Techpreneur and Amazon worker Nashlie Sephus is accomplishing a groundbreaking goal to build a tech hub downtown in her Jackson, Mississippi hometown to help train the next generation of tech geniuses.
According to Face2Face Africa, Sephus is turning downtown Jackson — which isn’t well-known for its technology prowess — into a $25 million tech district made up of 12 acres of vacant lots and seven buildings — roughly 500,000 square feet of workspace — to put her community on the map in the tech world.
“My goal is to turn this space into a self-sustaining village where people can live, work, play, and eat,” Sephus told Inc.
The idea to build up this tech community came to Sephus back in 2018 when she was looking for an office space for her own startup Bean Path — an incubator and technology consulting nonprofit — which has assisted over 400 local businesses and individuals with their technology needs.
Her search landed her in the downtown Jackson area, which was once considered a booming business community for Black companies.
“It’s clear that people don’t expect anything good to come from Jackson,” she said to Inc. “So it’s up to us to build something for our hometown, something for the people coming behind us.”
“It had never occurred to me, even though I had sold a company to Amazon and was working with some of the top people at Amazon and having led a whole startup, started our own nonprofit. It just never occurred to me that I, a young Black female, could buy a building in downtown Jackson, Mississippi,” she added.
Sephus is reportedly working on a timeline to transform this space within the next 3-5 years. Redevelopment of the area will include a maker’s space, an electronics lab, a photography studio, apartments, restaurants, a grocery store as well as an innovation center, according to Inc.
Sephus — who has a B.S., master’s, and Ph.D. in computer engineering — currently works at Amazon as an applied science manager for its artificial intelligence initiative. Prior to joining the company, she served as the CTO of startup firm Partpic — a visual recognition technology company.
Amazon has played an active role in Sephus’ entrepreneurial journey through its Amazon Future Engineer program — which offers scholarships and instruction for teachers who wish to expand their tech skills, Inc. shares.
Raising money to fund her project proved to be a challenge for Sephus, but she’s allocated $500,000 of her savings toward the developing tech hub, as well as additional funds from friends and families amounting to around $150,000.
Her end goal is to raise more money through crowdfunding, grants and private sources to help see her project through.