In the business world, venture capitalists coined the term unicorn to describe a privately held startup company with a value of over $1 billion, according to the website Investopedia.
At a Sept. 19 Entrepreneur Quest (EQ) pitch competition, Greg Bier, executive director of University of Missouri entrepreneurship programs, said Columbia has more than its share of unicorns like EquipmentShare and Zapier.
“As a community of about 120,000 people, we punch way above our weight class in the success of our startups,” Bier said. “What makes Columbia successful is our ecosystem. We have a wealth of resources, and the founders of thriving mid-Missouri companies are interested in supporting the next generation of young entrepreneurs.”
EQ is a launch pad for student businesses. Since its inception in 2018, the program has awarded more than $150,000 in seed funds to help students make their business dreams a reality – and maybe one day become a unicorn
At the beginning of the fall semester, undergraduate and graduate students from across campus applied for a chance to participate in EQ. The top 15 teams took part in last month’s elevator pitch competition. Ten finalists with the most promising ventures won spots in the intensive, multi-week EQ education program offered by the Griggs Innovators Nexus.
Lauren Compton, a doctoral student in the Sinclair School of Nursing, won $2,000 as the audience favorite. The aim of her venture, The Breast Formula, is to freeze dry breast milk for moms who want the ease of formula, but the nutritional and immunological benefits of breast milk.
“I have learned firsthand that breastfeeding moms do not get the support they deserve and when they do, it’s not always affordable or convenient,” Compton said. “I look forward to being an affordable, convenient resource to modernizing breastmilk so that parents can feel supported in giving their baby the best nutrition possible. “
On Nov. 28, the following students and their companies will compete in a final pitch competition for a chance to win seed funding for their ventures from a $30,000 prize pool:
- Lauren Compton, doctoral candidate, nursing – The Breast Formula, a freeze-dried breast milk service
- Dwika Dewi, doctoral candidate, human development and family science — Yes I Can Learning for Kids, classes and activities to strengthen children's social, emotional and cognitive skills
- Daniel Geary, junior, business — PlayGear, a cash-based chess skills app
- Isaac Harmon, junior, finance and computer science — Oalasis.AI, an automated, conversational AI tool for product sales
- Andrew Kruszka, junior, computer science — Modern Hockey Training, virtual and augmented reality instruction for players and coaches
- Michael Moriarty, senior, business — ECO Reuse, furniture and appliance collection and refurbishing service
- Felix Michael Oguche, doctoral candidate, precision agriculture and biological engineering — AgricSenseHub, smart irrigation device
- Parker Owens, law student — Parker’s Brick Builds, customized Lego kits
- Reagan Wiles, senior, journalism, and Jules Maslak-Hopper, senior, computer science — Twiyo, a group travel service
- Jia Wu, doctoral candidate, textile and apparel management — A sustainable period underwear for wheelchair users
“It has been amazing to see the impact EQ has made on students,” said finalist Reagan Wiles. “We hope to someday be added to the list of countless success stories that were formulated in this amazing program.”
EQ is sponsored by Hawthorn Bank, U.S. Bank Foundation and the employees of Veterans United Home Loans.