STARKVILLE — On the third floor of the newly renovated Mississippi State University Research and Technology Corporation Downtown Innovation HUB building, employees of Babel Street play video games or pool during their breaks from work.
Working at Babel Street, a data-to-knowledge company with artificial intelligence linguistics, requires intensive thinking, Senior Vice President of Application Development Bryan O’Neill said, so the company brought in games to boost morale and create a more enjoyable workplace atmosphere.
“People come in, work all day and then go into the break room to play pool or video games, have a couple of beers and just relax,” O’Neill said. “That’s an important part of the job — ensuring your employees are happy. Happy employees do good work.”
Babel Street was the first tenant to sign on in 2019 when the Mississippi State University Research and Technology Corporation Downtown Innovation HUB purchased the old Cadence Bank building on Main Street. After Cadence moved to its new location on Russell Street, RTC renovated the building to create office space for growing companies wishing to locate downtown.
The HUB installed new signage this past week, signifying the completion of renovations to the building.
“When the bank moved out in June 2021, we started renovations in December,” RTC Director Marc McGee said. “The whole premise is to bring innovative, economic development downtown. What we have in the research park, and those technology-based companies that we have, we would like to see some of those companies downtown.”
RTC, a company-development nonprofit, is a separate entity from the university that assists MSU in research and development. Having reached its maximum capacity for businesses at the Thad Cochran Research and Economic Development Park, McGee said RTC needed to find a space to house new research companies.
MSU Provost and Executive Vice President David Shaw pitched the idea of purchasing the downtown building, which McGee said the university quickly supported. Renovations to the building included replacing teller stations with segregated suites, creating and replacing bathrooms, adding a completely new ceiling and bringing the building up to Americans with Disabilities Act standards and fire codes.
“We kept the bank’s original vault door because we wanted to keep the aesthetics and character of a bank,” McGee said. “That’s part of it. We wanted a new look while also keeping some of the bank’s original aspects.”
The HUB has space for four total tenants, with Cadence Wealth Management, a non-retail banking operation, and Babel Street taking the first two spots.
Needing to move somewhere with additional space, O’Neill took a tour of the Main Street building and said he knew it would be a sufficient place for Babel Street’s employees to work. Since the company moved in, O’Neill said Babel Street not only uses its space for everyday work but also to host meetings with employees from other branches.
“We liked the location,” O’Neill said. “It didn’t feel like a high-tech software company when we first looked at it, so we asked for some renovations to the building. … We have a great space. It’s beautiful.”
Mayor Lynn Spruill said she has long wanted a stronger “town and gown” relationship with the university, and the HUB is part of the process to make that happen. She also said this is one step in creating a more pedestrian-friendly downtown that the city hopes to develop in the coming years.
“There are a lot of opportunities associated with research being downtown,” Spruill said. “There are a lot of things that allow us to create some synergy and entrepreneurship in future growth and development for the city and in keeping students in our downtown area which is critical to me for our future and success.”
McGee said RTC has been in discussion with the Greater Starkville Partnership Development about partnering for events, especially at the building’s large outdoor plaza area. He said he would love for the city to host events there, not only to show individuals RTC’s new location but also continue to create a partnership among the university, city and RTC.
“Having this building here will create jobs and having those jobs will allow for people to invest in our downtown community through buying meals and shopping,” McGee said. “There’s a lot of synergy that I think can be had between what we’ve done and through the city and Main Street.”
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