Derek Stephens Named State Star for Small Business Development Center

Assistant director assists business owners with customized market research

Derek Stephens (center), assistant director at the Mississippi Small Business Development Center, is congratulated on being named the 2022 State Star by his wife, Carrie (left), and Sharon Nichols, Mississippi SBDC director. Photo by Michelle Thompson/Mississippi SBDC

OXFORD, Miss. – Derek Stephens, a new assistant director at the Mississippi Small Business Development Center at the University of Mississippi, has been named the 2022 Mississippi State Star.

State Stars are chosen annually, one per state from among the employees of the Small Business Development Center. A State Star is an exemplary performer, must make a significant contribution to his or her state SBDC and shows a strong commitment to small business.

During the annual America’s Small Business Center Development Centers’ national conference in San Diego, State Stars from around the country were celebrated on stage Sept. 6 at the general assembly.

“Being selected as this year’s State Star has been truly humbling,” Stephens said. “Our network is full of knowledgeable, incredible business professionals. This award is just as much of a testament to the hard work our business counselors and center directors do to ensure our clients are successful.”

Stephens, an Ole Miss graduate and a native of northeast Mississippi, came to the Mississippi SBDC from the banking industry in 2018. He started as a business counselor in the north Mississippi region and within a year began to assist with technology commercialization efforts as part of a partnership with the university’s technology transfer office.

During his time with the tech transfer office, he assisted UM faculty members with business startups born from their research at the university.

“It was around fall 2019 that I began to recognize my interest in market research,” he said. “When the COVID-19 pandemic began, we knew we had to adapt as an organization to meet the evolving needs of the client.

“I was promoted to market research specialist in March 2020 to develop a systematic approach to assisting clients with customized market research reports.”

Stephens’ work in market research has aided clients all over the state, helping them make data-driven decisions using the individualized high-level market reports he has compiled. He has worked with more than 60 clients just in the past fiscal year.

“Derek is the ultimate team player and I am so excited that he is our State Star for 2022,” said Mitch McDowell, a fellow assistant director of the Mississippi SBDC. “His work ethic, leadership abilities and commitment to excellence are such an asset to our team.

“He went above and beyond this past year and no one deserves it more.”

Stephens completed his MBA from the UM School of Business Administration this summer. While taking classes, he also stepped up in March 2022 to serve as interim assistant director responsible for market and brand strategy for the network. The position became permanent this summer.

“I couldn’t be more thrilled about Derek Stephens being named State Star for 2022; he is truly the future of our organization,” said Sharon Nichols, Mississippi SBDC state director. “Every time we asked him to do more, he did so with enthusiasm and without hesitation.”

The Mississippi SBDC state office is housed on the Ole Miss campus. The organization has more than 20 sites and centers across the state that offer business services, workshops and webinars, and one-on-one business counseling for any business owner or aspiring business owner.

An accredited member of America’s Small Business Development Centers, the Mississippi SBDC is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration through the university. To learn more about the no-cost business workshops, technical assistance and one-on-one business counseling offered, visit