Mantle. Founder Pens Op-Ed on Mississippi Startups
When I set off to start a tech company in Mississippi, I was told that I would have to leave Mississippi in order to pursue such a project. Being hard-headed, that option didn’t feel quite right. I knew Mississippi possessed more creative spirit than any other place in the country—all we have to do is look to Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, William Faulkner, Morgan Freeman, or Peavey Electronics to see the evidence.
I felt that if I left Mississippi behind, I would be continuing the trend of folks leaving Mississippi to make their industry elsewhere.
So I stuck around.
Since, we have gone on to start Mantle., one of the state’s first coworking spaces and the only privately held technology incubator. My company Pearlbend Ventures is starting to explore more routes into investing in seed stage tech companies through more than space and intellectual property as we have seen great enthusiasm and desire in entrepreneurs to build the next big thing right here in Mississippi through events like Sandbox Live in Jackson and CTX in Oxford.
Come to Mantle in Fondren any day of the week and you will see bustling activity among new technology startups like Marketect and Padrick, or Finaius, a Financial Technology Artificial Intelligence company that just held its Beta Launch Party there. You can meet up with groups like Jackson Area Web Developers or JxnTech Entrepreneurs during after hours meetups and get ideas and know-how on how you can start the next big thing.
The future of Mississippi’s tech economy is indeed growing.
We were able to help build this startup community not only because of great local groups and individual entrepreneurs, but most importantly because of the internet. The scale of the internet allows for any coffee shop (or coworking) squatter to be the next Mark Zuckerberg—only a blank screen and the right lines of code standing in their way. When the next “Zuckerberg” in Mississippi launches their product on the internet playing by the same rules of the internet as Facebook, it’s then the consumers who choose who wins or loses.
That’s why I’m concerned and disappointed with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai’s recent proposal to undermine the free and open Internet. The Chairman just announced his plans to eliminate rules protecting ‘net neutrality,’ the FCC’s existing framework for protecting consumer choice and open markets online. This approach is unwise and could decimate our very young, emerging, and vibrant startup and small business-driven community at a time when we can least afford more obstacles.
For example, without basic rules to protect consumers and entrepreneurs, the big Internet access providers are free to make good on their plans to implement pay-to-play fast lanes, meaning that companies who can pay the toll for the fast line get on, and those who can’t are out of luck. So much for Mississippi startups gaining any traction.
So much for David taking on Goliath.
To drive more growth in Mississippi’s economy, the federal government shouldn’t be focused on massive giveaways to the already giant providers. Instead, we ought to be focusing on ways to encourage more startups and small businesses. We need to encourage more entrepreneurship and innovation here in Mississippi, not stand in its way.
The existing legal framework for the internet is working. To quote my dad, “Don’t fix what isn’t broken.”
I encourage everyone who believes in small businesses, entrepreneurs, and building a better Mississippi economy to contact their congressmen and senators to let them know that the existing strong net neutrality rules should stay.
Christopher Lomax is the founder of Pearlbend Ventures and Mantle.