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MS Visionary: Nashlie Sephus Sees...

MS Visionary: Nashlie Sephus Sees Opportunity in Jackson

By: Susan Marquez - February 21, 2023

Dr. Nashlie Sephus sees opportunity where others may see urban blight. She has always had a different way of looking at things. Identifying needs and finding solutions is her superpower.

Dr. Nashlie Sephus sees opportunity where others may see urban blight. She has always had a different way of looking at things. Identifying needs and finding solutions is her superpower. Nashlie is making a positive difference and Jackson is benefitting from her vision.

As the Applied Science manager for Amazon Artificial Intelligence (AI), Nashlie focuses on fairness and identifying biases in these technologies. Based in Atlanta, Nashlie travels back to her hometown of Jackson frequently, where she is attempting to create a tech hub that rivals those in major cities in the Northwest. Inspired by Amazon, which owns eight blocks in Seattle dedicated to technology, Nashlie says she envisioned something similar in Jackson.

On September 11, 2020, Nashlie purchased 21 acres next to Jackson State University to create the Jackson Tech District. “That’s just the name we put on it,” says Nashlie, who wants to see Jackson progress the way other cities have. “I saw the need for technical experience and technical literacy in Jackson.”

Nashlie was exposed to technology through the math and science camps she attended at Jackson State University when she was young. “I also attended an engineering camp at Mississippi State University the summer after the eighth grade. I learned something different from what I had learned in school, and I loved it.”

Nashlie graduated from Mississippi State with a B.S. in computer engineering. She received her Ph.D. from Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering in 2014.

In 2018, Nashlie founded a 501(c)(3) nonprofit called The Bean Path, an organization that provides technical advice and guidance to individuals and small businesses. “Our purpose is to sow technical expertise, grow networks, and fertilize communities,” she says. “We do that through technical classes, tech talks, coding and engineering programs for youth, and scholarships and grants for students who are interested in the engineering field.”

“We started meeting in a library building, then outgrew that and I purchased a 17,000 square foot barn we called ‘The Bean Barn.’ A bean is a component in technology, as well as a seed that sprouts and grows.” Nashlie says that the same guy who sold her the barn sold her the property next to it. “We now teach senior day classes, tech classes, as well as after-school fashion technology classes and coding classes. We also have a maker space for arts and crafts where people can use our laser cutter and 3-D printer.”

Nashlie envisions events in the area that has been abandoned for so long. “We have so much untapped potential. I want to help eliminate the ‘brain drain’ for stem people like me. We can do that by training up the people who are here. And that means finding ways to make it easier to stay here, like housing projects offering market rate to affordable housing.”

The Jackson Tech District has been over five years in the making. “I had the vision in December2018, and invested my own capital to get it started,” Nashlie states. “Now we are getting investors and private equity to bring this vision to life.” Plans include an event center and office spaces.

“We are looking at it from all angles. This is a community development project with a mission behind the mission – to unite the state and show what we can do when we work together. We are currently evaluating the feasibility of Airbnbs and hotels in the area. There are fourteen colleges and universities in the Metro Jackson area –that’s a lot of parents coming to visit their kids. We have a strong football culture, plus a strong culinary scene, music, and visual and performing arts.”

Nashlie wants to capitalize on activity at the Amtrak station, the Two Museums, and people coming back to Jackson to visit family. “The Two Museums has a huge draw from Europe. There is so much we can do by leveraging real estate.”

Nashlie says she has found City leaders in Jackson to be supportive and welcoming. “At the rezoning hearing there was a unanimous vote offering us funds. We received $250,000 towards our first building. We have also received strong support from the Legislature, Mississippi Development Authority, and even Federal engagement.”

The roll-out plan for the second phase of the project is to build out the barns, including The Bean Barn and what is known as The Baby Barn. “We want to create a food hall, event center, and an indoor-outdoor space for activities like movie nights, exercise classes, and concerts. I’d even like to see activities such as drone races and robotics classes. It will be an environment that is family-friendly, and even an after-hours spot. It is our hope that all this can come online this year.”

Currently there are four full-time employees at The Bean Path, and eight part-time employees. “We also have twenty additional contractors and hundreds of volunteers,” says Nashlie. Her efforts have been noticed on a national stage. Articles about Nashlie, The Bean Path, and the Jackson Tech District have been published in inc. magazine, Black Enterprise, and, among others.

Last year she was awarded Mississippian of the Year by the Jackson Chapter of the Computing Technology Industry Association. The high profile and prestigious award is presented to a Mississippian who has had a “significant and important impact on the state through the business, innovation, or application of information technology.”

About the Author(s)
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Susan Marquez

Since 2001, Susan Marquez has been writing about people, places, spaces, events, music, businesses, food, and travel. The things that make life interesting. A prolific writer, Susan has written over 3,000 pieces for a wide variety of publications.