Entrepreneurship Forum Focuses on State’s Entrepreneurial Spirit

Event sponsored by UM McLean Institute, others sparks economic development conversation

More than 100 entrepreneurs, economic developers, innovators and future business owners gather in Jackson for the fifth Mississippi Entrepreneurship Forum, sponsored in part by the University of Mississippi’s McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement. Photo by Michaela Cooper/McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement

OXFORD, Miss. – More than 100 entrepreneurs, economic developers, innovators and future business owners gathered in Jackson recently for the fifth Mississippi Entrepreneurship Forum to learn more about the state’s entrepreneurial climate and the future of entrepreneurship.

Sponsored in part by the University of Mississippi‘s McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement, the event is part of the institute’s Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, or CEED, initiative.

The purpose of CEED is to work with Ole Miss students and faculty to create actionable partnerships to promote community and economic development through innovation and entrepreneurship. Since 2014, the initiative, supported by the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation, has provided more than $1 million to students through undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships, and faculty grants.

“The forum is designed to bring colleges and universities together in Mississippi to share about entrepreneurship, inform of best practices and discuss community and economic development in Mississippi,” said J.R. Love, project manager for the CEED initiative at the McLean Institute.

Moderators and speakers at the daylong forum included UM faculty and staff members along with peers from other higher education institutions in the state; business leaders; Glenn McCullough, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority; and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.

Panels on technology and innovation, student entrepreneurship and the state’s entrepreneurial ecosystem also were conducted.

“Entrepreneurship is an important endeavor for higher education,” said Albert Nylander, director of the McLean Institute and UM professor of sociology. “The community-campus engagement partnerships are stronger when together we create and disseminate knowledge.

“Community engagement and entrepreneurship support the traditional roles of teaching and research. Campus partners who are focused on entrepreneurial efforts, such as Insight Park or the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, have partnered with the McLean Institute in creating an entrepreneurial infrastructure and culture that strengthens the university.”

Entrepreneurship works in a few ways at Ole Miss, said William Nicholas, UM director of economic development and a forum attendee.

The university’s Office of Technology Commercialization stimulates innovation among faculty and students, and transfers intellectual property to the private sector for commercialization, he said. The university also offers through its Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship both a major and minor in entrepreneurship and supports a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem on campus.

“Entrepreneurship is an important field of study to understanding and succeeding in a global economy,” he said. “It has a very practical focus and will serve students whether they start a new business or work for a large corporation.

“UM provides opportunities for students interested in entrepreneurship to participate in a business plan or business modeling competition, join the Entrepreneurship Club to be around other like-minded individuals, or start a business in the business and technology incubator at Insight Park.”

Formerly known as the Rural Entrepreneurship Forum, the inaugural Mississippi Entrepreneurship Forum was held in the summer of 2015 in Clarksdale. Subsequent forums were held in Tupelo, Greenwood and Oxford.

“The forum planning team is excited to begin the planning for the 2020 Mississippi Entrepreneurship Forum,” Love said. “The McLean Institute is honored to partner again with the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation to continue advancing economic development in Mississippi.

“This forum provided a place for college and universities to come together and discuss barriers around entrepreneurship, but also share successful case studies in our state.”

Additional sponsors for the forum included the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation, Innovate Mississippi, the ELSEWorks Entrepreneurship Program at Millsaps College, the UM Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Office of Technology Commercialization, Mississippi University for Women, Belhaven University, Williams CPA Firm PLLC and Williams Sanjo.