Mississippi legislators believe in public higher education in Mississippi. They believe in our mission and support our work. We all know the very difficult decisions they have had to make with limited state revenue and competing priorities.
Limited state revenue impacts all state agencies and the services they are able to provide to Mississippi citizens.
Mississippi Public Universities help grow the economy in a number of ways, including preparing students to enter the workforce, conducting research that helps businesses grow and supporting entrepreneurs as they launch their businesses. The University of Mississippi has several entities to encourage and support entrepreneurs, whether students, faculty or community members. Innovate Mississippi is committed to assisting technology entrepreneurs and emerging companies to develop business strategies, find funding and help the businesses grow. Insight Park, a 19-acre research and business park adjacent to the Ole Miss campus in Oxford, provides a dynamic research park where businesses can take full advantage of opportunities for collaborative research and academic resources.
The Division of Technology Management aids in the commercialization of technologies and intellectual property developed by UM faculty, staff and student personnel. Last fall, the university hosted the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Panel, highlighting the ways the university supports entrepreneurs and their creative ideas. The university’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship provides students with the knowledge, skills and experience necessary to become successful entrepreneurs.
All of the Center’s offerings help students learn how to create innovative companies that provide valuable services, products and employment. Some of its programs include the annual Edwin C. Gillespie Business Plan Competition, held at the end of the spring semester, the Landshark Tank Pitch Competitions provide an opportunity for students to present their business concept in less than two minutes, and the Rebel Venture Capital Fund, which is an alumni-established non-profit entity created to financially support student start-up business with seed money grants.
A similar program at Mississippi State University, the Bulldog Angel Network, was established by an MSU alumnus to connect entrepreneurs with funding opportunities and allows MSU alumni and others to invest in companies founded by MSU students. It is also a separate entity from the university. Mississippi State University’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach moved into a new 2,000-square-foot facility in 2016 and has continued to grow. The center now works with 99 entrepreneurship teams representing students from every academic college in the university, up from approximately 30 teams in 2014. In fiscal year 2017, the center received $5.52 million in grants to spur innovation among students, U.S. armed services veterans and MSU researchers. These grants include a $495,300 National Science Foundation grant to create an I-Corps site at MSU to help the university broaden the economic reach of its research and innovation by providing infrastructure, advice, resources, networking opportunities, training and modest funding to enable groups to transition their work into the marketplace. MSU also received a Small Business Administration grant of $4.3 million over five years to provide online “Boots to Business” training to assist veterans with starting and growing businesses.
At the University of Southern Mississippi, the Trent Lott National Center for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship provides outreach services through the Mississippi Defense Diversification Initative, the Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Sport Management, the Center for Logistics Trade and Transportation, Mississippi Polymer Institute, the Southern Entrepreneurship Program and the USM Small Business Development Center. Southern Entrepreneurship Program (SEP) is a service of the University of Southern Mississippi College of Business that provides business development and opportunity recognition skills to students and educators in Mississippi high schools. Established in 2007, the program enhances existing classes, curricula and clubs through regional, virtual and statewide events and training opportunities. Now working with more than 50 high schools, SEP trains more than 500 high school students and educators annually, reaching more than 3,500 aspiring entrepreneurs since its inception. When asked about the mission of the universities, many Mississippians picture the student in the classroom, which is certainly at the core of our mission. However, the full scope of our mission is much larger and encompasses much more, including these entrepreneurship programs that are all designed to help Mississippi businesses succeed and grow Mississippi’s economy. Strong state support and funding are critical to sustaining these programs and helping universities fulfill their mission of teaching, research and service.
DR. GLENN F. BOYCE is the Commissioner of Higher Education in Mississippi