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Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach at Mississippi State Helping Turn Ideas into Global Companies

Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach at Mississippi State (Photo from website)

  • Business columnist Phil Hardwick takes a look at the entrepreneurship and economic development programs at Mississippi’s three major universities, starting with Mississippi State.

In this three-part series, we focus on entrepreneurship and economic development programs at the state’s three major universities.

This week, Jeffrey Rupp, Director of Outreach at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach discusses Mississippi State’s program.

How long has Mississippi State University had an entrepreneurship program?

The program began back in 2001.  The E-Center was officially founded in 2009.  Eric Hill started in 2013 and the program moved under the College of Business in 2014.

The 2,000sqft HQ for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach opened in 2016 in McCool Hall.  Our public maker space, the Idea Shop, opened on Main Street in Starkville in 2018.  Our Vicksburg office opened in 2022 and our E-Center expansion will be officially opened in April 2024.

Can Mississippi business owners request assistance from the MSU Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach? If so, what services are available?

Jeffrey Rupp

Yes, while only university students, faculty and staff are available for funding, we work with dozens of Mississippi businesses each year.  Teams of MBA students work with clients for an entire semester conducting applied research specifically designed for the clients’ needs.  Those research areas can include:

  • Marketing
  • Path to Market
  • Barriers to Entry
  • Competitor Analysis
  • Production
  • Material Sourcing
  • Packaging
  • Distribution
  • Supply Chain
  • Pricing
  • Focus Groups
  • Social Media Strategies

Elevator pitches are critical for entrepreneurs. Tell us about the Startup Summit.

Startup Summit is a week-long pitch competition and networking opportunity for Mississippi State students, faculty, and staff.  This year there is $40,000,000 in prize money that will be awarded.  Categories include elevator pitch, business concept, new product, best brand, brick and mortar, as well as an overall winner. Each team has to give a five-minute presentation and respond to judges’ Q&A, much like the TV show Shark Tank.

Can members of the public attend the Startup Summit?

The event is open to the public and all are welcome.  In fact, we have a People’s Choice award where the audience votes for several thousand in prize money. We’ll also be dedicating our newly expanded E-Center and giving tours.

I notice that your headline speakers are Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey, the founders of Barefoot Wine. Will they be at the Startup Summit in person?

The Barefoot Wine founders are returning for their second visit to MSU.  They were here almost ten years ago and are excited to return.  We use their book, The Barefoot Spirit, in our entrepreneurship class.  The New York Times best seller documents one of the great American entrepreneurial success stories. 

What are some success stories that have come out of your program?

More than 100 startups have come out of the MSU E-Center.  The most successful to date are Glo, Buzzbassador,  WISPR systems, DueTT, mySet, and Werkx. All are investor-backed, and all valued well over $1 million, with the highest valuation in excess of $20 million.

There seem to be many opportunities for students who are interested in technology, such as eClub and DevNet. 

eClub and Devnet are designed to get like-minded students together.  The eClub is a more social organization where students can meet and talk with mentors, share a meal with students who’ve already started a business, and seek support and encouragement on their entrepreneurial journey.  DevNet is similar but is geared more toward developers and techies. 

Coworking centers are available in many cities nowadays. I see that you have one at MSU. 

Cowork @ the Hub is a 4,000 square foot workspace in downtown Starkville.  There are eight dedicated offices, ten flex desks, and four designated desks to accommodate those looking for a variety of working environments.  Membership, both short and long-term, includes access to a conference room, high-speed internet as well as other office support. Members even have access to two Ford Think EVs, for short trips to campus or around town.

One of our family members mentioned an entrepreneurship summer camp for students called iCREATE Summer Camp. Will it be held this summer, and what’s it like?

iCreate camp brings young teens together for an exhausting, immersive week into entrepreneurship.  Using the Idea Shop as their home base, the campers have to:

  • Form a company
  • Develop products
  • Source materials
  • Make their products
  • Market their goods
  • Host a pop-up shop on the last day of camp

Along the way, the campers have to negotiate loan and/or equity terms with the camp counselors to fund their shop. 

The best part is the campers keep all the net profits from the shop.  For all seven years that the camp has been held, campers have made over $1,000 in one day, with this past year’s camp breaking $3,000. Parents are usually very surprised when they come to pick up their children and they’ve actually made money at camp. 

The date for this year’s camp is not set.

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