On this edition of the MWB Creative Fire Podcast, host Tim Mask talks with “Craft Beer” attorney Matthew McLaughlin about the challenges and opportunities of the burgeoning craft beer industry in Mississippi. We also give a brief overview of the exciting upcoming TECH JXN student hackathon and innovation townhall summit happening in Jackson June 30 – July 1.
Checkout the new MWB Creative Fire podcast. In this episode we talk the culinary side of the creative economy with raconteur Chef Tom Ramsey. We’ve also got an update on the Fast Forward Mississippi Initiative. Check it out.
At the risk of the MWB Blog looking increasingly like a tavern, I feel compelled to write a postmortem on our latest #MWBeer30 event. Jon Fisher, Donnie Brimm, and Bethany Cooper from Oxford-based FNC gave a great talk reviewing many of the practices and protocols their company has put in place designed to stir innovation and creativity. I think attendees of this event (4/17) will agree that it really was inspiring to hear a Silicon Valley-esque approach to innovation being undertaken by a company who is committed to being headquartered in Mississippi.
Like I’ve said a million times before, Silicon Valley was an apple orchard 60 years ago. There’s no reason we can’t turn the Delta, red clay hills, pine woods, gulf coast, and mini-Appalachian landscapes that are Mississippi into something at least equally as impressive. And I don’t want to gloss over the fact that FNC – like so many other thriving entities – is committed to a robust corporate headquarters in our state. The company counts the majority of the top 20 banks in the U.S. as clients utilizing their applications. They are rapidly expanding operations into Brazil and Canada. I have a feeling new products are in the offing. FNC basically invented a category and is the market leader. Not bad for Oxford, Mississippi. Heck, that wouldn’t be bad for Oxford, England.
But back to the main point, the latest #MWBeer30. We had a great crowd attend representing Innovate Mississippi, the Mississippi Development Authority, the Clarion Ledger, EatShopPlayLiveJXN, C Spire, and various other highly innovative individuals. After a brief announcement about TEDxJackson 2015 (coming 11.12.15) and watching the newest Star Wars Trailer (yes, it looks uber cool) the folks from FNC took the floor. Here’s what we learned from their 6 minute 40 second presentation:
1. A 6-minute, 40-second, 20 slide presentation is called “Pecha Kucha.”
Here’s Jon Fisher from FNC getting into their talk. Many of you may be familiar with the “Pecha Kucha” approach. I was not. This is a presentation that consists of a total of 20 slides and each slide lasts no more than 20 seconds. Jon’s pictured here taking us “through the wormhole” that is FNC’s innovation process. The story I was told was that #MWBeer30 was the first time these guys had used Pecha Kucha in a talk… and they didn’t practice, either. They really had it down seamlessly, so I don’t know that I necessarily believe that “we didn’t do a run-through” story. Either way, they nailed it. This was a highly effective and engaging way to present information, so three cheers on the style points!
2. Play-Doh isn’t just for kids anymore.
Bethany Cooper of FNC talked specifically about some of the (dare I use the phrase) out-of-the-box exercises that the company utilizes to get the creative juices flowing. These include actual Play-Doh planning sessions. Don’t be skeptical. There’s a reason four-year-olds think they can do anything.
Other hyper-cool practices FNC has implemented include developing and maintaining their own internal Innovation Team, an annual all-night hackathon called The Forge (props to Jon Fisher for having a product from The Forge now in development), and their implementation of the “80/20″ work principle. The latter of these, being a concept pioneered by 3M and really made famous by Google, roughly states that an employee has the freedom to spend 20% of their time working on pet projects they believe will contribute to a company’s mission, outside of “sanctioned” job functions.
3. People will show up and talk… for beer… (and for other reasons, too).
Many, many apologies to FNC, but I didn’t learn until they pulled into our world headquarters about 2:45 p.m. that they had actually missed out on the annual FNC crawfish boil to some speak to the attendees of #MWBeer30. I hate the thought of making someone miss their own event like that, but I will also say that we’re not BYOB. We had great craft beer (much of it brewed here in the great state of Mississippi) on hand for sampling. There are so many innovative people in Jackson and across Mississippi that we feel honored to provide a forum to evangelize the growing nature of our state’s knowledge economy, the great creative assets that we possess, and the how companies, organizations, and individuals are really fostering a culture of innovation.
Tasha Bibb (top) and Lynlee Honea (bottom) were among a contingent from Innovate Mississippi who attended #MWBeer30. Innovate Mississippi is a great organization who are champions of innovation culture and entrpreneurialism across our state. Always very glad to see these folks in attendance.
4. Mississippians are engaged and ready to support our knowledge-based companies.
Plain and simple, we (Mississippians) get a bad rap. “We’re a backwater…” “we really can read and write…” “thank goodness for Arkansas…”. Well we say phooey on all that nonsense. And apologies to our friends from the Travelers State, no disrespect intended. I’m just trying to convey the point here that we’re poised and ready to springboard into a prominent place in the 21st century.
Here’s Donnie Brimm from FNC talking. Donnie and the rest of the FNC crew got peppered with questions after their 6 minutes and 40 seconds were done. And I don’t mean peppered in a “Mike Wallace from 60 Minutes GOTCHA” kind of way. The people at #MWBeer30 were genuinely curious and supportive of great knowledge-based business like FNC and wanted to know more about the industry, the development aspect, and especially what kind of stumbling blocks had the company encountered in implementing a real culture of innovation.
They say that an indicator of creativity and intelligence is the ability to ask great questions. That being said, we certainly had a highly creative and intelligent group of people who attend #MWBeer30. Being a connoisseur of great craft beer is simply a plus. By the way, our craft beer is courtesy of the great guys at LD’s Beer Run, serving a huge selection of local, regional, and national craft brands. Stop by and see them if you’re ever in the neighborhood.
5. Star Wars The Force Awakens looks super cool.
One of the warm-up acts for FNC’s presentation was screening of the new trailers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. To quote Mississippi icon Marshall Ramsey, “I watched it at least a dozen times and I felt my heart swell when Han said, “Chewie, we’re home.” To quote MWB VP Keith Fraser, “OhMyGodOhMyGodOhMyGodOhMyGodOhMyGod.” Yes, it certainly sends chills throughout your spine. The folks gathering at MWB world heaquarters gave a standing ovation after the trailer. Well, technically they were already standing, but I feel certain if they could have levitated, they would have.
6. It’s ok to hire people with purple hair.
This was actually a happy little coincidence of parallelism. A couple of years ago FNC CEO Bill Rayburn was giving the luncheon keynote talk at Innovate Mississippi’s annual luncheon. During his impassioned delivery (those of you who have ever heard Mr. Rayburn give a talk know exactly what I’m talking about), he made the statement – I’m paraphrasing here – that in the new economy we have to get over not hiring people because of things like tattoos and purple hair and instead be meritorious in our approach. Basically, hire the most creative, innovative, and driven person for the job at hand.
Well MWB new hire Erica Robinson just happened to show up at her first #MWBeer30 sporting a rather glamorous “Friday wig,” as she calls it. Everybody loved it. She’s a great addition to our creative staff and innovative culture and certainly the embodiment of how not to let individualism and self expression be an impediment to raising your organization’s intellectual talent. Can’t wait to see this Friday’s colour-de-jour.
In fact, one of the best TEDx talks I’ve heard was given by purple-haired Heather Crawford at the TEDxAntioch event I also spoke at in 2014. Check out Heather’s talk here, titled “You really ARE what you eat.”
Correction, 1:37 P.M. Also do not be afraid to hire people who’s names are spelled in unconventional ways. I just realized her name is actually “Hether Crawford.” Our apologies, Hether.
So anyway, a great time at April’s #MWBeer30. Again, many many thanks to FNC for sending down some of their most impressive folks to give a great 6-minute, 40-second presentation. We’re already working on the agenda for #MWBeer30 in May, so if you want to keep up with this and other #MWBeer30 events, please opt into our MWB Tap special alter system. Cheers!
Ray Harris (MWB), Tasha Bibb & Lynlee Honea (Innovate Mississippi), various unidentifiable pairs legs.
All photography via MWB’s Tate Nations.
We have a great #MWBeer30 lined up for April. The good folks from FNC in Oxford are stopping by the MWB World Headquarters to give a talk about innovation drivers they have incorporated into their company. If you’re interested in the 80/20 model, intern innovation, hackathons, or various other creative strategies for building a corporate culture of innovation, please join us 4/17 at 3:30-ish.
Oh, and as always, there will be a great selection of Mississippi craft beer on hand for sampling.
See you then!
MWB has been involved with efforts to help stop the brain drain that Mississippi is experiencing and to focus on digital literacy and the high level skills that will help us to maintain a thriving knowledge-based workforce in the 21st century. Our support isn’t totally altruistic, although the cause believe does benefit all.
We are an agency headquartered in Mississippi. Most of our business comes from other Mississippi businesses or organizations. So goes the fate of our state, the climate of our creativity, and the depth of our innovation, so goes our company. If Mississippi becomes a major player in the knowledge economy, so do we.
The Mississippi House of Representatives is currently considering a bill (HB 1601) which would provide a state personal income tax holiday for five years to recent graduates of Mississippi colleges or universities who take a qualifying job in-state. The purpose of the bill is to stop us from losing our intellectual capital. The goal of the overall movement is to build a viable knowledge workforce. One that will help us be a leader in a full blown global knowledge economy.
As part of Mississippi’s creative economy, strong advocates of our culture of innovation, and full participants in our future’s vested interests, we strongly encourage other Mississippi businesses and business leaders to take a look at this piece of potential game-changing legislation.
UPDATE 2/25/15: Unfortunately craft beer legal expert Matthew McLaughlin has a conflict and will have to make a speaking appearance at MWBeer30 later this year. However, Butler Snow counsel and former gubernatorial policy advisor Tray Hairston will be on-hand to give a brief talk about the exciting things happening in healthcare in Mississippi, and the concept of healthcare as an economic driver. Join us at 3:30-ish, Friday, February 27th at MWB’s world headquarters for a great line up of Mississippi craft beer, innovative discussions, and some Mississippi iconic-in-the-making photos taken by MWB Producer of Multimedia Tate Nations.
Great Mississippi from the folks at LD’s Beer Run will be available for sampling.
To stay up with the next #MWBeer30 event and learn about topics discussed at previous gatherings, sign-up for #MWBeer30 alerts. Sign up today and get a free beverage at our next event!
(OK so the beverages are always free. You should sign-up, anyway).
Monday, February 9th was a special day in Mississippi. Terrance the Rat, spokesrat of the Reject All Tobacco! campaign, celebrated his 16th birthday. Well, 16 in people years, anyway. Now that Terrance is old enough to drive, I think it’s about time we honored this Mississippi icon by a never before seen “Behind the Fur” article.
An entire generation of Mississippi kids have grown up knowing that R.A.T. doesn’t stand for “Robotic Action Turtles,” or “Really Angry Turnips.” It stands for “Reject All Tobacco,” and kids have spent the last 16 years repeating Terrance’s mantra. I was fortunate enough to begin my tenture at MWB just as the RAT campaign was about to launch. During the development of Mississippi’s ground breaking tobacco counter marketing campaign, it quickly became evident that there were two radically different youth audiences: the teenage 12 – 17 year-olds (we coined this group the ‘Age of Rebellion… for obvious reasons) and the pre-teen 6 – 11 year-olds. We called the latter group the “Age of Reason” because extensive primary and secondary research revealed that the group, generally speaking:
- Were accepting of facts, statistics, and analytical reasoning,
- Were anxious to repeat what they learned to family and friends, and
- Could actually be behavioral influencers to older siblings and especially parents.
It was clear that these age groups were radically different in terms of what type of messaging to use, the kinds of concepts that would be effective, and how these messages should be delivered. What was less clear was how to approach this. While it seems like a no-brainer now, things weren’t so cut and dry way back in ’99. Although Mississippi’s tobacco counter-marketing effort was relatively well funded, it certainly wasn’t infinite. And the tobacco program itself had to support a multitude of youth and adult tobacco prevention/cessation services beyond just the counter marketing element. Most experts at the time believed that a messaging campaign targeting pre-teens, especially kids under 10, was a waste of time. Conventional thinking was that tobacco counter marketing wouldn’t really “stick” and that the most immediate impact to tobacco prevalence would be to focus counter marketing almost entirely on the teens.
Fortunately the public health professionals in Mississippi had a greater vision. I shutter to think now that Terrance came close to not being born. Thank goodness Mississippi didn’t buy into conventional wisdom and charted our own course.
The rest, as they say, is history.
And measurable history, at that. According to the 2014 Mississippi Youth Tobacco Survey, smoking among public middle school students has been reduced by 80% since 1998. To really understand what that means, let’s deal in real numbers: 18,492 fewer Mississippians will become smokers since Terrance and the RAT campaign were born in 1999. Over the course of their lives, these people will miss less days of work, get less sick, not have to deal with disease and death related to tobacco use, and have children who are far less likely to use tobacco compared to kids whose parents smoke. You don’t have to think about it too long to realize the positive and cyclical snowball effect that this has on both the health and economic climates for Mississippi.
The year of Terrance’s birth 23% of all Mississippi public middle school children – nearly a quarter of the population – were current cigarette smokers. Today, just over 4% fall into that category. What a difference a Rat can make.
I’m also personally proud to have had some small involvement in the perpetuation of what has become a real Mississippi icon. Terrance the Rat has his own song & dance troupes that perform at schools and events across that state. He has appeared in several interactive games and activities, a children’s storybook and has tagged off dozens of TV commercials. The guy even has his own CD! At one point during the mid-2000’s, ad tracking data showed that Terrance had a higher brand recall rate among Mississippi kids than a certain other, and much older, cartoon rodent (eat your heart out, Mick!).
Terrance has changed somewhat through the years. Really astute observers will note that he’s slimmed up a little (he now enjoys PeanutbutterPastaLight™) and his collection of friends has grown to include a dragon, a skunk, and even a little sister. The message, however, remains the same. Tobacco is bad. It will hurt you, and those you care about. You better tell somebody. And Mississippi kids have been, for 16 years. Happy birthday, Terrance.
I’d like to add that RAT campaign, when first launched, really was unconventional and flew in the face of what many experts recommended. I think that too often in the area of public policy in general – and public health in specific – we tend to always take a “best practices” approach. In other words, we’re not comfortable implementing something until it has been proven and vetted somewhere else. There is NOTHING wrong with this, let me stress. Why invent the wheel if it isn’t broken, right?
Well sometimes the case calls for inventing a better wheel. After all, if nobody ever tried anything new, there would never be any “best practices” in the first place. Entrepreneurs will say the secret to success is to fail fast and fail cheap. What they really mean is don’t be afraid to take calculated chances, as that is the only way that you can positively change the status quo. The RAT campaign and Mississippi’s work in tobacco counter marketing is a testament to such.
Chairman and CEO of Starkville-based Camgian Microsystems is up for CEO of the Year honors from the industry sponsored Internet-of-Things Awards (#IoT). Dr. Butler is the only Mississippian on a list that includes GE CEO Jeff Immelt. This is a great opportunity to showcase the leading-edge type developments that part of Mississippi’s growing Knowledge Economy. As a creative company dependent on a vibrant culture of innovation, we ask that you help Mississippi shine by visiting the #IoT awards page site and voting for Gary.
Learn more about the #IoT Awards and Camgian Microsystems via Tim Mask’s blog with company links, etc.
Photo Credit: Tate Nations, MWB
The eyes of the universe are upon us. At least the college football universe. And that’s a pretty big universe. Mississippi State and Ole Miss are both unbeaten, on top of the strongest division of the strongest conference in the country, and sit #1 and #3 in the polls, respectively. Game Day came to Mississippi two weeks in a row. There’s a lot of football left to play but for the first time ever, it is possible that the two best teams in the land will square off to decide the next year’s residence of the Golden Egg.
Right now Mississippi is one of the most, if not the most, visible state in the United States. We do have some amazingly good football going on for sure. But folks taking a look at Mississippi need to understand that athletics and football are just one thing we’re great at. We all know there is so much more to this state.
While everyone is looking, let’s give them a show.
Chances are if you’re engaging someone out of state in the next few weeks, the leading topic of conservation will be football. Let’s claim it. Then let’s use it. Use it as a springboard to say, “now let me tell you what else…”
What else? The University of Southern Mississippi has one of the best polymer science programs in the world. Back in Oxford we have the corporate headquarters of one of the fastest growing private software companies in the country. Skip down to Starkville and we find the corporate headquarters of a company working to solve issues arising from the “Internet of Things”… solutions to problems that don’t yet exist! The capital city area is home to a corporation working to ensure Mississippi is the first to have fiber-to-home networks essentially statewide. A financial services firm is focused on solutions to increase health care quality while also lowering costs. Speaking of health care, we should evangelize the incredible research happening at our state research hospital. Some of that research will be instrumental in mankind walking on the surface of Mars. Speaking of space travel, the propulsion systems that will take us there will be tested on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It should be no surprise that Mississippi is playing such a pivotal role in the development of commercial space flight.
World Class IT companies who call Mississippi home are expanding. We’re the home to the headquarters of the second-largest nuclear power fleet in the U.S. We’re a top state for entrepreneurial activity. Yes, we are the last state to host a TEDx event, but one look at the TEDxJackson speaker list and you realize that we’re about to host one of the best. Contrary to popular belief, we’re a state on the rise. So let’s make sure that we actively contradict that popular belief.
Absolutely talk about how we have leading college football teams. Then talk about how we are poised to be a leader in the Knowledge Economy. I know it, you know, and this is our chance to let everyone know it.
Robert Thompson is interim director of the Mississippi Polymer Institute (MPI). Thompson is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a degree in polymer science and has played a guiding role in the growth of the Mississippi Polymer Institute over the past 19 years. We spoke about MPI, The Accelerator and the role of polymer science in Mississippi’s economy.
The Mississippi Polymer Institute, located within The Accelerator at the University of Southern Mississippi
How did the Mississippi Polymer Institute get started?
Thompson: MPI was established by the Mississippi legislature in 1983. Funding came in ’93, so we really started up activities in 1993 and have been going strong ever since then. Dr. Shelby Thames, who was instrumental to the polymer science program at USM, also started the Mississippi Polymer Institute.
What’s MPI’s mission?
Thompson: We’re here to help grow Mississippi’s economy using the resources and capabilities we have here at MPI, as well as those available at the school of polymers and high-performance materials at USM. We make those technical capabilities and resources available to businesses here in Mississippi to help them grow. We provide our technical expertise in polymers for businesses, as well as for startup organizations and inventors.
In layman’s terms, what is meant by polymer science, and how is it important to Mississippi as an economic development driver?
Thompson: Polymer science is the study of the development and use of polymers. You know how you can form a chain with paperclips by hooking them all together? Well, the paperclip is a basic building block of that chain. With polymers, we have what are called monomers and those are the basic unit. You can hook many of those together to form a polymer. For example, polystyrene – everybody’s familiar with polystyrene coffee cups – the monomer is styrene and polymer is polystyrene.
The thing about polymers is they’re basically everywhere around you. They’re in paint, on automobiles and housing, in clothing – cotton is a natural polymer – but you also have things like polyester spandex, Gore-Tex, which is Teflon. They in your shoe soles and automotive tires. There are also polymers in personal care products like toothpaste and makeup. You have Boeing and their Dreamliner, the 787 – it has a large bit of composite materials, which also use polymers. So polymers are everywhere you look.
What kind of technical services does MPI provide to Mississippi companies?
Thompson: When we first started out in ’93, we were largely utilizing the capabilities at the Department of Polymer Science at USM. Over the years, we’ve added capabilities. So now we utilize both the resources that MPI has internally as well as those that the polymer science research center has. We have a lot of highly scientific equipment for physical and analytical testing. It helps you identify stuff, figure out how strong something is, where it breaks, what it’s made of – those sorts of things. MPI has been in the prototyping business since around ’95 or ’96 in earnest, really. And more recently, we’ve switched over from prototyping to what everyone’s referring to now as 3D printing.
On the consulting services side, we offer personal expertise, which I think is just as important as the equipment. We offer those capabilities to help companies, whether they’re startup companies or established companies, and we also do a lot with economic development agencies. If there’s a prospect or a group that’s interested in the area, they want to know what kind of technological support they can access. For those folks who are interested in moving to Mississippi, we can help them through our consulting services.
Aside from economic development, why is polymer science and the polymer industry so important for Mississippi?
Thompson: Polymers are everywhere. They’re ubiquitous. The companies producing these polymeric materials – whether they’re making the plastic itself or a coating or composite materials – their products touch so many areas. If your product is metal, for example, you’ll need polymers to coat that metal to keep it from rusting. Polymers are important for all of the manufacturing processes. The science associated with it and the skill sets and the type of individuals who work in polymer science all contribute to the economic growth of our state.
How does MPI support innovation in our state?
Thompson: From the start, MPI has been involved, largely through prototyping, with inventors. We see inventors come in who are looking to have a prototype part produced so that they can approach investors. Or sometimes, the inventor has their part and their investors, they’re just looking for help for how to make their widget, as we like to say.
Four years ago, we moved from the Polymer Science Research Center at USM to The Accelerator in The Garden at USM. The main reason for that move was to help support startup businesses here in The Accelerator. USM has an effort underway to support the research coming out of the university and help those companies that want to be closer to the university to access that research. So we support companies here at The Accelerator, as well.
We have outreach efforts looking at bringing new industry into the state. On the existing industry side, with which MPI plays a big role, we’re helping to grow the folks that are already here. But also there’s that third effort – the organic growth portion. We’ve started playing a role with events like Startup Weekend and the New Venture Challenge. I applaud all those efforts, and I think they’re great way to help the state of Mississippi through economic development.
Does MPI have any programs to reach out to students before they get to college?
Thompson: We’re very proud to have helped establish nine high school polymer science programs in Mississippi. We started out this effort around ’97 or ’98 at Petal High School. Since that time, we’ve added eight additional high schools across the state. Those schools are Alcorn County, Madison County, Simpson County, Marion County, Hattiesburg High School, Hancock, Moss Point and Pascagoula. And, I’d like to make a plug for the program – I want to work with interested school boards across the state to expand into more schools.
I think one of the important things about this program is that students get to experience our industry through job shadowing. They have the opportunity to visit companies in their area and they see what those folks do every day. They can decide to go straight to work when they graduate high school, or go to the community or junior college to develop that additional advanced skill set, or they can go to the university and get that engineering degree or polymer science degree. I think it’s very important that we give high school and younger kids the opportunity to learn about our industry to help them set their direction in life.
Can you talk about some of your favorite success stories that you’ve seen come out of the Mississippi Polymer Institute?
Thompson: I have a lot of favorites. Most recently, on the workforce development side, I would have to say [MPI Workforce Development and Technical Leader] Ty Posey’s efforts building up the composites program with GE Aviation. GE Aviation has a production facility in Ellisville. All of their production employees come through the Mississippi Polymer Institute, as well as Jones County Junior College. There are four classes they take, which give those employees a good foundation in 1) what are high-performance composite materials, 2) what are some of the ways that you manufacture and produce these things, 3) what’s the science behind it. I’m really excited about that program and we’re proud to have GE Aviation as a partner.
MPI has been doing commercial development for several years. We started out initially working on a project with the James Rawlins’ research group at USM for a coating for Marine Corps uniforms. That was probably the start of that effort. Since that time, we’ve had a lot of successes along the way. Of course, I can’t mention a lot of those things because of confidentiality agreements.
On the physical and analytical testing side, we’ve done thousands of projects in Mississippi. But, recently, last year, we became ISO 17025 accredited. For a university lab to become accredited is very unique.
Why is that?
Thompson: When Dr. Thames helped set up MPI, his intention was that we would exist to help industry. That’s our focus. So we’re out there, every day, working with industry, visiting them, talking to them about the problems that they’re seeing. The ISO accreditation is very important to those folks because their customers are asking, “How are you having this checked?” They want to know who’s checking it and who’s checking the people that are checking it.
The ISO accreditation means a third-party coming in and, more or less, says the processes that MPI has in place, as well as the techniques that we’re using, are what they say we’re doing. Part of it is proficiency testing – our test results are compared against numerous other labs’ test results and, basically, you’re looking for all the labs get the same results. It’s a third party stamp of approval, you could say. It gives some legitimacy to the process you’re using when your laboratory’s testing is accredited.
What else would you like Mississippians to know about the Mississippi Polymer Institute?
Thompson: First and foremost, I’d like everyone to know that we’re here to help. Our whole purpose in being is to help grow Mississippi – to help further our state.
I would also encourage business folks to come out and take a look at The Accelerator and visit with [Accelerator Manager] Robbie Ingram. And I would encourage people to let us show you around the Mississippi Polymer Institute to see all of the exciting things that we’re doing here.