October 31, 2014  

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Southern Miss Program Educates Future Mississippi Entrepreneurs

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The Southern Entrepreneurship Program, an educational outreach initiative housed within the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Economic and Entrepreneurship Education (CEEE), commenced its sixth year of youth education during a statewide symposium held on Sept. 27. 

In partnership with Jones County Junior College, the Mississippi Council on Economic Education, Georgia-Pacific Leaf River Cellulose, and the Southern Miss student chapter of Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE), the Southern Entrepreneurship Program (SEP) hosted the annual kickoff event entitled “SEP Symposium I - Getting Connected” at the Ronald E. Whitehead Advanced Technology Center south of Ellisville.

 “The program’s participation numbers have been increasing annually since its founding in 2007,” said James Wilcox, CEEE director. “And this year was no exception drawing 300 high school students from nearly every corner of Mississippi to attend.”

The SEP symposium was divided into two half-day events. The first event began with a dynamic discussion panel featuring eight local young entrepreneurs with business ventures in the Hattiesburg area. Each panelist represented one of a variety of industries including videography and photography, fashion retail, music recording, marketing consulting, furniture making, invention design and production, food services, and entertainment.

Sharing experience-based stories and advice, the panelists introduced the student participants to many of the potential successes, pitfalls, expectations, and realities of starting a business.

Concurrent breakout sessions followed the discussion panel, allowing the students an opportunity to engage in deeper discussion with the panelist of their choice in a less formal setting. Students were encouraged to utilize this time to seek advice that they could use to develop and grow their own business ventures and to prepare for the SEP’s regional business plan competitions held in the spring.

Following a lunch sponsored by the Mississippi Council on Economic Education, the second half-day event was focused on team building and incorporated a variety of activities designed to challenge the students’ communication skills, critical thinking, and ability to create strategic solutions as a collective unit.  Ultimately by engaging in these activities, students networked and created friendships with students from around the state.

Throughout each school year, SEP symposiums offer high school students a broad educational experience including an intro to entrepreneurship and start-up financing. Experienced entrepreneurs as well as small-business funding and development professionals representing local banks, the U.S Small Business Administration, and Small Business Development Centers help to lead each symposium.  Near the end of each school year, SEP hosts regional and statewide business plan competitions to showcase student efforts and successes.

The Southern Entrepreneurship Program is establishing a network of young entrepreneurs through a unique hands-on approach to education. SEP provides professional assistance and training to high school students interested in starting their own businesses.

Beginning in 2007 as a pilot program in four Mississippi high schools, the SEP has steadily grown to include more than 25 Mississippi high school districts and has effectively trained over 100 Mississippi teachers in the program. 

For more information on SEP and how interested high schools can become involved, contact James Wilcox by emailing james.b.wilcox@usm.edu, calling (601) 266-6055, or visiting the website at http://www.theSEP.org.