Mercer University formally dedicated the Dr. Hugh F. Smisson III Complex in a ceremony held Dec. 16 on the Macon campus. The facility, which serves as the home of the Mercer Innovation Center, is named for Dr. Smisson, a Macon native and founder of Georgia Neurosurgical Institute, who made a major financial contribution to the Center.
The Mercer Innovation Center, launched in November 2015, is a multidisciplinary effort by the University to advance a culture of innovation and develop a thriving community of entrepreneurs, with a focus on utilizing technology to foster economic growth, create 21st century jobs and attract and retain talent.
The Center is based in the 10,000-square-foot Smisson Complex, which features modern design elements and technology, including 1-gigabit-per-second broadband service, and is strategically located adjacent to Mercer’s School of Engineering, School of Medicine and Willet Science Center. It is across the street from the site of Mercer’s new $44 million undergraduate sciences building, scheduled for completion in 2017, and is steps away from the Stetson School of Business and Economics.
The University is collaborating with a number of Middle Georgia organizations that support entrepreneurship as part of their programming, including the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority, Navicent Health’s Center for Disruption and Innovation, NewTown Macon’s SCORE program, and SparkMacon, a downtown makerspace. The Center is working alongside the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce on a Young Entrepreneurs Academy, a national experiential entrepreneurship program for middle and high school students that is the first of its kind in the state.
One of the Center’s key initiatives is the annual Mercer Innovation Fellowship, a competitive program open to entrepreneurs worldwide that was awarded for the first time last July to two startups, HeadNoise and KUDU Safari Braai. Recipients get one year of housing, office space in the Smisson Complex, interns, access to all Mercer facilities and $20,000 cash.
A 14-member advisory board, composed of business leaders, entrepreneurs and academicians and chaired by Macon entrepreneur Stewart Vernon, works with the Center to provide mentoring opportunities and guidance for the programming. The advisory board is charged with assembling and managing a $2 million venture fund to invest in startups that come out of the Center.
Additional contributors to the Mercer Innovation Center who were recognized at the ceremony included Georgia Pine Level Foundation, Birch Communications, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority, the Community Foundation of Central Georgia, the 478 Bibb Fund, the BB&T Center for Undergraduate Research on Public Policy and Capitalism, Mercer trustee and former Coca-Cola executive Jerry Wilson, State Bank and Trust Company, and the Macon Chamber of Commerce.