Mizzou’s Entrepreneur Quest is a team sport with a marvelous track record. Our story highlights the 10 finalists who will compete March 22 for $30,000 in awards and good news from previous EQ winners.
They are pursuing wildly different business ideas and represent eight colleges and schools. The main thing they have in common, besides an innovative spirit, is a coveted spot in the Entrepreneur Quest (EQ) Student Accelerator, a signature program of the Griggs Innovators Nexus in the MU Student Center.
EQ, now in its third year, provides funding opportunities and immerses students in the business world through workshops, networking, mentoring and hands-on experiences with the commercialization process. The goal is to help them translate their ideas into viable businesses. This fall, 10 teams of undergraduate and graduate students were chosen to participate.
Meet the teams
Many of this year’s EQ participants are focused on developing companies around innovative products. Take Eric Krause, a third-year medical student from St. Louis. He applied to EQ to learn how to run a business and to help fund a device for prescription pill bottles that breaks down unused and expired medications for safe disposal.
On March 22, Krause’s team will compete in a pitch competition against the other teams for a chance to win $15,000 for first place, $10,000 for second place or $5,000 for third place.
“Ultimately, the prize package is based on progress toward making a company,” said Bill Turpin, MU associate vice chancellor for innovation, entrepreneurship and commercialization. “At this stage of the competition, EQ is looking for good, well-developed ideas. During the spring semester, we help students refine their ideas and turn them into reality.”
For the first time, three workshops from EQ’s two-month education program are open to any Mizzou student. They will be led by Scott Christianson, associate teaching professor in the Management Department, Trulaske College of Business, 4 to 5:15 p.m. in the MU Student Center, Room 2206, A, B & C.
Feb. 2 – Understanding your customer’s story
Feb. 9 – Ideation, user journey maps, building prototypes and testing ideas
Feb. 16 – Building low-fidelity products, testing products, collecting data and improving the user experience.
It’s probably no surprise that two teams are developing mobile apps. Michelle Gershkovich, a textile and apparel management major from Chicago, is creating an app to help online shoppers find the right clothing size for their unique body type, and Kansas Citian Zeph France, a business management major, is pursuing an app that would allow residence hall occupants to communicate with each other on a secure platform.
EQ received 48 applications during the fall semester. A panel of judges chose the teams that would participate in the program after evaluating 14 semifinalists at a Nov. 17 three-minute pitch competition. Family, friends and interested community members cheered on the competitors at The Shack in the student center and voted Jack Murray, a veterinary medicine student from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as the audience favorite. Murray received $1,000 for his creative dog kennel design idea.
“I want the opportunity to network with entrepreneurs and mentors,” Murray said, who also looks forward to connecting with like-minded peers in EQ.
Students on the other EQ teams may be like-minded, but their ventures definitely reflect the diversity of Mizzou’s student body. Chris Floyd, a general studies major and Army veteran from Cleburne, Texas, hopes to launch a blockchain-based computer program that manages medical data. Other teams are focused on selling educational card games, clothing made from upcycled materials, trackable bracelets that store braces and retainers, 3D-printed orthotic insoles and a storage service for students.
Success begets success
Greg Bier, executive director of entrepreneurship programs, said that EQ has been a launch pad for student businesses.
Drew Patel, the 2020 EQ winner, recently raised $3.5 million for his latest venture, Risk Harbor, a risk management marketplace for crypto currencies. In addition, EQ runner-up Printerior, a company founded by Trent Esser and Hayden Seidel that uses 3D printers and recycled plastic to create sustainable products, was accepted into the St. Louis-based Arch Grants program in October and received $50,000 in funding.
Calving Technologies founder Libby Martin, who won EQ in 2019, continues to make strides. In addition to raising more than $100,000 in funds, Martin landed a spot in the NextFab Hardware Accelerator, where she refined sensory hardware designed to reduce calving mortality rates.
“It’s comradery plus the wide array of networking and funding opportunities given to me by Mizzou that have really shaped me and my business,” Martin said at a Sept. 14 event celebrating a gift to establish the Griggs Innovators Nexus. “Thank you for being the reason countless students past and present have learned, grown and succeeded.”