David Culpepper, ELSEWorks
“Based out of the Millsaps College Else School of Management, ELSEWorks’ goals are to promote economic development and create positive social change in our communities. ELSEWorks is an acronym for Entrepreneurs: Leading, Stewarding, Excelling. It functions similarly to prestigious business-consultancy firms, but is staffed by graduate business students who work with various businesses to help them solve problems and grow. They work in teams, with each student leading a team. Referred to as Business Analysts, they work under the direction of the ELSEWorks faculty team of Dr. Blakely Fender, Dr. Ray Grubbs, Dr. Penny Prenshaw, Mr. Phil Hardwick and Dr. David Culpepper, Chair, along with other faculty and industry experts. The program focuses on four key components: academics, commercialization, business development and social entrepreneurship.
Examples of these projects are a study commissioned by Jackson Downtown Partners to evaluate the highest and best use of state office buildings in the Jackson area, and a current project underway with Fondren Renaissance to study the feasibility of a Business Improvement District (BID) in Fondren. Other projects underway are market studies for a rooftop bar/restaurant in Fondren and a business as well as site plan for adaptive reuse of a blighted building on West Street as a coffee shop/artist studio. ELSEWorks has also encouraged capital formation by hosting on campus numerous entrepreneurs seeking capital, as well as members of the angel investment community, who invest in these entrepreneurs. Related to this, ELSEWorks sponsors an Entrepreneurial Investment Fund, which invests in private equity opportunities, including home-grown Mississippi businesses.
Regarding its social entrepreneurship objective, the program particularly strives to nurture revitalization in Midtown, a diverse and primarily low-income neighborhood just north of downtown and adjacent to Millsaps College. It has partnered with Midtown Partners, Inc. (MPI), Business Association of Midtown (BAM), the Hearin Foundation, MDA, Mississippi Arts Council and many others to encourage business development in Midtown, as well as to support the community’s larger master plan, which targets education, housing, health care and the arts.
ELSEWorks supports growth of the creative economy in Midtown by working to grow the Hub, made up of two buildings owned by MPI, the Hatch and the Hangar, which are each broken up into several studio/shop spaces that house creative businesses.
ELSEWorks analysts helped recruit Lucky Town Brewing Co., Jackson’s first microbrewery, to Midtown, and assisted them with identifying a facility, business planning, zoning hurdles, etc. Lucky Town has been successful and recently expanded beyond Mississippi to the Memphis market. ELSEWorks analysts have also worked extensively over the past two years with Mississippi Cold Drip Coffee & Tea Co. to set up its brewery operation in Midtown’s Hatch. Mississippi Cold Drip is now selling to Whole Foods, McDade’s and a growing contingent of Kroger outlets. Analysts are currently assisting Sweet and Sauer, a new fermented-foods company, with a market study and business plan.
Regarding entrepreneurial training and education, in addition to the academic minor in entrepreneurship offered to Millsaps students, other activities include an entrepreneurial camp, which was hosted for Choctaw high school students, and numerous business-training workshops on various topics, conducted in Midtown. The Business Advantage Program (BAP), a sister program directed by Dr. Fender, has also been responsible for training and nurturing many leaders in Midtown and beyond.
ELSEWorks has also worked with the schools in the area, including newly opened Midtown Public Charter School, which includes entrepreneurial skills development as part of its mission. It sponsored an Entrepreneurship E Club for the school’s 5th and 6th grade students this past year in which the focus was creation of their own comic book for sale. Creative entrepreneurs and artists from Midtown contributed to the effort by working with students to create their own neighborhood superhero, Midbot.
Faculty team members serve on the boards of MPI, BAM and Midtown Public Charter School, alongside residents, business owners and other community partners. We have found that while working with partners with diverse missions from the worlds of businesses, non-profits, foundations, academic institutions and governmental entities is challenging, it is also quite powerful when everyone finds a way to pull together for a common purpose. We believe fostering the values of creativity, collaboration and accountability are key to community enrichment and the cultivation of leaders.”