MSU receives federal grant for makerspace

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Mississippi, right, talks with MSU President Mark Keenum following the presentation of a $100,000 USDA grant to the university. (Photo by Charlie Benton, SDN)
Staff Writer

Plans for a makerspace downtown took a significant step forward with a $100,000 grant presented at the Mississippi State University Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach (E-Center).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Grant was presented by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, and Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Mississippi. USDA Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett also attended, as did several MSU administrators and faculty.

The dignitaries toured the E-Center and heard a presentation from Hagan Walker and Anna Barker of Glo, a successful business originating from the E-Center. Following the tour and presentation, the senators attended a roundtable discussion with representatives from the university and others.

“Certainly there’s needs for centers like this around Mississippi, as well as many other rural states, we’ll see it lead to business opportunities, as well as opportunities for young people, so that they can remain in the places where they’ve grown up,” Hazlett said.
Wicker emphasized the grant as a tool to help the E-Center continue its work, based on its current success.

This grant is going to help, but frankly, it would not have been awarded if they weren’t already off to a great start,” Wicker said. “In a way, this is a recognition from the Department of Agriculture that we already have success here.”

Wicker also emphasized the importance of combatting Mississippi’s “brain drain,” a migration of talented, skilled workers away from the state due to a lack of opportunity in Mississippi.

“We need more operations like this to make Mississippi attractive to the talent that we are already educating,” Wicker said.

Hyde-Smith discussed the impact places like the E-Center could have on the economy.

“This is an opportunity that you can bring in engineers, marketing majors, so many facets of what it takes to make businesses successful, and then when you bring together those minds with entrepreneurs who want to start their own business, and you have all of the components that bolster that, and get them even at the stage of still being a student to bring the things that will make them successful,” Hyde-Smith said.

She emphasized the economic development potential of the grant and the E-Center’s future.

“It’s all about creating jobs,” Hyde-Smith said. “It’s all about creating successful Mississippians with the opportunities they can go out and start a business, but have the components to make it successful.”

The approximately $150,000 facility will be located in downtown Starkville between Aspen Bay and Moe’s Original Bar B Que. It will give E-Center businesses the capability to build and test products, and will also serve as a community makerspace. The facility is projected to be open by late September, and will be funded by both the grant and private donors. In addition to the shop and testing equipment, the facility will also include some retail space.

“We’ve been needing a space for our students to prototype their products, and this downtown space we’re going to open is the result of a USDA rural grant,” said MSU College of Business Dean Sharon L. Oswald. “They gave us the money so we would be able to open this space downtown.”

E-Center Director Eric Hill further explained the capabilities of the new facility.

“Lots of times, building the product is a challenge, so they can experiment and get the product’s bugs worked out before they go in front of customers,” Hill said.

In addition to basic had tools and woodworking tools, entrepreneurs will also have access to 3-D printers and other technology.

“This is exactly like the (on campus) makerspace, but at another level, the same capacity as the makerspace,” Hill said.

Hill said such a facility has been envisioned for the past three or four years.

“The planets have aligned between some private dollars and the USDA’s grant to make this happen,” Hill said.