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Grit and Passion

Startup founded by former MU student-athletes makes successful exit.

Story by: Laura Roloff

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Four intense years of research, building a niche market, innovating and raising capital paid off for Roo Storage recently when Handled, a St. Louis moving and home services company, acquired the startup and hired its founders.

“Entrepreneurs define success in many ways, such as having a positive impact on the world or growing their customer base,” said Bill Turpin, MU associate vice chancellor of economic development. “A successful exit like Roo made has brought them new resources, more brain power and a much larger reach.”

Backed by moving powerhouses Mayflower and United Van Lines, Handled operates in more than 120 U.S. cities. The acquisition provided Roo’s founders with an opportunity to help rethink and improve the booking and delivery of a broader array of services, including moving, storage, packing, cleaning and home repair.

Before joining Handled, Roo Storage developed an online platform that connected people with extra space in their homes and businesses to customers in need of storage. Most recently, the company arranged storage space for more than 5,000 students displaced from their college dorms due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Storage problems, unfortunately, are the norm throughout the country,” said Seth Waite, Handled CEO. “Roo’s passion for meeting customer’s needs aligns perfectly with our mission at Handled – to help the world feel at home, effortlessly, affordably and worry-free.”

“Worry-free” is probably not how former Mizzou football player Eric Laurent, BS ME ’16, MBA ’18, felt after struggling to find a place to store his belongings between apartment leases during college. His idea to create a new, affordable storage model arose from those frustrating circumstances.

Laurent, former football player Jake Hurrell, BS BA ’15, MBA ’18, former soccer goalie Kristen Rivers, BS BA ’16, MBA ’18, and friends Pravin Sivabalan and Joe McAllister co-founded the business in 2018 after doing research and perfecting their business plan as students.

“Without Mizzou, Roo wouldn’t have happened,” said Hurrell. “The university provided our team of founders the support and resources needed to build Roo’s foundation. That foundation is what allowed us to raise money, build a scalable business and ultimately led to our successful acquisition with Handled.”

Roo was launched with entrepreneurial support from experts at the Trulaske College of Business, the Missouri Innovation Center (MIC), the Mizzou Venture Mentoring Service (VMS) and other university resources. For a time, Roo was located in the MU Life Science Business Incubator, which helps young startups get their footing.

“A seasoned group of business leaders in the VMS program stood by Roo and assisted with advice and contacts as their journey took them from a nascent business idea through acquisition by a larger firm,” said VMS Director Jim Gann. “The mentors remained impressed by Roo’s focus and energy.”

Hurrell said it took “a lot of grit and passion” and an unwavering belief in “something bigger” to get Roo established, recruit investors and find funding. Most notably, the team received $75,000 from the MIC Accelerator Fund and won a $50,000 equity-free grant in 2019 from the Arch Grants program in St. Louis.

“We want to see our students use the true power of their thinking in very unconventional and innovative ways to solve problems that they encounter,” said Mun Choi, University of Missouri president. “Training the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators is top of mind for us.”

Roo Storage co-founders pose for a photo. Left to right: Pravin Sivabalan, Eric Laurent, Joe McAllister, Kristen Rivers and Jake Hurrell.
Roo Storage co-founders posed for a photo shortly before Handled acquired their company in June. Left to right: Pravin Sivabalan, Eric Laurent, Joe McAllister, Kristen Rivers and Jake Hurrell. The team chose “impact” as their vision word to keep Roo’s mission focused on making a positive impact on the community. See Mizzou Athletics’ story and video about the company’s early days. This photo was taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.