Conference brings tech entrepreneurs, investors together

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Published: November 19,2007

Technology is growing in Mississippi, and the 8th Annual Conference on High Technology promises to be an enlightening event. It will be held November 27 and 28 at the TelCom Center in Jackson and is presented by the Mississippi Technology Alliance (MTA) and the Mississippi Research Consortium. The consortium is made up of the state’s four research universities — Jackson State University, Mississippi State University, University of Mississippi and University of Southern Mississippi.

MTA’s Heath Hall has managed all of the conferences and observed how they’ve grown in participation and attendance.

“It’s grown phenomenally, and this year’s agenda has a diverse content,” he said. “That’s because technology is at home in Mississippi, and the state is embracing technology and innovation. The conference gives us an opportunity to talk about where we are today and where we will be tomorrow. The public and private sector come together.”

Cecil Burge, Ph.D., is vice president for research and economic development at the University of Southern Mississippi and this year serves as chairman of the consortium. He said the conference will have a different shape in the way researchers and entrepreneurs interact.

“We have all been working well over a decade to improve the way our universities’ research is accomplished,” he said. “We will have a session for newbies, people starting or about to start businesses, and give them insight on how to put together a pitch to venture investors.”

Some of these business people will actually make funding pitches in a closed session. Each university will also give a presentation about the research it has underway, highlighting research it thinks has potential for commercialization.

“The conference will make communities aware of what we’re doing and will expose our faculties to start-up businesses,” Burge said. “In the past, we’ve had several businesses around the state that were started and became successful based on our research.”

Hall, vice president for external affairs and marketing for MTA, said the conference was begun to bring the state’s emerging technology leaders together under one roof to learn how to best grow that segment of the economy.

“Now Mississippi’s economy is starting to diversify, going from man power to mind power,” he said. “We’ve come a long way.”

The conference has come a long way, too. This year’s event has 80 financial sponsors from all over the state and 500 people have registered to attend. Hall pointed out that it’s not just for techies. He expects business leaders, economic developers, entrepreneurs, academics and anyone interested in the state’s economy to attend.

“We’ve filled almost every seat and are happy about that,” he said. “We’re real excited to have a session for investors and entrepreneurs who are in the early stages of private equity investing.”

The keynote speaker is Bill Rayburn, CEO and co-founder of FNC Inc. of Oxford. He has guided FNC from a startup company to one that has captured nearly 40% of the American mortgage origination market and has more than 300 employees. He manages FNC’s corporate finances from cash control to capital raising to debt restructuring.

“In the past, we’ve had dot.com founders come in and say what Mississippi should be doing,” Hall said. “Bill Rayburn is saying ‘we are moving ahead and this is what we’re doing in Mississippi.’ FNC is a good Mississippi success story, and has used technology to change the way banks do business. We are connecting the dots and starting to see real activity surrounding technology.”

Former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove will also address the group, and there will be breakout sessions on lifestyle technology and renewable energy along with plenary sessions on the future of technology and how it will affect the state and national economy.

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

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