STARKVILLE, Miss. — Fostering an environment of innovation and creativity and inspiring students to be successful in a fast-paced and changing world are goals that Mississippi State President Mark E. Keenum said are in line with the university’s vision.
During the “Investing in Innovation” conference, also known as I3 Day, Friday [April 5], Keenum said nurturing an entrepreneurial culture will help educate and train people to be successful in taking on global challenges, including one that is of special focus under Keenum’s leadership â?” innovative agricultural solutions to help feed the growing global population. Keenum noted that an additional two billion people will be added to the global dinner table by the year 2050.
“To inspire and motivate students to go off into the world and do great things â?” that’s what we’re about at Mississippi State,” Keenum said.
The conference centered around the theme “Inventing Solutions,” and an intellectual property showcase demonstrated that a true variety of ventures, from medical and pharmaceutical solutions to social media applications, are addressing a diverse assortment of demands.
Keynote speaker at the innovation luncheon Thad McNulty, an angel investor and entrepreneur, emphasized that the basics of supply and demand should never be overlooked as the fundamental keys to success in any business.
McNulty, who received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard University and an M.B.A. from Stanford University, worked as a research analyst and general partner at Water Street Capital before starting a hedge fund that compounded at 20 percent net per year for 12 years.
McNulty shared stories of investments in new ventures and his perspective on the right ingredients for success.
“There’s no substitute for good people,” he said, adding that just as important as hiring good people is keeping them.
He also observed that the best companies in the world tend to be fanatics about customer service. “There’s nothing like a word-of-mouth referral,” he noted, also adding, “The best salesman is a satisfied customer.”
Throughout the preceding Entrepreneurship Week, MSU students competed in business plan competitions, with cash awards totaling more than $50,000. Dean of Business Sharon Oswald said the week demonstrated the university’s incredible entrepreneurial culture.
“We have students with innovative ideas and faculty willing to help them take these ideas to the next level. This week has given students the opportunity to pitch their ideas to a host of individuals who can serve as mentors in life,” Oswald said. “It gave them good practice and good feedback.”
Oswald said MSU’s College of Business can compete with any school in the country.
“Our students are not afraid of any challenge and they proved it this week,” she said.
Student entrepreneur Read Sprabery, representing the company Nimbus Mobile, walked away with the top award from the Tellus Operating Group, LLC Final Round Business Plan Competition. John Gazzini is the company’s co-founder, who participated in an earlier round of competition before traveling to out-of-town employment interviews. The award package includes a $10,000 cash prize, as well as legal services provided by Bradley Arant Boult and Cummings, and office space in the MSU Business Incubator courtesy of the Golden Triangle Enterprise Center.
Sprabery, a senior computer engineering major from Olive Branch, explained that Nimbus Mobile’s FeatherServe platform allows pool service companies to easily manage their employees while keeping better logs for their customers. Gazzini, of Birmingham, Ala., also is a senior computer engineering major.
“We’re actually revolutionizing service companies in general, but we’re starting with pool service companies,” Sprabery said. “We’re just making it easy to schedule appointments, keep records, keep up with your customers, and keep up with your employees.”
He said that participating in the business plan competition forced he and Gazzini to think about the business in more technical ways.
“We’ve done financial projections. We’ve had feedback on how we need to improve our business model to be competitive. This business competition at Mississippi State has provided us with the incentive to really formalize our business,” Sprabery said.
The competing business plans were evaluated on company technology, management, financials and market.
Danny Holt, assistant professor of management and a faculty advisor with the Entrepreneurship Center, said the week offered unique opportunities for many pioneering students.
“It’s a chance to interact with professional investors and folks who can give these young people all types of funding or mentorship support, which is incredibly important to take their businesses to the next step,” Holt said.
“The ideas that these experienced entrepreneurs and business people give students are invaluable. They give them insights and experiences to help them avoid some pitfalls and refine their products.”