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Innovation Center a hotbed for high-tech entrepreneurs

Jackson — DeAnna Adams, executive director of the Mississippi Technology Alliance’s (MTA’s) Innovation Center, can’t imagine a better job than helping small technology startup companies survive, thrive and grow.

“It is a happening place. I love my job,” Adams said. “The owners of these companies are excited and passionate about what they are doing. They still have stars in their eyes. We have entrepreneurs in their young 20s and some people who retired from lifelong careers and are starting something new. All of them have one thing in common: They all want to be successful. In that process, the young learn from the old and the old are learning from the young.”

Every day is different

That isn’t to say it is an easy job. Working with the diverse high-tech companies is a challenge.

“Every day is different,” Adams said. “They come to us with all kinds of questions, needs and problems that need to be solved. We have 15 companies with 102 employees right now.”

The mission of the Innovation Center is to help with the formation and development of new high-tech enterprises. The center provides proactive, value-added support and education to maximize the success of Mississippi technology companies, which is a pathway to promoting higher wage jobs in Mississippi by developing and nurturing emerging technology companies to become independent and long-term successes.

Adams said networking opportunities, mentoring and the ethical and strong business practices developed while in the Innovation Center are designed to enable graduating companies to be successful in the business world.

Three companies in the technology incubator, in particular, are really making major strides. Adams said they are very hopeful that these companies will accomplish great things in the near future.

One Web site design company, Red Laser Technologies, came in with no clients, and now after a year and a half has 250 clients ranging from governmental agencies to store front businesses. Red Laser Technology did the Web site for the Innovation Center, www.innovationcenter.ms.

AbsoCon Corp. is another company that has done well.

“They are in the process of taking broadband to rural communities,” Adams said. “This is a company we expect to take off any day now. They are installing broadband in our state and rural Louisiana, which is going to bring the rural communities up into the 21st century to allow fast Internet access for everything from medical technology services to education. Communities without broadband are kind of left out of the loop.”

While the tech field has traditionally been male dominated, four companies in the Innovation Center are female owned:

• Patricia Justice, the owner Montage Technologies, moved here recently from California, and is a Microsoft certified systems trainer who does technology consulting.

• Vanessa Taylor is the branch owner of Blackwell Consulting out of Chicago, Ill., a technology consulting firm which has expanded into Mississippi.

• Michele Woodall, owner of the Educational Learning Center, is involved in teaching the software aspect of computing. She does workforce training and has computer labs for children in the summer. She also goes into businesses and trains onsite.

• Pam Readel, president of GeoTech Inc., and her husband, James Readel, have a GIS (geographic information systems) company that uses global satellite positioning information for commercial applications. GIS has many business applications.

In the same boat

“We have a lot going on,” Adams said. “There is a lot of excitement, a lot of camaraderie and cooperation between the clients out here. They are all in the same boat living their dream of opening their own business and being successful at it. Being in an incubator is a great step up for them.”

Studies have shown that 87% of incubator graduates remain in business as opposed to 33% of businesses not incubated. Adams said that shows it is a great advantage to grow up in an incubator environment.

Judging by the number of inquires she gets, the Jackson area is ripe for all types of incubation. There have been inquiries about incubation from artists, caterers, a seamstress and light and heavy manufacturers.

“Entrepreneurial activity is alive and well in Central Mississippi, and I could see us becoming a hub for that kind of activity,” Adams said. “If we had incubators that catered to other areas of business, they would thrive.”

Range of advantages

The advantages of being at the MTA Innovation Center include low rates for monthly rent in a state-of-the-art building at the Jackson State University e-Center. Adams said this gives new businesses a professional business address, and all the amenities they could possibly need to run their business.

“Their cash outflow for this per month is very nominal,” she said.

Services provided include furnished office space, data center access, capital/financing access, marketing assistance, advisory boards, business planning, mentoring/business coaching, client performance review and exit assistance.

The Innovation Center opened a year and a half ago when a large, open space in the building was converted into about 30 offices. Adams said the space is approximately 75% leased, but there is still a number of offices available for people who might be interested in stepping up from working out of their spare room or garage.

“We are here and more than willing to talk to them about that,” she said.

“If you are thinking of moving out of the home office, and are a little worried about the process, please come and talk to me. Or, if you have been in business and are struggling, we have programs in place to help you get over the hump. If nothing else, come out and visit. You might find you are a very good fit for us.”

There haven’t yet been any graduates of the incubator. That usually takes place three to five years after the business opens.

“We have a couple of businesses that are very close,” said Adams, whose 30 years of business ownership experience helps in counseling others. “We are looking forward to that day. And that is the goal. The goal isn’t to stay here indefinitely, but get the technology companies up and running, secure and send them out into the community. And then look for the next startup company.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

About Becky Gillette

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