Many people outside of Mississippi might be surprised to find out that Mississippi hasn’t just produced some of the country’s most famous entertainment stars like Elvis Presley, Oprah Winfrey and Morgan Freeman. The state also has been fertile ground for a large number of business entrepreneur superstars.
Believing it is important to tell the stories of Mississippi business greats, in 2008 Innovate Mississippi (formerly the Mississippi Technology Alliance) instituted the Mississippi Innovators Hall of Fame. Former Ambassador to Portugal, John N. Palmer, a telecommunications pioneer and venture capitalist, received the first Legends Award in 2008. In 2009 the Legends Award went to Jim Barksdale, who was CEO of Netscape Communications Corp. until it merged with AOL in 1999.
The 2010 Legend Award recipient was Dr. Robert C. Khayat, chancellor emeritus of the University of Mississippi. The 2012 Legend Award went to Bill Yates, president of the Yates Companies, which has grown to be the largest general construction firm in the state and one of the largest in the Southeast.
“The Mississippi Innovators Hall of Fame is important because these inductees have set a standard that we would all be well served to follow and have distinguished themselves on a global level,” said Tony Jeff, president and CEO, Innovate Mississippi. “They’re not just big fish in the ‘small pond’ of Mississippi, but they are truly innovative on a nationwide and worldwide scale. The more of these stories people hear–especially about people they know, who grew up in their hometown or went to their school–the more inspired we all are.”
Telling the stories of these business pioneers is significant not just for the reputation of the state. Jeff said it is also important because every small business owner feels overwhelmed sometimes and wonders if he or she will succeed. These stories show how people just like them did so.
“Entrepreneurship and innovation are two important elements of America’s greatness, and in many ways these are the stories that highlight how important Mississippi’s entrepreneurs have been in adding to that greatness,” Jeff said. “The stories of these entrepreneurs and companies are each unique. Together, they paint a wonderful picture of how innovation across a wide array of industries has been fostered in Mississippi. By focusing across industry sectors, innovation can be defined far beyond pure technology and hopefully open up more existing industry innovation.”
There is also more evidence that Mississippi is a place where entrepreneurial business dreams can become a reality. The Kaufmann Foundation ranks Mississippi as the fifth most entrepreneurial state in the nation.
The ceremonies to induct Legend award recipients to the Innovators Hall of Fame are a premier networking event for movers and shakers in the state.
“Inductees get a lot of positive energy from sharing with their peers,” Jeff said. “Because most entrepreneurs don’t have the opportunity to interact much with other entrepreneurs, they often don’t realize how common their problems are. Putting dozens of their stories together in the Mississippi Innovators Hall of Fame allows entrepreneurs to see similarities with their own businesses ventures–and how success can still be achieved despite those difficulties.”
Attendees include recipients of not just the Legend Award and the Excellent Award, but people who have been put on the “Innovators to Watch” andor the “Companies to Watch” list. These are pioneering companies that exemplify the potential to be inducted one day.
Innovate Mississippi Director of Marketing Sandra Buckley said the first two Legend Awards went to Palmer and Barksdale for “putting Mississippi on the map” when it comes to the telecommunications industry.
“Both of these men were true technology pioneers,” Buckley said. “Another Mississippi Innovators Hall of Fame inductee and telecommunications success story is C Spire Wireless (formerly Cellular South). What began as an idea for a startup between brothers James and Wade Creekmore resulted in the business’ growth into the nation’s largest privately held wireless company.”
Other inductees include Hartley Peavey and Will Primos, who have literally shaped the entertainment industry on a global level.
“The success of both Peavey Electronics and Primos Hunting are incredible examples of turning a passion into a business,” Buckley said. “Both were inducted into the Mississippi Innovators Hall of Fame as Excellence Award winners.”
Also recognized are physicians and researchers who have made a significant mark on the world.
“People may not realize the significant medical research that has come out of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and that the research there rivals that of any other state,” Buckley said. “Recognized for their ground-breaking work there, Doctors John Bower, Arthur Guyton, John Hall and James Hardy have each been inducted into the Mississippi Innovators Hall of Fame for their many scientific contributions to the medical field.”
Innovate Mississippi works to assist innovation-based startup companies, inventors and entrepreneurs and strengthen Mississippi’s manufacturing and renewable energy innovation economies. The next Innovators Hall of Fame event will be in 2014. For more information, see the website www.innovatorshalloffame.com.
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