CLARKSDALE, Miss.—As a high-school student, Tim Lampkin would greet guests as they entered the back room of Visionz Photography Studio, a business inside an office building on Desoto Avenue in Clarksdale, Miss. After the photographer finished snapping a multitude of photos, Lampkin would escort clients from the room cluttered with lights, digital cameras, green screens and props to his front office.
Once seated, the 16-year-old would upload and pull up the new photos on his computer screen, viewing each pose with the customers and channeling his entrepreneurial spirit to sell them on one of the studio’s photography packages.
“We were way ahead of our time,” Lampkin told the Mississippi Free Press when recounting his time working in the business funded through a youth entrepreneurship grant from the Mid-South Delta Leadership program. “People take regular pictures now, and they transpose the background—basically PhotoShop—but we were doing this in 2003. We had the technology to edit and print pictures in real time. I was the youth sales manager. That was my first real entrepreneurial venture.”
A few blocks away from the building that once housed the business that gave Lampkin his first firsthand experience in business management stands the brick building where he opened the Higher Purpose Hub almost 20 years later. Lampkin, whose organization, Higher Purpose Co., purchased the old furniture store in 2019, plans to use the space and adjoining Greyhound bus-repair station to house the company’s new $3-million enterprise.
“This will be a regional community work hub,” he said in part three of a video miniseries that Higher Purpose Co. created in partnership with Third and Wonder Production House to highlight Black entrepreneurs, artists and farmers in Mississippi. “We are packing in so many amenities that will be able to serve the community.”
The Higher Purpose Hub will house a food hall, a creative learning-lab retail store and the North Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.
“We believe in doing a lot of things in Clarksdale first before we expand to other parts of the state,” Lampkin said. “That is essential for us to address some of the challenges as it relates to crime and the local economy. We see this as a solution to make sure that local (entrepreneurs) feel supported and have tangible resources as they are growing their business or aspiring to become business owners.”
‘Creating Generational Impact’
In 2015, Lampkin was working at a local bank as a community-development officer when he noticed that Black-owned businesses were not receiving the support he believed they needed to be more successful. For Lampkin, this observation highlighted an issue that was particularly true in the Mississippi Delta, which is predominantly African American.
After researching other areas, he created a model that would support local Black entrepreneurs and presented it to the bank’s leadership. They elected not to implement the program and instead encouraged him to take on another project. Lampkin decided to resign from his position at the bank, and within months he founded his own organization.
“What I presented to (the bank) was (what became) the initial blueprint for Higher Purpose Co.,” Lampkin said. “I was able to develop that because of the experience I had working at Mississippi Valley State University, my MBA (which he obtained from Delta State University), the work that I had done at the public library and the community work that I had done.”
“(I) was ready to do something different,” Lampkin added. “I took this concept of what we do as an organization, which is supporting Black entrepreneurs, farmers and artists in getting funding, education and advising.”
Launched in 2016, Higher Purpose Co. (130 Desoto Ave., Clarksdale), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, provides business-centric educational and advisory services, as well as monthly meetings with guest speakers, resource emails, cohort learning programs and funding to Black businesses across the state who are members of the organization. The company has grown from serving Clarksdale residents to business owners in the Delta and other areas in the South, amassing more than 500 members to date.
HPC has a statewide membership for Black-owned businesses. The membership is free and includes monthly membership meetings with guest speakers and a monthly email that relays available resources for entrepreneurs. Members are also eligible to apply for the Higher Purpose Business Academy, a cohort that places business owners together to connect with one another and to share tips for improving their businesses.
In early June, the organization hosted its second Legacy, Purpose, Success: Men’s Entrepreneurship Summit. The free, one-day event featured nationally recognized speakers from across the country in varying fields. More than 75 attendees had the opportunity to participate in sessions on business funding, branding and technology.
“We thought it was essential to create something that would speak to our overall organization but also something that would create generational impact,” Lampkin said.
‘Not a One-(and)-Done’
Oni Omoregie, HPC’s business funding and advising coordinator, moderated a session titled “Mississippi Made,” while Phillip Rollins, owner of OffBeat Jackson, and Mario Watkins, owner of W8 Lounge and Snap Fitness in Indianola, Miss., spoke in the breakout session about entrepreneurship opportunities and challenges in the state.
The men talked about how being an entrepreneur has affected them and how they have conducted themselves in business. “(They talked about) the biggest victories they faced, what have been the biggest challenges they faced, how they have been a part of their local communities and racial challenges that they’ve faced as they’ve been entrepreneurs,” Omoregie said.
Omoregie observes many of the challenges firsthand as he meets with HPC members to help them secure funding for their businesses.
“The biggest issue that I’ve seen based on my one-on-one meetings with members from HPC is insufficient credit and also a lack of knowledge,” Omoregie, who is currently working to obtain a doctorate in public policy and administration from Jackson State University, said. “They’re trying to understand: What’s the best way to get started with it, (and) what’s the best way to build credit? Those are the main issues that they’ve been running into.”
Business owners under the HPC umbrella receive resources and build skills to help them both begin and grow their businesses. Omoregie examines business plans, helps business owners form short-term and long-term goals and speaks with owners to determine their financial outlooks. He offers weekly, biweekly and monthly meetings.
“It is not a one-thing-and-you’re-done (deal),” he said of the HPC clients. “Members at HPC have pretty much unlimited access to me.” If owners need help, he said, “I’m just a call or a text or an email (away).”
Since November 2019, HPC has deployed over $1 million to Black-owned businesses through a combination of grants, loans, loan guarantees and individual development accounts.
‘Beyond the Delta’
HPC’s reach has already expanded outside the Delta, and as the organization grows, Lampkin hopes to see its bigger impact across the state. In addition to the Higher Purpose Hub in Clarksdale, HPC is opening offices in Jackson and other parts of the state and increasing staff in its existing offices. In addition to the men’s summit, they also hosted their seventh women’s entrepreneurship summit and partnered with the Two Mississippi Museums to host an entrepreneurship fair in concert with the opening of The Negro Motorist Green Book Exhibit.
As HPC grows, Lampkin hopes to create a collective community of Black entrepreneurs, farmers and artists across the state. His belief is that this is the key to creating a better economy across the Delta and the state.
“I look at what I do as an entrepreneur not as, ‘How do I make a lot of money?’ but ‘How many people can I serve?” Lampkin said. “For me that is the driving force around why I show up every day to do this work.”
The larger Higher Purpose Hub is projected to open in 2023. For more information on Higher Purpose Co.’s resources, services and programs, visit higherpurposeco.org.