° empty

Small businesses growing at Alcorn State technology incubator

Lauren Jones rents office space that Alcorn State University provides to small business owners in downtown Natchez. Jones runs a website company.
Lauren Jones rents office space that Alcorn State University provides to small business owners in downtown Natchez. Jones runs a website company.

When Lauren Jones’s business lost its logical home, she was ready for a helping hand.

Jones Website Services — a company started by her father Sam Jones — had previously been operated out of her parent’s house for five years.

But when Sam Jones moved and later turned the business over to his daughter, she wanted to find a professional home for it.

A business associate suggested Jones consider the Alcorn State University TechCenter, a business incubator housed in the APEX Center on the corner of Franklin and Wall streets in Natchez.

The Apex Center is operated in partnership among Natchez Inc., Alcorn State University and Mississippi Development Authority to connect future and existing business owners with training, resources and support needed to succeed.

Jones moved in during the fall of 2012. She is one of five small businesses located in the center.

“Really, (locating here) has opened up a lot for me from a more professional atmosphere to meeting with my clients,” she said. “I do a lot of face-to-face business, because this is Natchez and a majority of my clients are local. I like having a location that is easy to tell people how to get to. I have plenty of room in my office to meet with people.”

Jones said the in-house conference room across the hall from her office is essential for meetings and portraying a professional business image.

The TechCenter offers affordable rent, office furniture and a professional atmosphere, manager Allen Terrell said. Terrell has worked at the TechCenter since 2010.

“We just don’t rent office space,” Terrell said. “If it’s a small business that needs some help, I’ll give them a pretty good rate on their rent.

“I’m trying to make the community aware that our services are here as an incubator. They come in, they want to start up a small business, but they don’t know exactly how. I can assist them with a business plan.”

Terrell said the TechCenter, which had no business start-ups two years ago, is full now.

Clark Marketing Group, owned by Carl Clark, moved in during the summer of 2013.

“Everyone who comes to the office comes in with the impression that I’m really doing good,” he said. “I haven’t had anyone come into our building that wasn’t impressed with the whole atmosphere.

“The fact that it is downtown is the best motivator. You are able to walk to the bank, walk to the post office, walk to the convention center.”

Ruth Nichols, Alcorn State University’s assistant vice president for educational and community partnerships, said the incubator concept strives to cater to the needs of the businesses in the center.

For example, some incubators in larger cities have specific time limits on how long tenants can stay.

“Of course, we don’t do that,” she said. “We will just evaluate from time to time, every year or two years, and see how they are doing. The theory is they work, grow and get self-sustaining so that they need more space. We want them to need more space than what we can provide them.”

Nichols said future goals for the APEX Center include securing more space for small business startups to locate and assessing the needs of industries in the region.

“We want to bring those needs to the attention of all the educational entities in our community and work together with the public schools, the private schools and (Copiah-Lincoln Community Colege) to make sure that we are providing the education, skills and talents that the industries of our future are going to need,” she said.