Home » OPINION » Columns » SUMESH ARORA — November is innovation month in Mississippi

SUMESH ARORA — November is innovation month in Mississippi



Mississippi is famous for many things, like sweet tea, catfish, and the Blues…but not necessarily innovation.  Innovation, however, is alive and well across the state and is having quite a significant impact on our economy.

In fact, the combined annual revenue of homegrown companies inducted into the Mississippi Innovators Hall of Fame (http://www.msinnovatorshalloffame.com/) exceeds $6 billion and collectively they employ more than 25,000 people.  These include companies that have grown up from humble roots in small towns such as Philadelphia and Laurel with populations of less than 10,000 to 20,000, respectively.  You can find products and services developed by Mississippi innovators across the United States and in over 100 countries around.  And, you can even find them in outer space, as the path to manned missions to the planet Mars goes through the Stennis Space Center in Hancock County.

In recognizing the achievements of past, current and future Mississippi innovators, Gov. Phil Bryant has proclaimed November as Innovation Month in Mississippi for the fourth year now.  This year’s proclamation reads as follows:

celebrateinnovationclrlogo-2016WHEREAS, the State of Mississippi recognizes innovation is a powerful engine for economic growth and is committed to promoting the successes and global competitiveness of Mississippi innovators; and

WHEREAS, innovation has the power to transform lives and comes in all shapes, sizes and colors; in small steps and giant leaps; and from rural and urban areas; and

WHEREAS, the driving force behind declaring an Innovation Month in Mississippi is to inspire the innovative spirit in our citizens and attract the next generation of enterprise to the state and to showcase and leverage our unique strengths and creative genius; and

WHEREAS, innovation in Mississippi is evident in its agriculture, economic development, disaster preparedness and recovery, education, energy, entrepreneurship, fine arts, government, health care, information and communications technology, national security, manufacturing, space exploration and tourism; and

WHEREAS, innovative products manufactured in Mississippi move goods and people across the nation, around the world and even into the depths of space, enriching the quality of life at home, work and play; and

WHEREAS, Mississippi’s colleges and universities are pushing the boundaries of science and technology, leading the way in cutting-edge research, challenging students and professionals to; and

WHEREAS, Mississippi not only attracts innovative companies from around the globe, but also creates, nurtures and retains fast growing companies within the state.

The proclamation acknowledges, “our state has both the opportunity and challenge of leveraging all of its intellectual and human capital in an unprecedented pursuit of innovation.” Additionally, the Governor “encourages all stakeholders in Mississippi’s innovation economy to collaborate to showcase our achievements while setting goals to unlock the latent potential in every citizen of the state.”

As a kick-off to the 2016 Innovation Month celebration, Innovate Mississippi hosted two key events.  The first was the 9th Annual Mississippi New Venture Challenge (NVC) Pitch Competition on Nov. 1.  Think of the NVC as Mississippi’s Shark Tank, where 33 budding entrepreneurs in three separate categories pitched their innovative ideas and products to a panel of judges comprised of the state’s top entrepreneurs and investors.  The participants – including students, university faculty and garage-entrepreneurs – presented such creative innovations as a non-invasive digital imaging processing technique that diagnoses liver conditions; mineral-enriched rice that can improve nutrition for 3 billion people in Asia; 3-D printed energy-efficient fans for specifically for commercial applications; a mobile platform that connects teachers and parents; and handcrafted sodas made from fresh ingredients. “The New Venture Challenge has become the ideal place to network and connect with early-stage companies, and to learn simply about Mississippi’s startup community,” says Tasha Bibb, entrepreneurial development manager at Innovate Mississippi and the event organizer.  This year’s winners received nearly $20,000 in cash prizes and about $10,000 in professional services from numerous event sponsors.

The following day, Nov. 2, Innovate Mississippi hosted its 17th Annual Conference on Technology Innovation and featured breakout sessions on coding, Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants, entrepreneurship on university campuses (JSU, MSU, UM and USM), how to capitalize on the latest technology trends, and much more.  During the conference luncheon, the 2016 John I. Rucker Community Innovation Leadership Award was formally presented to Jon Maynard, president and CEO of the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation.  Innovate Mississippi presents this award annually, recognizing the outstanding efforts of an individual or organization in forming dynamic and productive partnerships with academia, government and the private sector as a means to drive innovation-led economic development.  Also, student winners of the Brown Elementary School Digital Art and Entrepreneurship Innovation competition were recognized and honored at the grand luncheon.

Another event planned specially during the Innovation Month was the first JROTC STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics) Invitational at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, November 4-5.  A total of 60 high school cadets from Jackson Public Schools and Mobile County Public Schools gathered for two days of tours, recreational activities and design challenges that took place on USM’s campus and at Camp Shelby.  “Bringing high school students to campus serves important goals because students have a chance to experience the energy of a university campus and are challenged in hands-on STEM projects,” said Dr. Julie Cwikla, director of Creativity and Innovation at USM.  One of the challenges included designing an improved amusement park ride that would keep the riders safe, but still provide a thrilling, fast and exciting experience.

This year’s Innovation Month celebration schedule at Jackson State University includes discussions on cyber security, innovate approaches to community development in Mississippi, US PREP: Teacher Education Transformation program (funded through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), the use of drones to break news, and more.  The activities will also include the launch of the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps site at JSU – a program designed to provide infrastructure, advice, resources, training and modest funding to enable groups to transition their work into the marketplace.

The VEX Robotics Competition, the world’s largest and fastest growing robotics competition for middle and high school students, was held at Olde Towne Middle School on November 5.  The study of competitive robotics not encompasses all four pillars of STEM education, but also encourages the development of important life skills such as team work, communication, and project-based learning.  A total of 26 teams from around the state participated in this competition with the Ridgeland High School team mentoring a team from Wingfield High School for the first time.

The Innovation Month is an opportunity for every organization, both in the public and private sectors, to showcase their innovative products, services or approaches to solving critical problems.  If your organization is interested in supporting the state’s innovation ecosystem, please download the 2016 Innovation Month logo from www.innovate.ms or save it from this website and proudly display it on your own website as well.  Feel free to link this logo to a page on your website that describes a unique and innovative activity.  The more the merrier!

For more information on Innovation Month contact Wollie Wolcott at wwolcott@innovate.ms

» Dr. Sumesh Arora is Vice President at Innovate Mississippi, a non-profit organization with a mission to drive innovative business growth in Mississippi.  His doctoral research was focused on how new ideas spread and its applications to business, economic and policy development.  Follow him on Twitter @DrSumeshArora or contact via email at sarora@innovate.ms with questions about developing innovation strategy for your company or organization.


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