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In the words of philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” This sentiment reflects the very essence of being a trailblazer.

To put this in a business light, trailblazers are exceptional entrepreneurs. On the flip side, though, not all entrepreneurs are trailblazers. What’s the difference? Well, trailblazers are pioneers in a new market or industry who must navigate unchartered territory. And, they must be disruptive.

Think about it. Industry trailblazers don’t have a local peer or business model to emulate. There are no coattails to grab on to and ride. While their passion is the key driving force behind their product or service, their risks are even greater because they must face head-on a daunting web of “firsts,” such as legal structuring, municipal and governmental ordinances, breakthrough marketing messages, and so on.

Have you ever stopped to think about how industries had to start somewhere, by someone? Most of us probably haven’t because we just take for granted what’s here and what we are used to. The truth is, though, every single industry began with a trailblazer who brought his or her idea, unique product, or service to the market and worked hard to make it successful. Thus, opening the floodgates for others to enter and thrive in the same market.

It’s important to both recognize and appreciate the many trailblazers from across Mississippi    and they are all around us!

Leslie and Mark Henderson, for instance, are two trailblazers. This engaging couple from Kiln, both engineers by trade, took their shared passion for craft brewing and launched Lazy Magnolia in 2003    as the state’s first brewery since prohibition in 1907. Impressive, right? This fact makes them trailblazers for Mississippi’s craft beer industry. Because of their passion and their willingness to take huge professional and financial risks, they essentially led the way for other craft brewers and distillers to follow. Now, the craft beverage industry in Mississippi is booming and has become a dynamic game-changer in the state’s economy, workforce, and tourism.

Troy Derego - Grain Elevator - McLaughlin PCAnother example of a trailblazer, who is newer to the scene, is Troy DeRego of Starkville, an artisan baker with a passion for making breads. As the founder of Grain Elevator, a uniquely sustainable and health-inspired bakery operation, Troy launched a first-of-its-kind snack into the Mississippi market just a couple of years ago. And his new product line    Naturally Fermented Craft Beer Grain Crackers    has seriously tapped into a brand-new industry in the craft food space that has landed his products all across the country. His innovative products, alongside his drive and business smarts, led him to win the 2019 Good Food Award … and that’s huge    for him and for Mississippi!   

And, how about technology trailblazers? Well, feast your eyes on C Spire. Wow. What it has done in (and for) Mississippi is absolutely remarkable. Here again, it’s so easy to take for granted that the largest privately held wireless carrier in the nation is headquartered in Ridgeland. Folks, we have an unmistakable tech-giant contender right here in our own backyard. What an opportunity we have to support and celebrate our own successful brand of high-tech trailblazers. We all owe a serious thank-you to the Creekmore brothers who, decades ago, brought to life a vision that has proudly put Mississippi on the map in the telecommunications arena—and not to mention the significant economic and philanthropic impact it has translated into as well.

All successful trailblazers are an anomaly in their own right. They have earned the esteemed title of trailblazer and deserve the respect that accompanies it. So, let’s toast Mississippi’s entrepreneurial trailblazers, past, present, and future, and thank them for not taking the path already there; and instead, being paving a new trail for others to follow.

Sandra M. Buckley is a native of Greenville and credits the rich and vibrant culture of the Mississippi Delta for her love of writing. A graduate of Mississippi College, she spent several years in Nashville, TN, honing her craft. After returning to her home state, she resides in Madison with her husband, where she runs her boutique marketing/PR/writing firm through which she loves to promote the inspiring people, places, and potential of Mississippi.

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