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JSU, West Jackson to benefit from Blueprint Mississippi challenge

Jackson State University students competing in the Blueprint Mississippi Social Business Challenge at the state Capitol on Thursday didn’t win an award, but their economic plan should bring big rewards to JSU and West Jackson.

Javis Jones (left), 20, a junior in Business from Florence, Miss., and Sierra Jackson, 20, a junior in Business from Huntsville, Ala., presented Jackson State University’s Blueprint Mississippi Social Business Challenge proposal at the Blueprint state competition at the Capitol in Jackson, March 12, 2015. (Photo by Charles A. Smith, JSU)

Javis Jones (left), 20, a junior in Business from Florence, Miss., and Sierra Jackson, 20, a junior in Business from Huntsville, Ala., presented Jackson State University’s Blueprint Mississippi Social Business Challenge proposal at the Blueprint state competition at the Capitol in Jackson, March 12, 2015. (Photo by Charles A. Smith, JSU)

The JSU entry to create an on-campus organic farm run by students to provide food for the community didn’t place in the top three awards of the Challenge. But the business, named Mississippi Urban Organics LLC, will continue, said the group’s faculty advisor Dr. Kenneth Russ.

“We’re looking at areas (on campus) for a pilot project,” Russ said, in cooperation with Jason Brookins, director of the Center for University Based Development.

Students Sierra Jackson, 20, a junior in Business from Huntsville, Ala., and Javis Jones, 20, a junior in Business from Florence, Miss., presented the Mississippi Urban Organics LLC proposal to the judges.

They were winners of the JSU Social Entrepreneurship Business Plan Challenge last November in which seven teams competed to represent the university. Each group was given the task of putting their heads together for a creative solution to address one of Mississippi’s most pressing problems.

Dr. Ramin Maysami, dean of the JSU College of Business, said that JSU’s project is still a winning proposal.

“The next step is that we want to make it happen,” he said.

The project, to create a one-acre plot to grow tomatoes originally, then perhaps expand, would provide jobs for West Jackson, as well as reduce urban blight an increase food security, they said.

“It’s a small, scalable and sustainable business,” he said. “It can start small but it can grow in size.”

Under the plan, the student-run company would initially provide $145,000 in sales with $74,000 in net income.

Maysami said he is proud of the Mississippi Urban Organics LLC team as well as the others who competed to get to this stage of the competition.

“The next goal is to be ready for next year’s competition,” he said, adding that the university should begin preparing for the Challenge earlier and engaging the entire university in the process.

Dr. Mary M. White, interim vice president of institutional advancement and chair of JSU’s Department of Entrepreneurship and Professional Development, praised the students, as well.

“This is an excellent example of innovation and social entrepreneurship,” she said. “There is a need in Mississippi for more emphasis on social entrepreneurship and I believe this is a great way to make a difference, especially through the College of Business at Jackson State University.”

Even though his project didn’t win first place, Jones said that he’s gung-ho about going forward with it.

“I’m a novice when it comes to gardening,” he acknowledged, “but I’m real excited about it because it can have a real impact on the community.”

Plus, said Jackson, the farming operation has the potential to live on, prosper and grow long after she and Jones have graduated. “Students will still be the basis of the business,” she said.

The Blueprint Mississippi Social Business Challenge is supported by the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, and is open to any public university student.

The teams competing in Challenge statewide competition included:

– First Place: Better Together, Mississippi Valley State University

– Second Place: UM School of Pharmacy, University of Mississippi

–Third Place: Team Eagles, University of Southern Mississippi

And, with Mississippi Urban Organics, Jackson State University:

– It Still Takes a Village, Alcorn State University

– The Creative Activists, Delta State University

– Mississippi Integrated Medical Solutions, Mississippi State University

– Intelehealth, Mississippi University for Women

Gov. Phil Bryant, who handed out the awards, praised those who competed as “the best and brightest” in Mississippi and called the competition “a remarkable effort by our universities.”

Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Borsig called the competition “a great demonstration of ingenuity.”

Blueprint Mississippi is an independent cooperative of organizations and leaders that conducted an objective review of Mississippi’s economic opportunities and recommended actions for putting Mississippi in the place of greatest opportunity.

For more information, see: http://www.ihl.state.ms.us/msbc/index.asp