Akili Kelly and his wife, Ashlee, know a thing or two about new beginnings. The Jackson, Mississippi, couple recently welcomed their daughter, Alex, into the world. They also launched a startup: TinyJXN (pronounced “Tiny Jackson”), which plans to develop the city’s first tiny-house community. The process, so far, has taken over a year.
The Kellys met as grad students at Jackson State University and have put down roots in the city. As recent graduates with debt, they understand that Jackson’s difficulties in retaining an educated workforce is largely due to the lack of affordable housing options. So they started to explore the concept of tiny homes, which eventually blossomed into their side business.
“I was interested to see how you could squeeze everything you need into a smaller space, which is also more economical,” Akili says. “We want this to be a housing option that people in this community could benefit from.”
Sarah Stripp is TinyJXN’s first client. As tiny homes are a new concept for the city, Stripp’s challenges with homeownership and TinyJXN’s challenges with operating a startup have often been one and the same. The Kellys spent months working with Stripp to secure a loan and break ground on her tiny home. Banks weren’t accustomed to issuing such a modest construction loan, and local institutions didn’t always immediately grasp the concept.
But now, the Kellys have applied for a building permit and expect to begin construction on Stripp’s new home next month.
Like many neighborhoods throughout Jackson, whose population has been declining for decades, the area where Stripp’s tiny home will be built is pockmarked with empty lots. But where others might see blight, the Kellys see an opportunity to improve their city in a way that benefits both aspiring homeowners and longtime locals.
As Akili says, “You have to be able to see beyond what’s currently there.”
Watch the video above to see how Akili and Ashlee Kelly are turning their entrepreneurial dream into a reality, while fulfilling a need in the city they call home.