New CEO Downtown demonstrates ‘perfect’ town and gown partnership

By: Allison Matthews, MSU OPA. Photos by Megan Bean.

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State University student entrepreneurs are thriving in downtown Starkville, and university and city leaders are identifying new and expanded opportunities to support business startups as they grow into mature companies.

MSU’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach, known as the CEO, and the Greater Starkville Development Partnership hosted an open house today [Nov. 17] to showcase space the GSDP has designated for business use by the university center.

“This is a very unique town and gown situation, and we have full support from the mayor and [MSU President] Dr. Keenum,” said Jeffrey Rupp, MSU outreach director for the College of Business.

MSU electrical engineering alumnus Hagan Walker and international business and Spanish major Anna Barker have been successfully operating their company Vibe, which manufactures Glo beverage lights, from office space in the Greater Starkville Development Partnership’s building in downtown Starkville for nearly a year. (Photo by Megan Bean)

Mayor Lynn Spruill called the collaboration the “perfect” town and gown partnership.

“My hope is that we will have an explosion of this type of business activity. Entrepreneurs become tenants who become long-term tenants and residents of the community and a major part of the fabric of our overall town,” Spruill said.

Scott Maynard, GSDP president and CEO, said that as entrepreneurs have utilized the downtown area, leaders have identified the need for more space.

“At the beginning of the year, we’ll open four additional office suites to be used as incubator space for new businesses,” said Maynard, who was named to his position this year after a long career as director of MSU’s Career Center.

Rahul Gopal is among the young entrepreneurs taking interest. An MSU aerospace engineering and MBA graduate, Gopal founded CampusKnot Inc. along with MSU business graduate Hiten Patel while they were students. Gopal now works full time as CEO and expressed strong interest in moving the company to the GSDP space, where fellow MSU alumnus Hagan Walker has operated his company Vibe for nearly a year, along with his partner Anna Barker, an MSU international business and Spanish major.

“Our sales have grown 600 percent year over year from 2016-2017,” said the 2015 electrical engineering graduate, in discussing his product Glo, which safely lights and flavors beverages.

“Having this space lends legitimacy,” he explained. “You need to get people to a place where they are serving the community. It’s nice to have space where people can stop by and we can host meetings.”

MSU students are launching about 80 new businesses a year. A new state-of-the-art CEO space on campus features 12,000 square feet of innovative design including glass “idea walls” in McCool Hall, home to the university’s College of Business.

Cookies were on hand to mark the open house celebration for CEO Downtown. A reception was held Nov. 17 at the Greater Starkville Development Partnership for the space designated for use by the Mississippi State University center. (Photo by Megan Bean)

More than $6 million in endowments and private gifts help spur success, and faculty advisers from across disciplines coach students on everything from technology issues to finances. An executive-in-residence program makes senior business leaders throughout the region accessible to budding entrepreneurs seeking advice and encouragement.

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