The 2017 Conference on Technology Innovation offered a slightly different format and focus this year, swapping breakout sessions for a single stage where “Big Ideas” speakers offered critical suggestions on improving Mississippi’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“We’ve put a lot of emphasis on coding, the innovation ecosystem and economic development in 2017,” said Tony Jeff, president and CEO of Innovate Mississippi. “This year’s conference reflected that energy and gave attendees a look at how we’re going to push these initiatives further in 2018.”
The Big Ideas talks featured topics ranging from women in high technology careers to incentives to keep college educated professionals in the state.
Oxford economic developer Jon Maynard told the audience that focusing on “tropical fish” in economic development is more important than trying to land “big whales.”
Project manager Matt Bolian gave the Millennial perspective, noting that Mississippi companies need to quickly understand the new reality with Millennials in the workplace to avoid “brain bleed” as college-educated young professionals leave the state.
Tim Mask, president of Maris West and Baker, presented his idea for “brain drain” legislation, offering incentives to young people who state in the state in the form of tax rebates. FedEx executive Tracci Shultz talked about how to encourage women into careers in technology and corporate leadership.
Along with keynote presentations by Dr. Roberto Gallardo and Dr. Lou Marciani, the conference featured the three winning presentations in the 2017 Mississippi New Venture Challenge Competition. For this session of the conference, the winners have their pitch in front of a panel of “sharks” who criticized, complimented and made suggestions for their startups.
The afternoon sessions of the conference focused on Women in STEM (particularly technology careers) and the emphasis and programs necessary to improve women’s access and participation in tech fields. Dr. Sarah Lee of Mississippi State lead a discussion that featured a number of women speakers from business and academia, including Lisa Kemp of Reactive Surfaces, Tracci Shultz of FedEx, Dr. Shonda Allen from Jackson State University and Dr. Christiane Surbeck of the University of Mississippi.
On hand to demonstrate a fantastic extracurricular pursuit of STEM education was the Rankin Robotics team, the national championship-winning team from Pearl, Mississippi.