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Business Launchpoint sending Hattiesburg start-ups sky high

The Business Launchpoint is working to bring more businesses to the Hattiesburg area. That’s why this business incubator evolved from the University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM’s) organization that began soon after Hurricane Katrina to help businesses recover from the storm. The Business Launchpoint is under the auspices of the Trent Lott National Center for Excellence in Economic Development and Entrepreneurship at USM.

“It really helped after Katrina, and then the organizers thought an incubator was the best way to go,” said new director Andrew Murff, who says his mission is to fill the building with startup companies. “We’re located in downtown Hattiesburg where parking is not an issue.”

Ken Malone, director of the Lott Center, says the Business Launchpoint is an important part of the Lott Center’s larger effort to create a culture of innovation in Hattiesburg.

“The Business Launchpoint, Pine Belt Innovators, South Mississippi Angel Network and a variety of educational programs under the Lott Center umbrella are shaping a new culture of innovation in Hattiesburg,” he said.

He says the incubator has not been open long enough to judge the effect of the changing economy. “However, incubator traffic generally increases during economic downturns as people caught up in layoffs seek to start their own businesses,” he added.

The Launchpoint currently has three startup businesses along with others going through the application process. Additionally, many would-be business owners come in for counseling that Murff handles in partnership with the Southern Business Development Center that’s part of the U.S. Small Businesses Administration.

“We go over business plans, projections and sources of funding,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know where to go for funding. We show them how to save with their startup by locating here.”

Startup companies at the Business Launchpoint get premium space at bargain prices and share equipment and a large conference room. Plus, they can take advantage of advice from community professionals.

Most of the new business interest is service based and includes food processing, healthcare, construction, consulting, graphic design and Internet-based companies. There’s even been a school for athletic training and a few wedding consultants.

“We’ve had some college students who got married and want to go into the wedding business,” Murff said. “They want to make it more efficient and less painstaking.”

LiveWell Health Screens recently graduated from the Business Launchpoint in what Malone and Murff describe as a celebration. The company specializes in cardiovascular screening using state-of-the-art mobile technology to detect asymptomatic cardiovascular disease before catastrophic events occur. The company came to the incubator after founder Karen Wilkins won the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagle Challenge business plan competition and six months free rent.

“LiveWell is our best success story,” Malone said. “They spent a year here.”

Wilkins says the year spent at the Business Launchpoint was a tremendous help in launching the company. “We had access to many services just by virtue of being in that building,” she said. “I think the Business Launchpoint is a great resource for new businesses starting out in Hattiesburg. I would encourage these businesses to consider it as a first step.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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