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MTA conference showcases shift from muscle to mind power

Mississippi’s economy is shifting from muscle power to mind power at an unprecedented rate. That was the consensus from the Mississippi Technology Alliance’s (MTA) Eighth Annual Conference on High Technology held in late November.

The technology conference was probably the most successful to date, said Heath Hall, vice president for external affairs and marketing for the MTA.

“We were completely sold out and visitors from more than nine states attended,” Hall said. “About 500 people attended from the private sector, academia and the public sector. Mississippi is now known to be a place where technology and innovation thrive, and that is something for which to be proud.”

The agenda for the conference was very diverse with discussions on renewable energy, biotechnology, lifestyle technology, communications information technology, funding vehicles for start-up companies and much more. The conference also showcased research at Mississippi universities that has potential for business spinoff developments.

“For many years, Mississippi has had excellent research universities and boot-strapping entrepreneurs providing great innovations,” said MTA’s vice president and chief operating officer Tony Jeff. “Through the MTA, Mississippi entrepreneurs now have a systematic method to bring a concept all the way to be an investor-ready deal — with accountants, lawyers, market researchers and other service providers to help smooth the way.

“We also have a vibrant investor network, with several early-stage investor funds in the state and several more in formation. We have challenges to bring together all of the rural parts of the state into a critical mass of support for entrepreneurs, but by linking the various state-wide networks, these challenges are being overcome.”

The first day of the conference centered on connecting investors, entrepreneurs, service providers and community innovation leaders. The room was set up the room for 50 people to attend sessions on private equity financing and then to hear eight entrepreneurs give brief overviews of their plans.

“We were blown away with the attendance, and even after we stuffed 75 chairs into the room there were a few people standing in the doorway,” Jeff said.

Following the overview of private equity financing from Angel Investing 101 to a few more advanced topics, attendees were asked to express their interest in more focused courses in the following areas: full-day courses on starting an angel organization; an overview of angel investing; and, half-day workshops on doing the deal, due diligence, valuation and portfolio strategy, and the post-investment relationship between entrepreneurs and angels.

“MTA plans to offer these courses to the 70-plus members of the Mississippi Angel Network and others in the near future,” Jeff said.

More information about the Mississippi Angel Network can be found at www.technologyalliance.ms/services/ms-angel-network.php.

The second day of the technology conference opened with focused sessions and allowed the attendees to cover both narrow and broad topics. Ashby Foote, president, Vector Money Management, Jackson, provided an overview of technology’s role in history and its accelerating role in the future economy.

Foote said to profitably participate in the future of technology, it is important to understand seven important laws and seven key paradigm shifts.

“The seven laws are not legal laws, but rather lessons that have been derived from smart folks experience in the technology arena,” Foote said. “They are: 1) Moore’s Law. 2) Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns. 3) Say’s Law, Supply Creates its Own Demand. 4) Metcalfe’s Law, the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of nodes on the network. 5) Drucker’s Law. Don’t Solve Problems, Pursue Opportunities. 6) Disruptive innovation. And 7) Grove’s Law, only the Paranoid Survive. The paradigm shifts discussed were: mass collaboration; social networks; eco-friendly, broadband and high-definition TV; the long tail; and, finally the teleputer.”

An over-arching theme of the Foote’s presentation was that technology progress happens at a faster pace than progress in other areas of our lives, and as a result we often are challenged by discontinuities and disruptions in the economy that can be very unsettling.

The keynote speaker for the technology conference was Bill Rayburn, CEO of Oxford-based FNC Inc., a mortgage technology company employing 340 that now processes collateral data for 40% of the mortgages in the U.S.

Rayburn, who is a member of the board of directors for the MTA, said there are two ways to grow jobs.

“One is to bring them in from outside, which is what the Mississippi Development Authority has done,” Rayburn said. “I would give them an ‘A+,’ plus on their results. The state has done a fantastic job, all the way from the governor and his staff to the Legislature, other state leaders and local leaders.

“That is one aspect of growing jobs. The other aspect is growing your own, growing from within. MTA is designed to grow from within. They are helping entrepreneur companies get started all over the state, and that is a great thing. Entrepreneurs have to believe there is a better way. They want to make a difference. The potential is everywhere.”

Leading researchers say entrepreneurs share several key characteristics. They deal well with ambiguity and uncertainty. Even though they are perceived as risk takers, they are actually risk averse. They have more knowledge because of their background, and tend to see things other people don’t see. And they tend to have a sales focus.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette4@cox.net.

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