Mississippi Business Journal: Can innovation in Mississippi be a national model?


In my last column I showed that Mississippi has vast untapped potential for innovation, mainly because of our human asset.  Based on research first published in 1962 in the book Diffusion of Innovations we have we have the potential to build an army of roughly 74,000 innovators.  While statistically, this number represents just 2.5 percent of our population, these individuals are our current and future “game-changers” in whichever field they choose to engage in.

I choose the word army deliberately because the innovation journey is not an easy one.  It has many landmines and obstacles along the way, and strategic planning is vital to succeed on this path.  Ironically, we may be our worst enemies when it comes to making Mississippi an innovative place to live and invest in.  Research also shows that for every innovator there are six to seven times as many people who have a tendency to resist change and can often subconsciously derail the adoption of innovations.  I will be discussing more about adopter categories and personality types in the future columns, but for now it suffices to say that we have to change our mindset on how we nurture and facilitate the army of nearly 74,000 game-changers to march forward.

This brings me to the presentations, discussions and the hackathon that took place in Jackson as part of the TECHJXN Innovation Summit and #YesWeCode Hackathon on June 30 – July 31.  These two days could potentially go down in the history of Jackson to mark an event that served as a catalyst to kick off a strategic planning phase toward the development of the TECHJXN Innovation Corridor.  An innovation corridor or hub is a designated area which is set up to encourage and facilitate the growth of local innovators and entrepreneurs.  TECHJXN’s unique approach seeks to enable participation for underrepresented communities in the innovation economy and demonstrate a model that may be replicated in cities around the country.  “The lens through which TECHJXN views low-performing communities is the same lens through which investors view the potential in a promising startup. The focus is on investing in value, cultivating and mentoring talent and reaping a return on investment. Everybody wins!” said Mike Green, co-founder of ScaleUp Partners and a key TECHJXN organizer.

Five major trends were identified at the TECHJXN Innovation Summit by various local and nationally recognized experts from the Silicon Valley, Ohio, Oregon and Texas.  These trends are increased e-commerce, inter-connectedness of various disciplines such as healthcare and information technology, creation of massive data and the corresponding analytics for visualizing trends, increased competition for talent and resources, and finally a realization that change is fast and getting faster.  In addition to education, they each stressed the importance of plain old hard work and the power of networking.  Mayor Tony Yarber and several leaders from Jackson State University expressed strong support at the summit to grow the region’s innovation economy and contributed a tremendous amount of personnel and financial resources to ensure a successful Summit and Hackathon.

We are in a very disruptive period in the history of mankind when it comes to technology evolution.  For example, FastCompany reports that a staggering 300 hours of video, or two weeks’ worth of footage is being uploaded to YouTube every single minute! The factories that make the Internet possible are not only the manufacturing facilities which assemble the computers, hardware and mobile devices to access the web, but think of a today’s data centers as factories as well where banks of liquid or air cooled computers and data storage devices are spinning away to store, reroute and analyze information literally at the speed of light.

Human talent is the life blood of such technology-based economic development and we need to take specific steps to develop that in Mississippi.  During his keynote at the TECHJXN Summit, Governor Bryant, himself a pioneer in e-government, stated that “we cannot segregate knowledge and opportunity” and pointed out a need to increase computer coding classes in our schools. The Summit was followed by the largest-ever multi-state hackathon held in Mississippi facilitated by #YesWeCode and Estella’s Brilliant Bus.  Nearly 80 kids from underserved schools in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi participated in the hackathon to develop mobile apps which solve social and economic issues that confront the students themselves.  One of the teams in Jackson came up with the idea to address the issue of clean water by developing the prototype for an app that enables your smartphone to be used as an UV (ultra violet) water purification device.

After staying for two nights in the JSU dormitories and seeing what college life is all about, all 80 “digital freedom riders” traveled to New Orleans to compete in the 2015 Essence Festival Hackathon where the boy’s Jackson team won first place! The Estella’s Brilliant Bus contingent had two teams in the top four.  Kwame Anku, director of strategic development for #YesWeCode said it very eloquently at the opening of the TECHJXN Summit, “#YesWeCode was founded to change the paradigm of how we perceive black kids in hoodies. A white kid in a hoodie could be a Mark Zuckerberg, but you think of Trayvon Martin when you think of a black kid in a hoodie.”  The proof, that this working, is in the victory of these teams on a national stage in New Orleans.  Given the right opportunities, guidance and training, students from Mississippi are indeed innovating and changing the game!  Stay tuned for more on the TECHJXN Innovation Corridor.

Read original story here.

"Diversity brings so much more to the table - and by focusing outside of the usual and rewarding all sorts of people in tech - we can only make it better. #YesWeCode is doing exactly that."
- Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple