President Tony Jeff says Innovate Mississippi started as the Mississippi Technology Alliance in 2001, but after the company began working with a broader range of companies, the name changed in 2012. Over the years, he says, the organization has attracted 1,200 clients across the state and has helped about 58 companies raise a total $36 million in funding.
"We accelerate technology and innovation startups," Jeff says. "We operate on a 'coach-and-connect' model for businesses. We help get them prepared to present the ideas and projects to potential investors. This is a statewide program, and we hope to build an ecosystem that can help foster more growth of independent businesses by helping to build the resources they need to be successful."
Innovate Mississippi hosts several events that educate new business owners and help to encourage networking between startup founders and the people who can fund their businesses. Those events include the Mississippi New Venture Challenge, Startup Weekends, hack-a-thons, investor pitches, an annual technology conference and more.
Developing a high-tech workforce is another focus for Innovate Mississippi—something the group is addressing via the Mississippi Coding Academies. The academies, where student coders meet for 35 hours per week over 11 months, trains recent high-school graduates in coding and business "soft" skills, so they will be ready on the first day an employer needs them.
In partnership with the Mississippi Development Authority, Innovate Mississippi launched Jackson and Columbus branches of the program in 2017; classes are tuition-free to students, many of whom are from underserved backgrounds.
Jackson classes are temporarily housed in the Eudora Welty library, but a permanent classroom for the academy is being renovated in the "innovation hub" next door to the downtown Innovate Mississippi offices.
Jeff says that while Innovate Mississippi will work with established companies, their team really likes working with companies that are just getting started.
"We will help you build yourself up to a launching-pad stage," he says. "We also help guide and connect people with resources that may be beneficial to them going forward."
For more information, visit innovate.ms or find the organization on Facebook.