HATTIESBURG — The Accelerator, a 60,000-square-foot incubator that rents space and equipment to fledgling and expanding technology companies, is now home to three new businesses.
GE Aviation, which opened its Ellisville facility in May, recently rented laboratory space in The Accelerator for the purpose of training new employees to make components for jet engines.
GE Aviation trainees go through two separate classes before they can be qualified to work at the plant. The first course, Composites 101, consists of two eight-hour days where trainees learn the fundamentals of working with composites such as carbon fiber and resins.
“The first day we go over safety basics — all the different hazards associated with working with composites and the personal safety equipment they need to wear,” said Steven Whitacre, composites engineer at Mississippi Polymer Institute, which runs The Accelerator. “The next day we teach them about the composites themselves — the history behind them, and all the different types of resins that are used.”
Composites 102 is where the action begins. Over the course of several eight-hour classes, the trainees receive hands-on experience working with resin-infused carbon fiber and honeycomb-shaped cores. Using various tools and autoclaves, trainees can seal the cores within several layers of carbon fiber to form different components of the jet engines.
The honeycomb cores not only add tensile strength and rigidity to the structure of the engines, but also work wonders in noise reduction.
“A sound wave will come in, and then it’ll bounce around inside each one of those little honeycomb shapes, and the sound can’t come back out,” MPI Director Bryan Brister said. “A jet engine is still loud, but it would be one heck of a lot louder if you didn’t have that.”
Brister said there are many advantages to using composites. For starters, they’re more efficient and economical than metal — and, more importantly, lighter.
“If you made something out of metal, and then made the exact same thing out of these composites, the metal (item) would weigh anywhere from four to 10 times more than the one made out of composites,” he said. “And in this game it’s all about weight — every pound you take out of the superstructure of an aircraft is a pound more payload you can carry.”
Another recent addition is Vatican Capital, a private equity investment firm that moved into The Accelerator in March. The company focuses on making growth investments in small Catholic-owned businesses in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida.
“We’re a little different from a venture capital firm,” said Patrick Mansfield, managing partner of Vatican Capital. “We try to focus on small businesses that are generating some revenue — say a few hundred thousand to a few million dollars — and we invest for a controlling stake in them.”
Mansfield said The Accelerator was a particularly attractive choice for his business when he moved to Hattiesburg from New Orleans.
“The Accelerator had office space with everything already set up, so I could just kind of plug in and go,” he said. “Plus, they have a lot of entrepreneurial businesses going on with a lot of like-minded people, so I thought it was a natural fit to go there.”
Mansfield said the staff at The Accelerator has been more than accommodating, and he admires the efforts they’ve made to boost Hattiesburg’s business scene.
“They’ve gone out of their way to be welcoming, and they’re definitely pro-business,” Mansfield said. “Overall, the state of Mississippi is doing a lot to encourage growth, and I think as far as South Mississippi goes, The Accelerator and MPI have done a great job in generating more investment in the region.”
Another new addition, Radiance Technologies, moved into The Accelerator at the beginning of the year. The company — which was established in 1999 in Huntsville, Ala. — develops electronics, polymers and military applications. Radiance also provides operational support for the Department of Defense, armed services, intelligence agencies and other government organizations.
“Radiance has a long-standing relationship with the (University of Southern Mississippi), so they’ve done research here on a variety of products,” Brister said. “They do research in physics, material science, and also with MPI.”
Brister said The Accelerator can help put Mississippi on the map, and the addition of its new businesses will attract even more technology-based ventures to the region.
“As we continue to have more and more tenants here in the building, that continues to help build momentum,” he said. “But in addition to that, having a marquee name like GE Aviation in the area just continues to help Mississippi by showing that we’ve got world-class, advanced manufacturing companies coming to the state or expanding here.”