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A Mississippi Business Journal Q&A

Company CEO discusses Mississippians’ tech future

JACKSON — John Spivey, founder and CEO of Vention, a Jackson-based application developer, became interested in technology by way of cultural studies. As a doctoral student at the University of Kansas, he became “fascinated with the transition of the Internet from a purely academic phenomenon to a viable business tool,” as he put it.

Spivey centered his studies on tracking the evolution of American business as they began adopting Internet technologies.

But instead of merely teaching these processes, Spivey decided to head off on his own and begin a company.

“I just thought I’d have a lot more fun creating a company that does this rather than teaching it 20 years from now,” he said.

Then, the company was Moonlight Media and it grew fairly slowly for many years. But Spivey discovered there was a huge market in the middle market area. He and his management team helped to grow the company and get more funding.

“We went overnight from 20 employees to more than 70 employees,” he said.

Now called Vention, Spivey and his management team raised more than $5.7 million this year alone to grow the company. His goal: to have 200 developers in Jackson by the end of 2001.

Businesses now hire Vention to build business applications that are Web-based. They help companies with $100 million to $1 billion in annual revenues to move main frame or legacy-based applications to the Web. They have three different vertical markets: financial services, retail consumer and manufacturing. In addition, Vention is planning to work in the health care market as well.

Vention’s mission statement, “to provide today’s most advanced e-business solutions by listening to our clients, by understanding their business, and by contributing to their success by our ability to translate vision into technological reality — all at a price and level of quality that provides true value,” sums up their thoughts.

Spivey spent a few minutes with the Mississippi Business Journal to explain what may be in store for Mississippi’s technological future and to talk a little about his company.

Mississippi Business Journal: What do you think about Jackson becoming the next technology center of the South?

John Spivey: I think that opportunity certainly exists. The fact that a company like Vention can live and thrive in Jackson is a testimony to the area’s ability to cultivate a dominant technology environment. However, I think it is going to take a united effort from local and state governments, as well as private businesses, to boost Jackson to this level of prominence.

To be known as the “technology center of the South,” I think the city needs to really focus on providing sound reasons (real cooperation, tangible economic incentives, etc.) for companies to want to locate and stay in Jackson. While many positive things are happening today, I think we are still missing opportunities to build Jackson as the South’s technology center.

MBJ: How does technology fit into the overall economic scene in Mississippi?

JS: Today it’s not much bigger than in other cities. However, it has a chance to be one of the biggest factors economically if we act now. In the best of ways technology provides a domino effect to the economic climate of Mississippi. First, new high-tech companies, like Vention, provide a wealth of new technology-centered jobs within the state. This not only creates sound reasons for Mississippians to remain “at home” to work, but it also serves to attract much sought after talent from out-of-state to join our communities.

Secondly, the existence of this new work force has a direct impact on our economy…home purchases, retail activity, schooling, etc.

Finally, the existence of a high-tech work culture throughout the state is an attractive feature for other types of businesses looking to start-up or re-locate to a technology-savvy environment. This collective effect creates a positive overall economic impact for the state.

MBJ: In what ways do the Internet and the new e-business economy affect the everyday lives of Mississippians?

JS: Where should I start? The short answer is “every way.”

From business-to-business interchange, to the retail shopping experience, to the access and interaction with “everyday” information, the Internet and new e-business economy has, and will continue to change, the way Mississippians live and work. Today, hundreds of Mississippi companies are re-aligning their businesses with streamlined e-business processes. New companies are sprouting up to exclusively service the new economy needs of Mississippians. Soccer moms and stay-at-home spouses are even affected today by Internet and wireless technologies. A year ago many of these people didn’t know about Amazon.com, gap.com, or cdnow.com — now, these sites are mainstays in our vocabulary.

The bottom line, we have just begun to see the changes and improvements the Internet and the e-business economy is capable of creating in our state. Over the next three years, I’m convinced we will see this new economy extend further into our everyday lifestyles, (smart appliances, browsers for our automobiles, advancements in handheld devices, etc.) not to mention the continuous effect the Internet will have on the business climate within the state — improved efficiencies, lower cost of production, enhanced customer communication/interaction, etc.

MBJ: How is the face of e-commerce changing in Jackson and in Mississippi?

JS: I think the biggest change we are seeing is the migration from e-commerce to full-blown e-business. What I mean by this is that companies are quickly maturing past simplified e-commerce applications.

Instead, they are planning long-term investments and strategies that link all types of Internet-related technologies into their organizations. Intranets, Extranets and wireless applications all form parts of this e-business initiative.

The result of this re-positioning is that companies will soon begin to base business and economic relationships on the e-business synergies they can create with other businesses and clients.

This is a far more extensive goal than simply building an e-commerce storefront. Rather, this is a whole new way of organizing and executing business strategy.

MBJ: How does a Web applications developer in Mississippi compete for employees with the “big guys” in Silicon Valley and on the East Coast?

JS: Our recruiting model is based on finding the best and the brightest talent from within our geographic region first. We have been extremely successful with this approach so far. We offer employees an environment, compensation package and growth opportunity that few employers can match around here. While we have hired employees from outside the Southeast, we have found an abundant source of top talent in our own backyard. I think Mississippians in particular are excited to find a company like Vention where they can build their careers without having to leave the state.

MBJ: How does your company ready traditional businesses for the Internet marketplace?

JS: Vention offers its clients a single source for the comprehensive range of services required to identify, design, develop and launch e-business solutions. Our mission statement is “to create evolving technology solutions that have a positive, measurable impact for our clients.”

We do this by listening to our clients, understanding their business, advising them on technology, and evolving solutions to meet their business vision.

At Vention we specialize in developing Intranets, Extranets, e-commerce systems and wireless technology solutions for middle-market clients in the financial services, manufacturing and retail m
arkets.

MBJ: Do you see anything on the technology horizon that
excites you?

JS: Everythin

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