It had not been much more than about two weeks since I stated how dead Jackson was when I read a small blurb in the local newspaper announcing the opening ceremony for an “Entrepreneur Development Center” at the heart of downtown. Well, I thought, this I have to see. I got ahold of a magazine called VIP Jackson and learned that a Linda Garrard, who has worked with various start-ups in health care and business, was heading up the whole thing and that she had taught MBA entrepreneurship classes, apparently at the University of Memphis. Or she had gotten her MBA at UM; the article wasn’t clear. Moreover, Jackson was one of nine regional accelerators established by the governor, which means these are physical places where people can connect with mentors, knowledge, training and so on. She put forth an interesting statistic in the interview; that three-fourths of all new jobs are created by companies less than five years old. Not sure where she got that. She also added that entrepreneurs created 3 million new jobs in 2011. This place has “pre-accelerator classes” where would-be entrepreneurs give a 10-minute pitch to a judging panel. This panel decides whether or not the idea behind the pitch is viable and whether it can make money.
And so last Tuesday, I picked up my daughter from school and drove to the New Southern Hotel building, located across the street from the Madison County courthouse and next to the Green Frog, the most popular restaurant downtown. Good choice. The reception was on the second floor; a large green-carpeted office space with large windows and a kitchen and conference room on the west side of the building and an airy room full of desks and Dell laptops on the east side. Also in the east room was a white board in front of several rows of chairs. I nabbed Linda Garrard, who was easy to spot in a red suit and asked her how this was supposed to work.
“So many young businesses need a place,” she told me. “We connect them with mentors, classes, angel and venture capital.” She wouldn’t reveal all those who’d signed up but did say an incubator building for cooking (that is, businesses trying to prepare and offer food) was in the works. Being that Jackson is the site of a few successful and multiple failed cupcake businesses, that makes sense. The locals like to cook. As I wandered about, I noticed some spiffy business cards belonging to four staff the center has on staff and brochures belonging to some of the start-ups. One was called Ladder Wdge, a device that helps stabilize a ladder set at odd angles. Another was called Medical Rehab Wear, which are T-shirts with openings placed so that people who’ve had dialysis, chemo, is breast feeding, has had arm surgery or other upper-body work; also spinal injuries and wear for people who are paralyzed. Having had a quadriplegic housemate many years ago and having been one of the people who struggled to get regular clothing on and off her supine body, I thought this sort of clothing sounds like a neat invention. I also saw a brochure for a set of fitness DVDs. The center has a host of local business leaders on its board, so I guess there is hope for Jackson after all. Speaking of interesting ideas, I read a USA Today piece about another interesting start-up called Collegefeed.com, assembled by a 44-year-old MIT graduate, Sanjeev Agrawal, who’s helping to connect college students with companies looking for specific talent sets. He missed an opportunity to get connected with Cisco Systems in his 20s, he said in the article, because he didn’t know they existed and they didn’t know who he was, but had the two connected, he’d be rich by now. He’s hoping his site will help students avoid the mistakes he fell into by getting students – some as early as their freshmen year – get connected with a range of employers. Wish this sort of thing had been available when I was an undergrad many eons ago.