Nashlie Sephus’ latest project isn’t just a moon shot. It’s a homecoming. Her goal: to create a technology center of 12 acres of abandoned land and buildings in the heart of downtown Jackson, Mississippi.
The 35-year-old has split her time between Jackson, her hometown, and Atlanta for the past four years, where she works as the applied science manager for Amazon’s Artificial Intelligence initiative. Amazon acquired Partpic, the visual recognition technology startup where she served as chief technology officer, in 2016 for an undisclosed sum. In 2018, she founded Bean Path, a Jackson nonprofit incubator and technology consultant who she believes has helped more than 400 local businesses and individuals with their tech needs.
Your plan for the $ 25 million Jackson Tech District is bold for a place not known for its tech prowess. For Sephus, a big part of the appeal is to bring investment into a community that has been left out. “It’s clear the people don’t expect anything good from Jackson,” she says. “So it’s up to us to build something for our hometown, something for the people who come behind us.”
Regardless of the ambition of your company, Sephus says the plan should come from her, still seems like a wild idea. “It had never crossed my mind even though I’d sold a company to Amazon and worked with some of the top people at Amazon and ran an entire startup to start our own nonprofit. I’m just never into that It made sense that I, a young black woman, might buy a building in downtown Jackson, Mississippi, “she says.
Sephus plans to develop seven buildings – with a work area of around 500,000 square meters. With a construction period of three to five years, the area is to be rebuilt and include a manufacturer’s room, an electronics laboratory, a photo studio, apartments, restaurants and a grocery store. The space will also contain an innovation center designed to help entrepreneurs learn technological skills.
“My goal is to transform this space into a self-sustaining village where people can live, work, play and eat,” she says.