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AbsoCom hopes to bring broadband access to rural communities

Ridgeland — Ike Fowler, the founder of AbsoCom Corporation, wants to show the world that Mississippi can take the lead in using technology for economic development. That’s no small order for an engineer born and raised in New York City who conceptualized his business there and relocated here two years ago.

“I’m not a typical business man,” he said. “This company was created on Biblical principles with Nehemiah, chapters one through six, as the business model with a 21st century spin on it.”

Fowler says that when the man upstairs told him to go to Mississippi, he came although he had no ties here. He has made the transition and now considers himself a Mississippian. His company is a service provider that hopes to improve the quality of life in rural communities.

“People are initially shocked but those who understand it, love it,” he said. “They realize it’s something that should have been done.”

AbsoCom was the first tenant of the Mississippi Technology Alliance’s Innovation Center and is making its presence known to the general public with an official opening this week. MTA’s mission is to champion science and technology-based economic development for the state. The Innovation Center, situated on 30 acres in Ridgeland, functions as an incubator for new businesses.

“We are really proud of Ike Fowler because he used the center just as it was intended to be used,” said DeAnna Adams, executive director. “He came and did everything right. We know he will be successful.”

AbsoCom will likely stay in the incubator for another year, said Adams. Businesses are allowed to remain there for five years but three is considered ideal. Fowler used the center’s mentoring, advice, state-of-the-art equipment, space, back office help and low rent to begin and grow his business.

Space ranging from 170 to 5,000 square feet is available at the center. Currently, 77% of the space is leased.

Fowler is enthusiastic about the Innovation Center. “We fit the profile of what they’re trying to do for Mississippi,” he said. “It’s a wonderful environment for businesses to start up.”

With a slogan of “bringing access to the inaccessible,” AbsoCom wants to provide broadband access for rural communities that are seeking to strengthen their economy with access, gathering and distribution of information. Fowler says they are close to final agreements with the towns of Lambert, Itta Bena and Mound Bayou.

“It’s been a long, arduous process. We’ve overcome challenges, did extensive surveys and are running statistical analysis,” he said. “We will present proposals to them.”

He said each community will own its network and the majority of money generated will go back into the community to create locally run businesses. He also sees opportunities for telemedicine and distance learning through video instruction. Another possibility is for communities to link together for massive purchasing power.

Fowler believes these communities can not attract large businesses, but must focus on forming micro enterprises developed entirely out of the resources of the communities. AbsoCom hopes to create business models in these communities and see other state companies create coalitions to further economic development.

“One resource that Delta and rural communities have is human resources,” he said. “A lot of people in the Delta know how to grow stuff and could grow specialty vegetables such as shallots, baby vegetables and certain kinds of lettuce to be sold everywhere.”

Considering the possibilities

Another possibility he sees is to turn the eyesore of discarded automobiles into an online business that sells parts to restorers all over the U.S.

Fowler, 56, sees his seven-employee company as a master provider of services and applications with collaboration as the model. They are partnering with Mississippi Valley State University to provide the necessary liaison with communities. As AbsoCom grows, the focus will be on the states of Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana.

“Literacy in the 21st century is not the ability to have information but to have access to it,” he said.

Heath Hall, MTA’s director of communications, said Fowler is one of the most passionate entrepreneurs he’s ever seen. “He is truly committed to his product and has done an outstanding job of rolling that product out to mainstream Mississippi,” he said. “He’s found a lot of comfort in the Innovation Center with the services provided there and the synergy with other technology business owners.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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