Becoming an agent of change
For years the Mississippi Enterprise for Technology has been quietly providing technology transfer and business incubator services at Stennis Space Center, MS. A few years ago MSET, created in the 1990s as an agent of change, started to come out from the shadows and launched a number of programs to facilitate communications between agencies at SSC and to better connect with the broader public.
Today MSET hosts a monthly "Lunch & Learn," where MSET businesses and SSC organizations discuss what they do. It also sponsors an annual Industry Day, bringing together federal agencies, contractors and small businesses, and along with the Louisiana Technology Transfer Office created the Stennis Business Consortium, which includes SSC federal agency and contractor procurement specialists.
Charlie Beasley, president and CEO of MSET, discussed some of the MSET activities in a recent question and answer session.
Q: MSET seems to have a lot of programs aimed at getting groups within SSC to communicate better. You seem to be breaking down barriers through Lunch & Learn, the Stennis Business Consortium, Industry Day and the Teaming Assistance Program. Is that actually what you're trying to do, and if so, why?
A: In many instances, we find that opportunity is best discovered by putting together what you know, who you know, what you see, and what you hear as well as what you say. In other words, be informed, build relationships, and communicate. It's been a major objective for us over the last couple of years to simply get better at those three things.
The events you listed are all about communications, information exchange, and relationship building. The security gates around Stennis physically and metaphorically form a barrier to these things happening.
Recognizing the various resident agencies on-site at Stennis Space Center and their unique missions, there are barriers on the inside of the gates as well. We saw the opportunity to create a continuous effort both inside and outside the gates where lines of communication can remain open, and it could be part of our mission to keep it this way.
Q: Other than the programs I just mentioned, are there other programs that are intended to break down barriers between federal organizations, state organizations, prime contractors and small businesses at SSC that you would like to mention?
A: The Minority Contractor Development Program, sponsored by the Mississippi Development Authority, has been a big hit this past year. It's another niche service MSET is positioned to provide where minority-owned firms in the region and throughout the state have opportunities throughout the year to connect with Stennis agencies and prime contractors. We are fortunate to have the staff and relationships necessary to work with the companies, assess their contract readiness, and plug them into the procurement network.
It's this program together with the Stennis Business Consortium, Lunch & Learn, industry days, expositions, showcases and more that were key reasons Stennis showed improvement in contract awards to small businesses last year.
According to SSC Director Patrick Scheuermann, the efforts were also instrumental to NASA Stennis, which received the agency's Small Business Administrator's Cup Award in recognition of its stellar small business program. That is how we know our partnership with NASA is thriving.
Q: For years MSET has been quietly providing technology transfer and business incubator services at SSC. I'd venture to guess the name MSET has not been well-known to the broader South Mississippi public. Are there any programs you have in place or any concerted effort to better publicize MSET and its activities?
A: We actually had consultants provide a study about four years ago that had this exact result - MSET was not a well-known name in the broader community. A major objective of our organization involves vastly improving MSET communications - both internal and external. Over the last couple of years, we have steadily improved our visibility as not only a Stennis program but also a larger piece of the regional economic development matrix.
We've been able to identify and build value to our stakeholders, clients, and partners. Communications are critical to the improvement. We have come a long way but it's exciting to think about how much better we can become. We don't need to become a household name, but we do need to be visible and understood by those we can be of most benefit to.
Q: Tell me a bit more about MSET's role as an economic development organization. When did that become a part of MSET's overall mission, and what are some examples of MSET playing a role in economic development? I'm thinking MSET's involvement in the development of the National Oceans and Applications Research Center (NOARC) concept and working to increase the unmanned systems activities at SSC might be two good examples. But I'm sure there are more.
A: Your examples demonstrate how technology transfer and incubation both are economic development tools. And our original mission basically read as "create jobs," which is the most basic and recognized economic development outcome anywhere. So, we have always been an economic development organization, and the profession is my personal background.
But I'd say the turning point in our utility was when MSET played a needed role in helping Stennis Space Center land the 500-employee, multimillion-dollar Shared Services Center, which provides various services for all of the NASA centers, including financial management, human resources and procurement. That was a major endorsement of the capabilities of SSC and a launch point for MSET's role in economic development outside of the traditional incubation and technology transfer efforts.
In some circles, MSET is still known as "the little incubator at Stennis." We are proud of the incubation program and the companies that have come through it, but the current and future of MSET is multi-faceted.
The beauty of it is that as facets may multiply our focus tightens. We have never been more aligned with our mission of leveraging the assets of Stennis to create further good. A large part of our work today is centered around many opportunities to locate or expand various business operations at Stennis Space Center. My predecessor and mentor, Greg Hinkebein, really set the stage for MSET to grow into these areas of service.
Q: Tell me a bit more about your relationship with the Mississippi Development Authority. I understand MSET formally represents MDA on the Gulf Coast in several areas, including existing industry and business assistance; minority contract development and more. Does that mean you serve as MDA's representative at SSC?
A: MDA does not have an office or formal presence at Stennis Space Center, but MSET serves as MDA's "boots on the ground" in several ways. Most importantly, MSET is linked by charter and law to both the state of Mississippi and NASA.
This allows MSET as a private, non-profit corporation to perform on behalf of the state and to do so from a strategic Stennis Space Center location. Over the past year, we expanded our work on behalf of the state and assisted the agency's Southeast Regional Office in carrying out their PriorityOne existing industry program in the lower three counties.
All of the other programs mentioned in other questions and answers also represent MSET work with MDA on the Gulf Coast. We wouldn't be able to manage the Mississippi Technology Transfer Center or implement most of our programs without having an outstanding relationship with MDA. It has proven to be a natural fit for effectiveness.
Q: Finally, what excites you the most about the future for either MSET, SSC or South Mississippi in general?
A: Stennis Space Center is positioned for growth in unique ways and will continue to gain more national significance as well as more of a reputation as a great place for commercial business.
Stennis is a certified Project Ready technology park. There are many unique assets and infrastructure enhancements at the site, including a gargantuan security and acoustical buffer zone, space program laboratories available to industry, great leadership on-site and at the state and Congressional levels, and a good working relationship with the bordering state of Louisiana. It's a central Gulf location that's high and dry - a hurricane tested and proven site. How many competing sites can say that?
MSET has a responsibility to make a difference in capitalizing on these growth opportunities and assets, and the Gulf Coast, state and beyond will benefit from the success.