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Innovate Mississippi looks to expand regional alliances

TASHA BIBB

» New year will bring creation of new seed fund for Innovate Mississippi

By TED CARTER

If the “Next Big Thing” is out there, it’s unlikely to be overlooked in a Mississippi that spent the last decade building ways to get good ideas to market.

Mississippi enterprises focused on commercializing knowledge and innovation are venturing into a new decade with improved prospects that the chief development executive for Innovate Mississippi attributes to a maturing ecosystem of partnerships, especially public-private ones.

Jackson-based Innovate Mississippi, itself a public-private partnership, sees its partnership work as a key success of the previous decade. It now wants to expand cooperation networks by creating regional partnerships across the state, said La Tasha Bibb, the nonprofit organization’s director of entrepreneurial development.

State economic development officials liked the expansion idea and the capital-connect concept behind it enough to pitch in additional state money, Bibb said. “We are looking at models that work.”

Going into the effort, “We know that our public-private partnerships will make this work,” she said.

“We’re in Jackson but we work statewide. We have the resources they need,” Bibb said of fledgling innovation entrepreneurs.

Through the regional alliances, Innovate Mississippi hops to increase local access to statewide resources, the organization said.

Success will be gauged by the effectiveness of shared mentor and provider networks, creation of best practices for holding events and activities and establishing a common development pipeline.

 

 

Successes achieved with the partnerships include helping 1,400 tech startups gain their sea legs and go on to raise $179 million in angel money and venture funding, a new report from Innovate Mississippi said, and noted the organization “accelerated” 78 startups in 2019.

The report put jobs created by the enterprises at 3,500.

The startups filled a lot of those jobs with graduates of the Mississippi Coding Academy and Basecamp Coding Academy, said Tony Jeff, Innovate Mississippi president and CEO, in a report on 2019 achievements. 

“Coders and virtual reality designers are already making their mark with Mississippi employers and are helping to create an even better ecosystem for technology companies in Mississippi,” Jeff said.

The report also noted plans for a Central Mississippi seed fund.  The North Mississippi fund launched four years ago finished an initial funding round of $3.1 million from 52 investments.

In detailing partnership expansions, Bibb said particular attention will be given to teaming with local economic development agencies. The strategy, she said, is to sponsor workshops across the state and strengthen mentoring networks by increasing the roster of coaches to about 35 members. 

The mentors have various areas of expertise which are matched up with entrepreneurs to help with securing capital, marketing, logistics and legal issues, according to Bibb.

“It’s really about” linking the entrepreneurs with mentors who make the most sense for the projects at hand, Bibb said.

She said Innovate Mississippi hopes to have the expanded networks in place by 2021.

In addition to mentors, the lineup of supporters will include intellectual and property attorneys and specialists in business law, accounting and software development. At some point in the process, prototyping and design firms will be consulted, the public-private partnership said.

Innovate Mississippi, formerly the Mississippi Technology Alliance, gets funding from corporate sponsorships, private contributions and state economic development allocations. The organization has a half dozen employees.

Its job is to drive innovation-and-technology-based economic development. Innovate Mississippi also has the task of strengthening the state’s manufacturing and renewable energy sectors.

The organization calls its efforts a bargain for the state, estimating in its 2020 reporting that each dollar of state support last year created an economic punch of $7.80.

Inventors and innovators initially go through an intake process at Innovate Mississippi.  The organization’s first task, it said, is to acquaint new clients with venture capital tools, financial strategies, management needs and the benefits of an executive plan.

With that accomplished, new clients put a full focus on business-plan development and market segmentation and prioritization. When deemed ready, clients go to work preparing plans for a test launch followed by a full launch.

The launch can carry uncertainty simply because “in many instances the product does not exist,” Bibb said.

Before that comes a crucial part of the process – securing seed funding. Innovate Mississippi helps match clients and their ideas with individuals and groups interested in backing genuinely innovative ideas, the organization said.  But getting that far requires pitch development prep.

Today’s clients and the ones who come later can soon pitch their ideas and business models to the new Central Mississippi seed fund. Fund investors must put in at least $25,000, according to Bibb.

Looking ahead, said Bibb, Innovate Mississippi’s success will hinge on two things: Ideas with potential and interested investors.

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About Ted Carter