HED: First satellite high technology business incubator unveiled at MSU
By Marty Russell
STARKVILLE – The first of what supporters hope will eventually be five business incubator programs statewide to promote high-technology enterprises was officially unveiled Thursday at the Mississippi Research and Technology Park.
The Golden Triangle Enterprise Center is the first satellite incubator project to spin off from the Mississippi Enterprise for Technology program headquartered at Stennis Space Center on the Gulf Coast. That pilot program, begun two years ago, already has resulted in 10 new high-technology companies employing 60 people with a payroll of about $2 million, according to Dan Morrison, director of the program.
Although less than a month old when grand opening ceremonies were held Thursday, the Golden Triangle Enterprise Center, headquartered in a 4,000-square-foot space in the Mississippi Technology Center, already has four tenants and a fifth under consideration.
The purpose of the incubator program is to aid new business enterprises engaged in high-technology fields in getting started by offering them assistance in business and marketing techniques as well as expertise in high technology through university connections. Participants are given space in the facility for up to three years while they try and establish their business.
According to Morrison, if the businesses reach the level of 10 employees or sales of $1 million or more before the three-year period is up, they would be asked to leave to make room for new tenants.
Mississippi State was chosen as the site for the first satellite facility because local development officials had been working for several years to establish such a facility.
“This first came up about five years ago and we decided to go after a federal grant,” said John Rucker, executive director of the Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority. “We didn’t get it, but that didn’t stop us.”
The Golden Triangle center is being funded by a $125,000 loan to the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors through the state Department of Economic and Community Development. In addition, the Tennessee Valley Authority invested $60,000 in the project, and further assistance is being provided by Mississippi State and the Mississippi Enterprise for Technology program.
It will be overseen by a local governing board that will also screen applicants.
In a related matter, the enterprise program recently was awarded a grant that could amount to between $5 million and $10 million over a six-year period. The money will be used to help transfer new technologies to state industries, including employee training, technical assistance, new product development or marketing assistance.
“The two are designed to dovetail together,” Morrison said of the National Institute of Standards and Technology grant and the high-tech business incubator program.
The program will receive $888,000 from the federal grant this year to be matched with $900,000 in state funds.
The grant program would be similar to plans announced Thursday for a “virtual incubator” program in which the services offered under the incubator program would also be available to new, high-tech businesses not actually housed at the facility.
Bob Palmer, director of technology transfer for Mississippi State, said the purpose of the high-tech incubator program is not only to create more highly skilled jobs but to stop some of the state’s young talent from leaving after they graduate from college.
All of the businesses currently in the Golden Triangle program are computer software firms being established by young entrepreneurs Palmer praised for their courage in attempting to start new businesses.
“I believe it is timely and necessary to keep some of our best people and our best technologies at home,” Palmer said of the program. “We’re just the folks passing the ammunition. They’re the ones who are taking the risks.”
The businesses already enrolled in the program are Web Services Inc., Boxtop Software Technology Inc., MPI Software and ERGO Inc.
Morrison said he hopes to establish similar incubator programs at four other sites in the state within the next 24 months including one at the University of Mississippi.