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An Amazon A.I. scientist wants to transform downtown Jackson, Mississippi

Nashlie Sephus
Terrence Wells at 242 Creative

Most people look at a couple of vacant lots and see … vacant lots. But Nashlie Sephus sees gold.

Sephus, a 35-year-old Black A.I. researcher with Amazon, plans to turn seven buildings and about 500,000 square feet of downtown Jackson, Mississippi, into a technology park and incubator. Her story, as detailed on Inc.’s Web site, is remarkable:

The 35-year-old has spent the past four years splitting her time between Jackson, her hometown, and Atlanta, where she works as an applied science manager for Amazon’s artificial intelligence initiative. Amazon had acquired Partpic, the visual recognition technology startup where she was chief technology officer, in 2016 for an undisclosed sum. In 2018, she founded the Bean Path, an incubator and technology consulting nonprofit in Jackson that she says has helped more than 400 local businesses and individuals with their tech needs.

But beyond entrepreneurship and deep A.I. know-how, Sephus is eager to bring tech to a city hardly known for its tech roots. “It’s clear that people don’t expect anything good to come from Jackson,” she told Inc. “So it’s up to us to build something for our hometown, something for the people coming behind us.”

The tech hub, called Jackson Tech District, will include a space for makers, apartments and restaurants, an electronics lab, and more. There’s even room for a grocery store, as well as an “innovation center” where entrepreneurs can hone their tech chops.

Amazon has supported her plans through its Amazon Future Engineer program, which provides scholarships and instruction for teachers interested in improving their tech skills. We Power Tech, an Amazon program focused on helping underrepresented communities gain access to tech, is also ready to do workshops once the hub opens, Inc. reported.

“I’ve always been an advocate of [taking] the secret sauce that I was allowed and exposing others to it,” Sephus, who has a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering from Georgia Tech, told MarketWatch recently.

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