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Building Momentum: Mississippi Startups Raise over $17 Million in 3 Years

Rocketing Systems, a Starkville-based startup company run by recent Mississippi State University graduates, isn’t quite the outlier it looks like on paper. The e-commerce software-as-a-service company has raised $685,000 in its three years by pulling together different components from Mississippi’s startup ecosystem.

“Organizations like the Mississippi State University Entrepreneurship Center, Innovate Mississippi, and others around the state are spearheading the investment of mentorship, opportunities, and resources into the local startups that will positively impact the future,” said Calvin Waddy, CEO of Rocketing Systems.

The company began by meeting the benchmarks required to raise $7,500 from the VentureCatalyst program at the MSU Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach while the team was still in school. They then moved on to the Bulldog Angel Network, which specializes in early-stage funding for companies coming out of Mississippi State University. The Mississippi Seed Fund, run by Innovate Mississippi, also awarded Rocketing Systems $100,000 in funds.

While the Rocketing Systems story is impressive, it isn’t unique. A recent compilation of investments showed 43 Mississippi startups have raised $17.7 million in the past three years, thanks to an energized entrepreneurial ecosystem in the state.

“And that’s the publicly available figure,” said Innovate Mississippi CEO Tony Jeff, who says he was pleasantly surprised when he saw that total. “Some [Mississippi startups] don’t reveal the size of investments to the public, so those are undercounted. I’m just excited that the Mississippi Development Authority asked us to stop and compile this information.”

This spring, the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) commissioned the research to learn how efforts to improve Mississippi’s high-tech entrepreneurial ecosystem have affected real-world companies. MDA reported the results to Startup Genome, an innovation policy and research firm that helps its 120 worldwide members accelerate technology-driven ecosystems in their communities.

“This is part of the state’s overall strategy,” said Joe Donovan, director of MDA’s Office of Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship.  “The goal at MDA is to build and nurture an entrepreneurial and innovative ecosystem in Mississippi with a focus on emerging technologies and attracting startup companies from outside the state.”

Donovan said that the participation of Mississippi’s Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) and the innovation at the state’s five research-intensive campuses is a significant force helping to attract and spin out successful startup companies. He also pointed to the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), the Stoneville Agriculture Research Center, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, and the Stennis Space Center as encouraging high-tech entrepreneurship.

Another benefit to startups is the fact that investors and resource organizations in the state are collaborating and cooperating more, particularly around high-growth opportunities. In the past three years, Innovate Mississippi has organized new member-managed regional angel funds and these new funds work very closely with other organized capital around the state.

The North Mississippi Angel Fund has led several local deals in the past three years, with the Central Mississippi Angel Fund organizing in 2020 and the South Mississippi Angel Fund in that process now. In addition, the Bulldog Angel Network, which focuses on startups launched out of Mississippi State University, has been intensively active in recent years.

“We’ve made progress in Mississippi, and that’s rewarding,” Jeff said. “Of course, there’s a lot more work to be done, but for these 43 companies, the $17.7 million in capital has put them on a path to success.”