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Ole Miss Program Helps Students Launch Successful Businesses

Oxford-based school's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship provides the crucial resources needed to succeed.

By Kim Madlom on December 15, 2021

Small businesses in Oxford, MS
iStock.com/SeventyFour

With the number of University of Mississippi graduates finding success with their startups – some even in Silicon Valley – it’s almost as if waves of innovation and entrepreneurship are exuding from the university and Oxford, MS.

Sara Kiparizoska and William Ault, for example, both graduates of Ole Miss and the school’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), developed the mobile platform Curtsy and landed support from a Silicon Valley businesses incubator.

The app brings thrifty fashion to the forefront, allowing millions of women across the country to resell and shop apparel while monetizing investments in their clothing. Launched in 2016, Curtsy’s edge is simplifying the buying/selling process and providing excellent customer support. By the end of 2020, the company had moved from Mississippi to San Francisco and was reporting $25 million in revenue.

It’s no surprise Curtsy has been successful. The idea won the CIE’s 2016 Gillespie Business Plan Competition, the marquee event for the academic year. The 2021 winner, Froomie, created by student Brea Givens, provides roommate and housing solutions for college students. The award comes with complimentary office space at the university’s Innovation Hub at Insight Park as well as $10,000 to go toward establishing her LLC.

Think Like Entrepreneurs in Oxford

CIE encourages the students behind these and other ideas to think like entrepreneurs, says Clay Dibrell, co-director of CIE, who founded the center with Rich Gentry in 2014.

“Our idea was to help increase the entrepreneurial spirit of The University of Mississippi for students, faculty and staff,” Dibrell says. “One of our goals is to provide new entrepreneurial ventures and startups to the state of Mississippi.”

Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Between 2018 and 2020, more than 50 student ventures were established,
280 student teams participated in CIE business competitions, approximately
25% of participants received funding for their innovations and more than
$110,000 in prizes and $15,000 in scholarships were awarded.

CIE graduates have also created Mississippi-based companies like Collegiate Tutoring, which connects college students with tutors, and Jetson Smart Homes, which provides Mississippi homeowners with the latest home technology.

Dibrell says CIE also offers programs to the public to encourage more entrepreneurism in the region.

“Oxford is a great startup hub with a lot of good human capital,” he says. “We offer programs that are open to the public, like REDe Entrepreneurship Summit, and invite the community as well as students, faculty and staff to be inspired to engage in entrepreneurship.”

The summit is an annual speaker event to inspire students and community members with varied academic backgrounds to engage in entrepreneurship. Dibrell also points to the annual Venture Launch Weekend as a means to encourage entrepreneurs. The two-day business plan development competition is geared toward anyone in the business development and startup space.

Preparing for the Future

To meet the demand for graduates in STEM fields, the university is constructing the Jim and Thomas Duff Center for Science and Technology Innovation. The brothers made a $26 million gift toward the construction of the building. It is expected to be one of the nation’s leading student-centered learning environments for STEM.

“In the coming years, STEM job creation will outpace non-STEM jobs, and STEM professionals earn higher salaries, generating more attractive opportunities for our students,” says Glenn Boyce, chancellor of the university. “This transformative facility will play a significant role in how the university will strengthen the pipeline for training engineers, tech entrepreneurs, and science and math teachers.”

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