May 25, 2019  

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Large Turnout Helps Kickoff 2016-17 Southern Entrepreneurship Program

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Students from Florence High School work to finalize their team's pitch for a school-based business enterprise. (Photo by Selena Swartzfager, Mississippi Council on Economic Education)

Nearly 400 high school students and educators from across Mississippi got a head start on Global Entrepreneurship Week 2016 as the Southern Entrepreneurship Program (SEP) kicked off its 10th annual series of youth symposiums and competitions earlier this month in Jackson, Miss.

Participation in this statewide event saw a 20 percent boost over the previous year, a direct result of a growing value placed on youth entrepreneurship education and career readiness. SEP programming is provided at no cost to Mississippi’s high schools and is a cornerstone service of the Center for Economic and Entrepreneurship Education, housed within the College of Business at The University of Southern Mississippi.

“This is an awesome way to introduce entrepreneurship to my students,” said Debbie Wilson, an instructor from Harrison County Career and Technical Center. “The students learn from hands on activities and are fired up when they return to school.”

The kickoff event, designed to provide students an interactive introduction to entrepreneurship, was hosted by Jackson State University’s Department of Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management. Georgia-Pacific Leaf River Cellulose, LLC served as lead sponsor.

The day’s agenda began with five young Jackson-area entrepreneurs sharing their first-hand narratives of personal experiences and sacrifices in business development. This panel of inspirational entrepreneurs included Jake Franklin of Deep South Pops, Kyle Hilton of Kyle Hilton Illustrations, Jessica Simien of Simien Media Group, Felicia Thompson of Sweet 16 Formals, and Beau York of Satchel Player.

“I always like the panels because it gives my students an opportunity to see young entrepreneurs who think outside the box,” shared Dre’ Helms, an instructor from Florence High School. “I think my students see themselves in them."

Following a Q&A session with these guest entrepreneurs, student teams were presented with the event’s unique Innovation Challenge: to identify a business opportunity within their individual high schools and develop strategies for launching new school-based enterprises. Ashton Lesher, a sophomore at West Harrison High School, shared that this activity was more than just her favorite part of the day.

“I want to own my own business one day, so it gave me good experience and helped me start thinking about what steps it takes to become an entrepreneur,” said Lesher.

Teams were tasked with developing poster advertisements, financial projections, and 30-second commercials to promote their ventures. The 10 highest scoring teams were selected during the live event to advance to an online round of voting where the top three ideas will be recognized in December. Each of these final three teams will receive seed funding to help make their ideas a reality.

Founded in 2007, the SEP is offered as an outreach initiative of USM’s College of Business through its Center for Economic and Entrepreneurship Education. To learn more, call 601.266.6055 or visit: