By STEVEN NALLEY
The Mississippi Technology Alliance honored five regional small businesses as innovators at the Golden Triangle Regional Innovation Cluster Celebration Thursday, holding a panel to gather their input on resources which could make the area more amenable to entrepreneurship.
Present to provide input were Belinda Stewart with Belinda Stewart Architects in Webster County, Ed Todd with Long Branch Metal Fabrication in Clay County, and John Scott with Chambers Delimbinator in Choctaw County. The other two businesses honored were Trailboss Trailers in Noxubee County and Polo Custom Products in Winston County.
Bubba Weir, MTA vice president for innovation, hosted the panel, and the first question he asked concerned pressing issues each business faces in technology. Scott said Chambers Delimbinator only produces one product — a device which removes the limbs and bark from cut trees in a single step — so the only technology they might need is new machinery which could help them offer new services.
Stewart said her business needs better internet access to upgrade its software.
“We have maxed out the capability of Eupora,” Stewart said. “We’re lucky to have DSL where I live, but DSL is actually not that good, especially upload speeds, (which are) very extremely limited.”
Todd said his need was not a technology need per se, but he needs help with a patent for an automatic vaccinator for chicken houses LBMF is developing in a public-private partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture at Mississippi State University.
“We’ve been in this partnership going on about 5 years, and this year we hope to bring it to a marketable status,” Todd said. “We’re going to need all kinds of help for design purposes and financial (needs). This is a huge project.”
Weir also asked the three about their entrepreneurship and business assistance needs. Todd said he wants to start a mentoring program and is looking for support in the automotive industry, where LBMF is working on a new prototype for car cargo. Scott said Chambers Delimbinator plans to work with the Manufacturing Extension Partnership of Mississippi, and Stewart said she wants to expand her business beyond her region.
“We could use assistance in how to take our business to more regional levels, ultimately to a national level,” Stewart said. “We’d like to get more into the federal market of projects.”
Next, Weir asked the panelists what capital needs they had. Todd said he needs working capital for marketing and commercialization, but his day-to-day cash flow is good. Stewart said she saw software and personnel training as capital needs, but Scott said his company actually has no debt.
“We pay as we go,” Scott said. “Something that has been very beneficial to us is John Deere and Caterpillar. They have a financing program that they do for their machines, which they have also done for our machines as well, where customers can finance through them to purchase our machines.”
One of the last questions Weir asked concerned the panelists’ capital needs. Stewart said she wanted more services in-house, particularly engineering services. Both Scott and Todd said they had trouble bringing in qualified people and getting them to stay. Todd said large industries, including automotive plants, can take away employees from smaller companies when they move into the smaller companies’ areas.
“We have 10-15 employees, and if you take one of our skilled people, (a large company) can do many things to accommodate that one person — it doesn’t mean anything to them — but it puts us in trouble,” Todd said. “We need some kind of relationship here between qualified employees and small business.”