By Nash Nunnery
The slogan “out of the box, into the world” says it all about The Innovation Center in Biloxi.
Established in 1990, The Innovation Center is a small business incubator recognized regionally as a major source of small and entrepreneurial business assistance. The facility supports creative “out of the box” ideas for entrepreneurs that are eventually transitioned out of their Innovation Center space and “into the world”.
The incubator is co-funded by a partnership between the Harrison County Development Commission and the City of Biloxi.
Formerly known as the Gulf Coast Business Technology Center, The Innovation Center has trained, counseled and housed over 370 small resident businesses at their Popps Ferry Road facility. Currently, the incubator averages an occupancy rate of 95 percent, and has attracted approximately $800,000 in angel capital since 2014.
The failure rate for the IC’s 49 resident occupants remains an astounding zero and has now extended to 72 months.
Executive director Dr. Stephen Whitt says there are several keys to TIC’s success.
“Professionalism and our resident agencies, along with our willingness to partner create a seamless ecosystem to foster entrepreneurial success,” he said. “Our partners mix university credentials with real world entrepreneurial experience in running their own business. Our moves are guided by our original university success.”
Whitt’s university research study, entitled Business Incubator Effectiveness in Facilitating Entrepreneurial Accesses and the Impact on Incubator Client Firm Sustainability and Profitability, forms the foundation for TIC’s strategic plan and includes actions such as:
- Focus only on outcomes like survival, not outputs like number served
- Serve the entire entrepreneurial community not just TIC “residents”
- Facilitate entrepreneurs, at the right times or stages, to eight things they will need to access: technology, markets, capital, training, know-how networks, opportunity networks, facilities and shared services
Hired in late 2007, Whitt recognized the need to rebrand and expand the Innovation Center’s mission. Additionally, he focused his efforts on partnering more closely with other small business and entrepreneurial assistance programs. Over the years, the incubator developed strategic partnerships with the Mississippi Development Authority and the state’s public university system.
The prognosis for future entrepreneurial success in south Mississippi is bright, says Whitt. Growing the region’s ‘entrepreneurship ecosystem’ is a priority.
“We are currently collaborating with Dr. Shannon Campbell and the Trent Lott Center at Southern Miss to produce an advanced level of entrepreneurship tools for existing businesses,” he said. “The continued growth relies on us providing early to mid-stage companies with topics in strategy, market analysis, lean planning and modeling. We plan to offer these ecosystem additions by (late September 2016).”
For more information about The Innovation Center, go to www.innovatems.com or contact Dr. Stephen Whitt at (228) 392-9741 or Stephen@innovatems.com.