Millsaps Group Helping Boost Businesses

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Millsaps College, through its Else School of Management, is looking to graduate not only the next generation of successful businesspeople but people who can use what they've learned in class to boost entrepreneurship of themselves and others while improving their surrounding communities.

To that end, the college has formed ELSEWorks, a group of students and faculty that engages the area's business and community leaders to promote growth and opportunity.

In its short existence, the collective already has done market research toward both redeveloping an old movie theater in Fondren and demand for Mississippi-produced biofuel, helped build a general store in Bogue Chitto and craft a business plan for a Midtown Jackson coffee house, among other activities.

"Our aim was to figure out a niche where we could add value and leverage our skill sets," said David Culpepper, ELSEWorks' faculty chairman.

That niche has turned out to be fairly broad. The partnership's concept was hashed out starting a few years ago, when college officials met with businesses, the Mississippi Development Authority and others to sense how the college could play a part in Mississippi's economic growth.

ELSEWorks involves students gaining real-world experience in things related to entrepreneurship and business development.

Two notable current undertakings involve studying how to make Midtown Jackson an economic development engine built around the state's push for a greater creative economy of writers, musicians and artists, and researching how the old Capri theater in the Fondren area of north Jackson should be reborn, including whether it should air first- or second-run movies and what kind of food and drink should be sold at the proposed dine-in theater.

Students surveyed about 2,000 area residents on the theater by use of social media. Their findings are scheduled to be released soon.

"This aligned beautifully with my class," said Millsaps marketing professor Penny Prenshaw, adding the class currently focuses on consumer reaction to product launches.

ELSEWorks also has forged a bond with the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. They worked to sharpen the business skills of a host of tribe high-school students last summer and helped build a general store for the tribe in Bogue Chitto. Molly Lehmuller, a master's degree candidate in business administration at Millsaps, said many tribe members previously had to drive more than 20 miles to get food, milk and other essentials.

Bogue Chitto is a central location that should cut down on the lengthy commutes, she said. She and her ELSEWorks colleagues had to prepare a detailed pitch to investors. But the store has been built, and Lehmuller is thrilled "to see an (idea on) paper become a store" in just a year.

Alex Wills traveled with ELSEWorks to a company in Alabama that converts paper-based records into electronic format. They not only watched workers do their jobs but talked with executives about how the business grew.

"It was a wonderful experience, to get that hands-on, real-life experience. You can't teach that in class," the MBA candidate said.

Students also have attended regular meetings on campus of groups like the Mississippi Angel Network, a group of angel investors, and the Jackson Tech Startup Group, where attendees pitch ideas and look for investors and business partners.

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