Over in Duling Hall, Mantle. is bustling with activity. People occupy conference and meeting rooms and offices, and the chatter makes it almost too hard to hear.
On March 31 and April 1, both Fondren and Mantle. will be bustling with more activity as Mantle. gears up for its first annual Sandbox Live, which is an event that will combine technology, film and music into one platform.
From Law to Technology
Mantle. co-owner Christopher Lomax grew up in Mobile, Ala. He met his wife, Lauren, at law school at the University of Mississippi, where he graduated with a law degree in 2009. The couple moved to Jackson after Lomax's graduation and married in March 2010. Lomax worked as a lawyer for Attorney General Jim Hood for several years before starting to design a shopping/social-media app called Aimlitstly on the side, but he says his wife wasn't happy.
"Lauren told me I couldn't do that anymore," he says with a laugh. "I couldn't both be an attorney and develop an app, and so the next thing I knew, I quit my job and went back and got my (master's in business administration around 2014) at Millsaps. ... I don't think that ... was the result that she expected."
After about a year and a half of working on the app, Lomax says he ran out of money and time to work on it. But the project ended up being fruitful: He came up with the idea of Mantle. during the process. When he was working on it, he says that he noticed that Mississippi didn't have many locations for creatives such as himself at the time (and no technology incubators outside of ones at colleges and universities), and the state didn't have an excess of coders.
So he decided to tackle both with the creation of Mantle.
Lomax says that at its core, co-working (part of what Mantle. is) is essentially office space, a place for people to work in outside of their work or home offices, but Mantle. is also a technology incubator. If a business or individual is at the idea stage of an app or technology-centered business, he or she can apply at Mantle. For a portion of the equity in the company, Mantle. will give the owners and creators free office space for a year, free legal work and business-plan development, and help them find investors.
At press time, Mantle. currently has three companies involved in this program—financial-research platform Finaius; Marketect, which helps businesses with finance and investor outreach and reporting; and Padrick, a facility-management tool that aids businesses such as gyms, membership clubs and storage facilities.
Those companies are art of what Lomax wants to showcase in Sandbox Live.
Showcasing the Sandbox
Lomax says Mantle.'s name is a reference to the part of an oyster that produces a shell and turns foreign substances such as grains of sand into pearls.
The idea of an incubator like Mantle. echoes that idea, he says: filter lots of grains of sand (technology start-ups and businesses) until it turns into something valuable such as a pearl. That's also where the name of the company's newsletter, Sandbox, comes from. "The idea was we wanted to ... showcase all that sand," he says.
He says that Sandbox Live is essentially the live version of the newsletter. It focuses on three areas: technology, music and film. The event begins on Friday, March 31, with a patio party on the patio of Duling Hall and goes through Saturday, April 1, with entertainment-based activities, such as live music and a silent-disco-esque screening of "The Wizard of Oz," which will give viewers the option of watching the movie to the tune of Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon"; educational panels, such as the Rethink Mississippi Tech-Ed Panel, where Rethink Project Coordinator Jake McGraw will discuss brain drain, and Jackson-Area Web & App Developers' Hello-JXN Panel, which will address software and app development in the capital city and throughout Mississippi; and pitches from the Mantle incubator businesses.
Sandbox Live's music offerings will focus on jazz because, as Lomax says, jazz and technology because both riff off classical organization to make something new.
"Going forward, my model, or kind of ideal result of this is kind of like South by Southwest in Austin," he says.
He says a good part of the event is that it all takes place in and around Fondren—Fondren Corner, Mantle., Brent's Drugs, Duling Hall and the lawn near it, and possibly the Capri Theater.
"That's kind of our idea is we want to—in the sense of collaboration like we do in co-working—get everyone in the neighborhood working together, to get everyone inspired on some pretty creative topics," Lomax says.
He says the event is tech-heavy because that's what Mantle. does best, but he hopes the event becomes more than that, growing organically with the neighborhood in the years to come. And although Sandbox focuses on Fondren, Mantle wants to include Jackson and the state as a whole.
"We want to bring in Jackson because, without Jackson, Fondren is nothing, and we want to bring in Mississippi because, without Mississippi, Jackson is nothing, and then Fondren is nothing," he says.
"... I would like to grow in such a way that we do this every year, and we start inspiring, not even in tech ... but in music and film, as well."
Besides Sandbox Live's focus on helping technology and business start-ups, the event has a secondary purpose: to try and give more opportunities to Jackson Public Schools students through Sandbox Prep.
Lomax says the proceeds from Sandbox Live, plus some additional matching funds from other local entities, will go toward the possible creation of Sandbox Prep coding school. The idea behind the school is that graduating JPS seniors who are not going to college will apply to be part of the program and learn how to code both websites and apps, with the end goal of creating a product or using their coding ability in the freelance world.
"The only thing that's preventing them from doing that is they probably don't have a computer, and they probably don't have the knowledge to do it," Lomax says.
"That's what's so beautiful about (the information economy) is that the barrier to entry is an Internet connection and a laptop. ... (The goal) is to take small groups of JPS kids and turn them into developers. ... We're just building that workforce."
Lomax says that if Mississippi is going to participate in the future of the economy, it's important to have more young people active in studying technology.
He wants the students to know that even if they do not pursue higher education, they still have options besides trade skills such as plumbing and electrical work, or industries such as the food service and hospitality one.
"If we can find those creative kids who can code, not only can they then build something potentially awesome, they can also be independent," Lomax says. "You're not working for somebody else. You're working for yourself. You can be entrepreneurial. ... It's all about opportunity."
For more information about Sandbox Live, visit sbljxn.live.
Sandbox Live, The Lineup
5 p.m. to 6 p.m.: Kickoff party, Duling Hall patio, needs all-access wristband
6 p.m. to 7 p.m.: JAWAD hackathon, Mantle. and Brent's Drugs, free
6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.: "The Wizard of Oz" Two Ways (viewers can switch between a version of the regular audio and a second version remixed with Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon."), Duling lawn, free for silent film, $10-$15 for film with sound
8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.: Network breakfast, Mantle., needs all-access wristband
10 a.m.-10:50 a.m.: Rethink Mississippi technology-education panel, Duling Hall, free
11:30 a.m. to 12:20 p.m.: jazz music from a high-school jazz program in Yazoo County, Duling Hall, free
1 p.m. to 1:50 p.m.: JAWAD <:Hello-Jxn Panel/>, Duling Hall, free
2 p.m. to 2:50 p.m.: Screening of Red Squared Productions' "Mississippi Left Me Out" documentary on the state not expanding Medicaid, Duling Hall, free
3 p.m. to 3:50 p.m.: Keynote address from portfolio-management company Venture360 co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Rachael Qualls, Duling Hall, free
4 p.m. to 4:50 p.m.: Tech-investing panel moderated by Jackson Free Press and BOOM Jackson Publisher Todd Stauffer, Duling Hall, free
5 p.m. to 6 p.m.: Mantle startup idea pitches, Duling Hall, free
6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.: Keynote address from Nick Moran, co-founder and managing director of New Stack Ventures and Moran Capital Partners, and the host of venture-investing podcast, The Full Ratchet, Duling Hall, free
7 to 8 p.m.: special screening of "Kudzu Zombies," Duling lawn, free
8:30 to 10 p.m.: jazz music from Raphael Semmes and other musicians, Duling Hall, free
Mantle Co.Working (622 Duling Ave.)
Duling Lawn (Duling Avenue)
Duling Hall (622 Duling Ave.)
Mantle. Suites (2906 N. State St.)
Brent's Drugs (655 Duling Ave.)
Sandbox Live is March 31 and April 1. Most events are free, but food and drink are not. All-access wristbands are $20, and $50 for all-access plus, which includes discounted beer and food. They will get guests into every event unless specified. For more information, visit sbljxn.live.