MSU incubator to aid entrepreneurs

By Steven Nalley/Starkville Daily News

STARKVILLE — Christian Brown prefers the term “headquarters” to the term “office.”

Brown, a student at Mississippi State University, is also CEO of Techsterminators, a company which specializes in consumer electronics repairs. Comic book hero motifs pervade the business’ Facebook page, and he said the term “headquarters” evokes that same theme.

“We call ourselves the Technology Superheroes, and we try to live up to that name,” Brown said. “I personally feel I’m more of a futurist; I want to see what’s coming next. The first step in the grand vision we have is computer repair.”

Brown is one of several MSU student entrepreneurs targeted for a new incubator at the Thad Cochran Research Park.

Gerald Nelson, director of MSU’s Office of Entrepreneurship and Technology Transfer, said the incubator space will be divided into 10 office-sized spaces and nine cubicles in a single area called the “Bullpen.”

Starting at $85 per month, he said, these entrepreneurs can get access to the Internet by way of wi-fi, as well as a conference room, one year at a time for up to three years.

“What we’re looking for is an opening on Aug. 1 (and) a grand opening somewhere around Sept. 7,” Nelson said.

“We’re working on a scholarship that could pay part of the first year. When we get the scholarship agreed to, the incubator will provide up to 50 percent of their cost for the year whether it’s a shared space or a full office space.”

Abby Thompson, an OETT research associate, said membership will also give the entrepreneurs access to some business, legal and accounting services. She said the young entrepreneurs stand to benefit from sharing the incubator space.

“We’re also looking for ways to pair them up,” Thompson said. “It’s really going to give them opportunities to learn from each other. Some of these guys are really good friends.”

Nelson said three of the office units will be set aside exclusively for the Starkville community as opposed to MSU entities.

Jesus J. Valdez, a marketing research associate with MSU’s Thad Cochran Endowment for Entrepreneurship, said the Greater Starkville Development Partnership also plans to help MSU identify two or three existing Starkville-based businesses to use these spaces, and he is grateful for that assistance.

He hopes the incubator will help the city retain MSU graduates and their experience, education and technological knowledge.

“Traditionally, they leave the university, leave the city, and go to (other, larger cities),” Valdez said. “(This incubator is) giving them incentive to stay in Starkville.”

Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman said he wants to help the student entrepreneurs move their ideas to market.

“I’m interested, as mayor of Starkville, in maximizing anything I see as a growth opportunity,” Wiseman said, “and a huge growth opportunity for us is finding a way to commercialize all this intellectual property.”

Parker Stewart, CEO of Night and Day Vending, said he has already signed up for space in the incubator’s “Bullpen.”

“I’m incredibly excited about the opportunity to have my own workspace and have it subsidized by the school,” Stewart said. “Being a student and having to cut costs, it’s really incredible what the OETT is doing for us as students.”

Brown said he plans to place Techsterminators in at least one of the offices, possibly two. He said he plans to expand his business’ services to 23 cities by December and MSU’s support has laid the foundation for national expansion.

“This incubator space is going to be our national headquarters,” Brown said. “Until we gather the funds to build our own headquarters, it’s a great opportunity for us. We’ve been working basically out of our homes. That networking between all of our businesses … that’s going to be more valuable than just office space.”