor at UMMC. “I also believe the idea of using the VR sets for therapeutic applications

with dementia patients intrigued the judges at the medical center.” Innovate Mississippi connected Clayton with Lobaki, Inc., and the two are experimenting with ideas to create the technology. Once she has a shared VR experience that assisted living facilities can provide for residents and their families, Clayton hopes to implement pilot programs at multiple facilities. In Morrow’s experience working with children with treatment-resistant disruptive behaviors such as ADHD, the research-focused clinical psychologist discovered that caregivers need help repeatedly complimenting positive behavior, which is one of the best treatment techniques. She co-created a mHealth application that would serve as a gratitude tracker, leveraging machine learning to count the number of affirmative sentences recorded by a user, much like a pedometer counts steps. The verbal gratitude tracker can serve as an add-on to therapy or a stand-alone app. “The idea is that it is hard to remember to stay positive when you are dealing with challenging behaviors,” said Morrow, who recently graduated from Florida International University after completing a pre-doctoral internship at UMMC. “I chose to highlight this project in the UMMC competition as one example of the kind of work that I do to train others to serve children with challenging behavior.” Morrow came up with the concept by brainstorming with her fiance’, a technology executive in the start-up world. Over time, they decided to collaborate. “Winning the competition was very validating for me,” she said. “Sometimes, I feel my enthusiasm for the possible impact of technology on youth mental health problems is ignored. I feel like, finally, I was heard loud and clear.” Hibbert said the annual competition is important to UMMC, as Mississippi’s only academic medical center and one of the state’s largest employers. “UMMC wants to use this as leverage to recognize and encourage health innovations and entrepreneurship to further its mission to improve the health of Mississippians,” said Hibbert.

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Opening May 2020

We are more than just a professional workspace provider. We are a community driven support team that empowers your business. Take a tour of the space to learn more.

flowood.ms@officeevolution.com | (601) 906-7995 | www.officeevolution.com/location/flowood-jackson

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Furnished Office Space | Conference Rooms | Business Services | Shared Workspace I N N OVAT E M S Community | Staffed Reception | Network of Locations


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LEGISLATIVE OPEN HOUSE Each year, at Innovate Mississippi opens our doors during the Mississippi legislative season to express appreciation for our legislators and their dedication to Mississippi-based entrepreneurs. The event also serves the practical purpose of allowing legislators to hear directly from entrepreneurs and investors. In 2019, we held the event on March 5, 2019, at the Innovate Mississippi offices and rooftop patio in downtown Jackson. This year we invited entrepreneurs to set up booths to showcase their companies in a trade-show fashion, and give attendees an opportunity to learn more about new innovations taking place in the state.

Legislators and others from the business community also had an opportunity to experience virtual and augmented reality first hand with the Lobaki team. Lobaki, a VR and AR content-creation lab based in Jackson, is a high-growth company that aims to make Mississippi a hub in the coming “extended reality” computing revolution. We’ll hold the event again in 2020, along with a new series of networking events for entrepreneurs, service providers, and investors called “CONNECT.” Check Innovate.ms/calendar for details.

MAGNOLIAJS Anybody wondering if Mississippi’s first-ever technology developer conference was a success need only look at the numbers. And there are plenty of them. J.C. Hiatt, founder and organizer of MagnoliaJS, said the twoday April JavaScript event, which he planned in just six weeks, exceeded his expectations. With zero dollars spent on marketing (thanks to social media), he attracted about 130 attendees, at least 30 percent of whom came from out of state. “The goal of MagnoliaJS was to put Mississippi on the map in the developer community around the country,” said the Jackson-based software engineer and developer. “As a conference attendee and speaker who has been to many conferences, I wanted to provide an experience that would rival other conferences I have attended. “Mississippi had never had a developer conference before, and I wanted to ensure if people flew in that they left with a good impression of our developer community. I also wanted to provide a source of pride and motivation for the few developers who are here, that they may aspire to keep pushing themselves towards

excellence and thus make our developer community in Mississippi stronger.” With that early momentum, Hiatt quickly raised $18,000. “I started 10 weeks out, which is unheard of, and finished about 6x weeks in. A lot of this was thanks to the amazing developer community on Twitter, who helped me spread the word and gave tips and advice along the way. Everyone loved how I ‘planned in public.’” Attendees, who represented the gamut of skill levels from students to senior architects and CTOs, were on average juniorto-mid-level web developers. As for presenters, Laurie Voss, Ken Wheeler, and Jay Phelps, prominent figures in the JavaScript ecosystem, all attracted a crowd, Hiatt said. The conference received such positive feedback that Hiatt has scheduled the next MagnoliaJS for April 15-17, 2020. This time, there will be two days of talks, instead of just one. For more information about the next MagnoliaJS conference, visit https://magnoliajs.com/.

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Invites you to explore Madison County, Mississippi

DID YOU KNOW?

»»»

madisoncountyeda.com

LOCATED IN MISSISSIPPI’S LARGEST METROPOLITAN (MSA) - JACKSON, MS MSA, MADISON COUNTY HAS THE 2ND HIGHEST MILLENNIAL GROWTH IN MISSISSIPPI (2019)

110,300

6.0% GROWTH

588,000

MADISON COUNTY

JACKSON, MS MSA

(IN THE PAST 5 YEARS)

$230,265 - MEDIAN HOUSING VALUE IN LANGUAGE ARTS $69,722 - MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME

MADISON COUNTY SCHOOLS

TOP

3

BASED ON ACT SCORES

“A+ GRADE” MADISON COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS

MOST STAR STUDENTS

91.8%

#1 IN MISSISSIPPI

HIGH SCHOOL DEGREE OR HIGHER

68.5% LABOR FORCE PARTICIPATION RATE

TOP 3 99 INDEX COST OF LIVING

$115.34 Relative Value of $100 in Mississippi

ROSS BARNETT RESERVOIR HAS OVER 33,000 ACRES OF SURFACE AREA PERFECT FOR FISHING, SAILING, AND WATER SPORTS.

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MEDIAN AGE

10.5%

19.1% PROFESSIONAL PRIDE

11.4% BOOMBURBS

YOUNG & RESTLESS

Prof/Mgmt - College Degree

Prof/Mgmt - College Degree

Svcs/Prof - College Degree

Married/Single Family Houses

Married/Single Family Houses

Singles/Multi-Unit Rentals

Upgraded Homes / 401(k) Own 2-3 Vehicles Latest Gadgets 40.8 Yrs Old / $132K

Gym Memberships Mortgage / SUVs Latest Gadgets 33.7 Yrs Old / $111K

Bank Online / Go Dancing Buy Organic / Love Music Redeem Coupons Apps 29.6 Yrs Old / $38K

MADISON COUNTY BOASTS MANY MILES OF NATURAL SURFACE, MULTI-USE, AND PAVED BIKE TRAILS.

562

RESTAURANTS

TAPESTRY SEGMENTS

37.4

MADISON “THE CITY” VOTED BEST PLACE TO LIVE IN MISSISSIPPI (2016, 2017 & 2018)

58

PARKS

THE TOWN OF FLORA IS HOME TO VARIOUS SUSTAINABLE PRODUCE FARMS SUPPLYING THE JACKSON MSA AND BEYOND, INCLUDING A CSA PROGRAM

639

CHURCHES

THE CANTON FLEA MARKET IS VOTED AS A “TOP TWENTY EVENT IN THE SOUTHEAST” BY SOUTHEAST TOURISM SOCIETY

485 RETAIL

SINCE 2006, SANTÉ SOUTH HAS GROWN INTO THE LARGEST WINE AND CULINARY EXTRAVAGANZA IN THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

14

GOLF COURSES

RIDGELAND WAS NAMED THE 2018 HEALTHIEST HOMETOWN AND IS A BRONZE LEVEL BICYCLE FRIENDLY COMMUNITY

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MUSEUMS


Where Public Meets Private

Coming Together for The Betterment of All

The Madison County Economic Development Authority is a public entity that offers a broad array of economic development, business development, and corporate site location assistance services to new and expanding businesses and industry. The Madison County Business League & Foundation is a private, stakeholder-based support organization that works with business owners and decision makers to discuss topics that affect economic development. Together, we continue to build upon the economic development infrastructure of Madison County. We recognize and salute the industry and businesses for the contribution they make towards our quality of life.

135 Mississippi Parkway, Canton, MS 39046 601.605.0368 | madisoncountyeda.com

135 Mississippi MS I N Parkway, N O V A T ECanton, .MS 8 7 39046 601.832.5592 | madisoncountybusinessleague.com


BOARD OF

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Richard A. Sun, CFA Executive Committee

R. Barry Cannada Executive Committee

Jan Farrington Executive Committee

R. Mayo Flynt III Executive Committee

Founder & Owner Sun & Co. Jackson, MS

Chairman Butler Snow - Business Dept. Ridgeland, MS

Ridgeland, MS

President AT&T Mississippi Jackson, MS

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Ashby Foote Executive Committee

Michael H. Forster Executive Committee

Matthew L. Holleman III Executive Committee

President Vector Money Management Jackson, MS

Former CEO Commercequest, Inc. Louisville, MS

President & CEO Galaxie Corporation Jackson, MS

William M. Mounger II Executive Committee

William Rayburn, Ph.D. Executive Committee

Flowood, MS

Chairman & CEO mTrade Oxford, MS


DIRECTORS

Greg Cronin Private Sector

Dave Dennis Private Sector

Mark Henderson Private Sector

Tony Jeff Private Sector

President & CEO Charter Bank Biloxi, MS

President Specialty Contractors & Assoc. Gulfport, MS

Cofounder Lazy Magnolia Loglinear Group, LLC Waveland, MS

President & CEO Innovate Mississippi Jackson, MS

Brad McMullan Private Sector

Rodney Bennett, Ed.D. Public Sector

Glenn Boyce, Ph.D. Public Sector

William Bynum II, Ph.D. Public Sector

President BFAC.com Ridgeland, MS

President University of Southern Mississippi Hattiesburg, MS

Chancellor University of Mississippi Oxford, MS

President Jackson State University Jackson, MS

Mark Keenum, Ph.D. Public Sector

Andrea Scott Mayfield, Ph.D. Public Sector

Al Rankins, Jr., Ph.D. Public Sector

President Mississippi State University Starkville, MS

Executive Director Mississippi Community College Board Jackson, MS

Commissioner of Higher Education Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning // Jackson, MS

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COMPANY & INVESTOR SPOTLIGHT Entrepreneurs from 12 Mississippi startups pitched their companies to investors during the Company and Investor Spotlight in November 2019. As part of Accelerate: The Conference on Technology Innovation, the number of pitches was the highest ever, said Tasha Bibb, director of entrepreneurial development for Innovate Mississippi. The event also had the largest audience ever, with more than 80 people in attendance, up from around 50 in previous years, Bibb said. The C&I Spotlight showcases companies that have recently raised investor capital or will do so soon, making them investor-ready. A critical goal of Innovate Mississippi is to help companies develop their businesses to the point that they are ready to accept outside funding from angel investors and seed funds. Bibb said the entrepreneurs pitching had exciting products and business models that show promise. “The key takeaway is to determine ways to achieve some initial validation of your technology and market, as evidence that your concept may work,” Bibb said. “Investors don’t require entrepreneurs to build the product completely and

generate a large amount of revenue, but they do want to see empirical evidence that suggests that the market exists and that the technology fulfills a need for customers.” Bibb said that through pitch competitions and one-on-one mentoring, Innovate Mississippi helps entrepreneurs identify ways to get validation of the market potential for their product or service on a small scale, without spending lots of money and time. At the C&I Spotlight, the United States Patent and Trademark office shared a presentation on programs available to inventors and entrepreneurs and talked to some attendees one-on-one. Between company pitch sessions, Innovate Mississippi scheduled investor panels, because attendees love hearing what investors require before they will invest in startups, Bibb said. The investor panels were also designed to encourage more investors to get involved. “With the development of new funds and networks in Mississippi, we wanted to provide potential investors with more information on what it means to invest in early-stage tech businesses,” Bibb said.


When opportunity knocks,

weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll hold the door open for you. For 10 years, the MSU Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach has helped students plan, launch, and grow successful local and global companies. Learn how we help students create jobs for themselves, others, and contribute to a thriving Mississippi startup community across Mississippi. Visit us online at ecenter.msstate.edu

Profile for Innovate Mississippi

Innovation Report 2020  

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