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Tech Talent is Flocking to This Mississippi Town 

A vibrant business climate makes this region a top spot for tech startups and talent.

By Teree Caruthers on November 15, 2022

Scenes from Oxford, Mississippi - A man walking through the downtown square.
Karen Pulfer Focht

An enviable quality of life, access to a wide range of business resources and a spirit of innovation attract top talent to the Oxford-Lafayette County region’s burgeoning technology sector.

Startups, such as Nicholas AirNext Gear Solutions and General Atomics, can lure workers and grow their business thanks in large part to private-public partnerships between higher education and economic development organizations, active capital investors, a network of business incubators, and accelerators and local funding competitions that help fuel the area’s entrepreneur ecosystem.

Accelerating Innovation

For example, Next Gear Solutions — a software platform for property restoration management recently acquired by CoreLogic — launched in 2006 in the Oxford Enterprise Center, one of three business incubators managed by the North Mississippi Enterprise Initiative. The incubators provide entrepreneurs with marketing, financial and legal assistance, low-cost space for rent, and networking opportunities.

“The main thing startups need early on is a lot of advisers and mentors and people who can give them good advice on how to avoid the pitfalls of starting a new business,” says Tony Jeff, president and CEO for Innovate Mississippi, an organization that accelerates startups and drives entrepreneurship throughout the state.

Innovate Mississippi partnered with the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce and Microsoft TechSpark to launch CoBuilders Accelerator, the first statewide business accelerator.

“Oxford is a community where businesses have grown and thrived. We’ve seen several of them go the full life cycle, starting with FNC and most recently with Next Gear Solutions. Having people who’ve done that before in your community to help and advise new companies is just tremendously valuable,” Jeff says.

The 12-week CoBuilders Accelerator takes entrepreneurs through a systematic process of analyzing technology risk, market risk, finance and business risk. Then, it helps cycle them through a business development process in those areas.

“Every week, we’ve had them working on different things,” Jeff says. “We started the first week with customer discovery. Most people think their idea is the best in the world and everyone wants it, but we make them go out and talk to customers and get direct customer feedback. By week three, we start putting together the first of a financial forecast, and every week after that, there is a very deep dive and a lot of work.”

Smart Starts for Startups

Jeff says startups are essential to the region’s economic and workforce development strategies.

“Big companies are not creating the jobs that they once were 20 and 25 years ago,” he says. “Startups and small businesses are also creating new economy jobs that help with brain drain. So it’s not just that they’re creating jobs; they’re creating the kind of jobs that keep our young people and our young professionals in Mississippi.”

Another advantage that gives the region a competitive edge in the high-tech arena is the University of Mississippi. For example, the university’s Insight Park, a 19-acre research campus, provides Class A office and lab space to support startups and existing businesses wishing to collaborate with the university.

“We connect entrepreneurs with mentoring, university innovators/innovations and academic resources to help their business grow,” says William Nicholas, director of economic development at Insight Park. He says that the university and the city have a strong relationship and a shared commitment to foster and support entrepreneurship. Both offer accelerator cohorts and business incubators to assist startups. “Over the last decade, we have partnered together nearly every year to offer Startup Weekend, Venture Launch Weekend and now the Builders + Backers Idea Accelerator,” Nicholas says. “Our local economic developers have made an intentional effort to grow entrepreneurship and strengthen our economy from the inside. It is a model that is working well and garnering attention from many outside the state.”

If you’d like to learn more about the Oxford, MS, area, check out the latest edition of Livability: Oxford-Lafayette County, Mississippi

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