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ALAN TURNER: Sumesh Arora says innovation is the key to economic prosperity in Mississippi

 

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ALAN TURNER

Recently, we had an opportunity to meet with Dr. Sumesh Arora, vice president with Innovate Mississippi, to discuss some of the positive economic trends and opportunities throughout the state.

Sumesh earned a degree in engineering, followed by a master’s in Material Sciences, and finally culminated with a Ph.D from the University of Southern Mississippi.  In the early part of his career, he worked for 13 years at the Mississippi Chemical Corp. in Yazoo City, and developed substantial expertise in bio-fuels.  In fact, he testified before the U.S. Senate about bio-fuels and the potential for long-term development in that industry.

Eventually, he joined Innovate Mississippi in 2003, and has become passionate about Innovate’s mission.

“Our key focus is to coach, connect, and commercialize,” he said.  “We work with early stage companies, delivering the expertise and support they need to succeed.”

Innovate also is a key player in helping to raise capital for these kinds of businesses, as well as to support and help existing industries to grow and capitalize on opportunities.

“We work closely with the Mississippi Development Authority and lots of other people,” he said.  “An important goal is to foster innovation and creative thinking in Mississippi.”

He points to many success stories down through the years, among them the Bomgar Corp., Camgian Microsystems, SmartSync, and others.

“We’re very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish,” he said.

Founded in 1998, Innovate Mississippi has a staff of 14 who “do incredible things,” as Sumesh said.

Asked what he considers to be some of the great opportunities coming down the road for Mississippi, Sumesh said he sees strong development in health care, education, agriculture, transportation, and manufacturing (which he believes will benefit from the onshoring trend).

“The Gulf Coast and our great port will be a key part of our growth,” he predicts.  “We’re definitely going to be a strong player on the global stage, and there are many assets in our state that will contribute to that.”

He also sees the worsening drought in California as one important consideration for the future of agriculture in Mississippi.

“As that unfortunate situation shows no sign of real improvement, states like ours with rich, abundant farmland, are going to make up for some of the losses experienced by California agriculture,” he said.

In addition to his work with Innovate Mississippi, he also teaches the Entrepreneurship and Economic Development course at the University of Southern Mississippi, and he believes that “our great universities are an important part of our future.”

Asked whether he considers the current trend in increased federal regulation and oversight to be a serious negative insofar as the business community is concerned, he said that his view is “mixed.”

“In some ways, we probably needed a greater level of regulation to correct some of the past problems in certain industries.  However, you could argue that the pendulum has swung too far, and that it’s now becoming a drain on the economy.”

Notwithstanding that, he is bullish on the future of our state, and points to “an incredible number of great entrepreneurs who live and work in Mississippi.”

“After all,” he said, “people are really our greatest asset as a state, and as a nation, and the better job we do of supporting and connecting those people with what they need to succeed, the better our economy will be.”

The New Ventures Challenge will occur on May 19, and further information on that can be found at Innovate’s website, www.innovate.ms.

A video interview featuring Sumesh can be viewed on our website, msbusiness.com, or on our YouTube channel, mbjournal.

» Contact Mississippi Business Journal publisher Alan Turner at alan.turner@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1021.

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