Mississippi State University is home to hundreds of creative minds and potential business owners, and Starkville's Idea Shop is determined to partner with locals to make pipe dreams into purchasable products.
Created for students, faculty and community members to have a place to carry out their innovative ideas, the Idea Shop helps anyone who desires to establish various skills which can lead anywhere from building unique furniture for homes to starting small businesses as entrepreneurs.
Landon Casey, the current manager of the Idea Shop, has been involved with the business for over two years and has assisted hundreds of people in reaching their inventive goals.
"We want to give entrepreneurs the tools and space to bring their ideas and potentially make something out of it," Casey said. "It is a place where alumni, students, faculty, staff or even people coming up off the street can come in and get access to tools and equipment and workspaces that they might not have access to otherwise."
Although Casey has only been manager since July 2020, he has faced harder challenges than many business leaders have ever faced due to the disaster of COVID-19. After losing several memberships due to the virus, Casey has been working hard to make the shop a safe, accommodating place for anyone who may have an interest.
"We are slowly gaining our membership back," Casey said. "What we offer is a space to try anything and get your idea out there."
Recognizing the potential of the students at MSU and the residents of Starkville, Mississippi, Casey emphasized the Idea Shop can be a catalyst to many excellent ventures which can change people's lives and, potentially, the world.
"We really want to make Starkville the innovation capital of Mississippi," Casey said. "We've got a great university down the road, and we've got a lot of brilliant students and a lot of great faculty. We have the ingredients for something great."
Casey explained the only thing required to access all the Idea Shop has to offer is a walk inside and conversation with the team.
Ethan Welford, one of the Idea Shop team members, has been a student worker at the Idea Shop for almost two years. Welford said he has had an interest in the so-called "maker movement" since childhood, and he discovered the Idea Shop was the ideal location to help manifest the movement in the Starkville community.
"I am what's called a 'maker specialist'," Welford said. "I work in the shop in the back making fixtures for the front, assisting any kind of retail products being made, and I also assist our members with equipment and teach them how to use it."
Welford emphasized the Idea Shop has been a place of experience and education for many people, including himself, in more ways than he expected. Welford spoke in particular of the way his time at the shop has multiplied and developed the limited set of talents he had when he first started.
"I got here and pushed those skills to the limit," Welford said. "It's been a growing and learning experience."
As well as developing technological and woodworking skills, Welford said he left his comfort zone and gained experience in outreach and networking, teaching a variety of skills and classes to the Idea Shop members. From 3D printing and laser-engraving to making charcuterie boards and woodturning, the Idea Shop team offers instruction for over a dozen skills.
Welford reiterated the Idea Shop is open to anyone willing to give it a try, from high school students to retired professors.
"One of our goals for this quarter and this semester is to get more members and to increase outreach," Welford said. "Our purpose is to get people with ideas to a point where those ideas can be actualized. We promote learning, collaborations and invention."
Madison Grant, a recently graduated MSU student with a major in business administration, sells a product of her own in the Idea Shop. Grant has fond memories of her partnership with the shop.
"I work in the E-center (Entrepreneurship Center). So I have a fun relationship with the Idea Shop since the Entrepreneurship Center is our 'mothership' on campus, and the Idea Shop is our extension into the community," Grant said.
Grant's product, Jitterbeans Coffee, is one of the Idea Shop's first products, and she has been selling it in the shop since 2018.
"When they had the initial opening on Main Street, coffee was the first retail product that was sold," Grant said. "It was super cool to have a product sold on Main Street and to have people who believed in my product enough that they were willing to put in on Main Street."
Grant urges anyone who dreams of starting a business, or even just possesses a desire to create, to come and look into a membership at the Idea Shop.
"The Idea Shop is for the people who have the mindsets that are really creative but may not yet have the skills, knowledge or tools," Grant said. "When I think of the Idea Shop, I think of endless opportunity."