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MTA Innovation Center hatches high-tech success

Jackson — Soon after the Mississippi Technology Alliance (MTA) opened the Innovation Center in 2003, seven new startup technology companies found a home there.

Today, the Innovation Center is nearly full, and its tenants are making headlines with their high-tech work. Last month, Adrian Jones and Moreh Smith of RedLaser Technology were selected Mississippi’s U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) 2006 Young Entrepreneurs of the Year, and immediately advanced to regional winners in their category. Among other accolades, Jones was also named the Central Mississippi district winner of the 2004 Governor’s Cup Award.

Several incubated companies have recently landed significant contracts, including AbsoCom, a fixed wireless broadband service provider and high-end communications services integrators. A $700,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will allow the company to provide broadband connectivity to rural areas of Mississippi with less than 2,000 people.

Global Security Systems Network (GSS-NET) received a $1.5-million contract with Homeland Security to install satellite dishes in 40 counties as a first responder network. The technology firm developed a chip that can be inserted into pagers, cell phones, PDAs and similar devices to alert responders and provide vital information as an emergency situation develops. The company also developed a homeland security and natural disaster first alert system that uses existing communications infrastructure and the FM broadcast network to allow a text message to be sent via FM radio signal to a designated group of people or to a specific location with an appropriate alert. An embedded GPS capability makes possible targeting a specific location.

RedLaser Technology, which offers Internet and Web-related services to organizations and businesses throughout Mississippi and several other states, has recently landed several significant contracts, said Adams.

“This has been the greatest year for the Mississippi Technology Alliance Innovation Center,” said executive director DeAnna Adams. “All of our companies are working their businesses and we’re on the verge of several other announcements.”

With only one office remaining to rent, the flurry of entrepreneurial activity has spurred MTA to start a final phase, which will provide another 20 offices for startup technology companies.

That’s very good news for small business owners needing high-tech offices at affordable rates. According to the National Business Incubation Association (NBIA), business incubators reduce the risk of small business failures. Historically, NBIA member incubators, of which the MTA Innovation Center is one, have reported 87% of all firms that have graduated from their incubators are still in business, according to a 1997 NBIA report. Tenants typically have three to five years to lease space in the Innovation Center before “graduating” into larger commercial space.

The Innovation Center occupies 30,000 square feet of space within the 200,000-square-foot former Allstate Building in Jackson, which encompasses about half of the bottom floor. Offices range in size from 170 square feet to more than 5,000 square feet. When the center’s final build-out is completed, the MTA Innovation Center will have a total of 65 offices, four conference rooms, one classroom, a library and administrative offices. Also onsite: the U.S. SBA Business Information Center and Jackson State University/Small Business Development Center.

“By being a member of our incubator, the companies are entitled to amenities they wouldn’t get anywhere else, not only from the mentoring standpoint, but we also pick up the tab for their utilities and housekeeping and furnishings,” said Adams. “Basically, they come to us with their computer, set it up and go to work. They pay a below-market value rent, but nothing else above that.”

The Innovation Center hosts training seminars and workshops, ranging from how-to business basics to building best practices for their companies.

“For the first time in the state, the Mississippi Technology Alliance has put together a very significant network of angel investors,” said Adams. “In addition, we have a network of attorneys, accountants, marketing professionals and others who help steer these young high-growth companies in the right direction. Because of this help, our companies have been able to accomplish a lot in a very short period of time.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.


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