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University of Missouri–St. Louis has created generations of entrepreneurs and corporate CEOs. And with alumni including George Paz, Express Scripts’ former CEO as well as founders of St. Louis tech companies including Swizzle, CTY and Savvy Coders (to name a few), UMSL has contributed to the region’s innovation community in noticable ways. Now, the university is picking up the pace with the continued growth of its entrepreneurship platform, UMSL Accelerate. And accelerating they are.
The program launched in spring 2016, just a year after UMSL business alumnus Dan Lauer, a serial entrepreneur and the creator of Waterbabies, approached Charles Hoffman, Dean of UMSL’s College of Business, about what UMSL was doing in regard to the growing interest in entrepreneurship and innovation in St. Louis. Together with other deans around campus, Lauer and Dean Hoffman created the Dean’s Network to assess what kinds of programs related to innovation and entrepreneurship were already happening around campus.
As it turns out, there were many entrepreneurship-focused projects, programs and courses already being facilitated. However, it lacked a cohesive structure, and that’s when UMSL Accelerate began to take shape to become the interdisciplinary banner under which these programs could operate.
“Individually these programs are great, but not impactful. Together as UMSL Accelerate, it’s a big deal,” says Dean Hoffman, an UMSL alumnus himself who spent several years in Silicon Valley before taking his position at UMSL College of Business four years ago.
The “big deal” that is UMSL Accelerate operates under three main components: Educate, Innovate and Collaborate, with Educate being No. 1 because, first and foremost, “we’re here to teach,” Hoffman says.
Here is how UMSL Accelerate approaches its three-tiered platform:
UMSL Accelerate: Educate
With the help of the Dean’s Network, UMSL Accelerate is offering a full certificate program in entrepreneurship starting with five classes in Fall 2017, including Introduction to Entrepreneurship and Business in the Arts. The 18-credit-hour certificate program offers students six different tracks for focused study and the opportunity to develop skills like innovation systems thinking and utilizing the Lean Canvas. Students will walk away understanding both commercial and social startups, and know how to use the skills they’ve learned toward forming their own venture or to contribute to companies seeking entrepreneurially minded employees.
UMSL Accelerate: Innovate
Beyond classroom education, UMSL Accelerate promotes a culture of innovation by providing co-curricular and interdisciplinary programs for students. Students interact with St. Louis’ entrepreneurial ecosystem in a real way through its student club, EC@UMSL. They also have access to internship and mentorship opportunities such as an Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) program and the Entrepreneurial Scholars and Interns Program (ESIP).
Along with these programs, one of the most innovative experiences that UMSL Accelerate has to offer is its office location in the Cortex Innovation Community, where it can host classes right in one of St. Louis’ entrepreneurship hubs. By being housed in a space where innovative companies are creating and co-locating every day, entrepreneurship students get to plug into the regional ecosystem, allowing for spontaneous interactions that help students build the soft skills necessary to compete in the entrepreneurial space.
“[Cortex] is very high energy and can sometimes be rather intimidating, but with students interacting in that space, there are unintended benefits which ease the flow from being a student to being an innovator. Being there creates these opportunities,” says Lauer.
UMSL Accelerate: Collaborate
While the first two pillars of UMSL Accelerate focus internally on education and student-specific programs, the “collaborate” component offers programs and partnerships outside the walls of the university. The programs include collaboration with global and corporate accelerators, community leaders and local entrepreneurs.
A collaboration with Express Scripts actually helped to provide the funding necessary for the formation of UMSL Accelerate in early 2016. Later that year, UMSL Accelerate partnered with Civic Progress, the St. Louis Mosaic Project, the Global EIR Coalition and Arch Grants to launch Gateway Accelerate, a Midwest program for international entrepreneurs. These collaborations bring faculty, students and community members together to create vibrant new ideas and facilitate the growth of the St. Louis startup ecosystem within the region.
This year, UMSL Accelerate formed a new partnership with Capital Innovators and Ameren to create the Ameren Accelerator, a startup accelerator program dedicated to new energy technology. Its launch represents the first time a university, a corporation and an accelerator have come together to make an impact on energy innovation.
The Ameren Accelerator will select five to seven companies dedicated to new energy technology to participate in a 12-week boot camp program that comes with $100K in funding, office space in the Cortex Innovation Community and extensive mentorship. Along with corporate engagement, UMSL’s involvement will allow for alumni engagement, use of student interns and access to the expertise of experienced faculty.
Applications to the Ameren accelerator are open now and are due May 12.
More than seventy percent of UMSL graduates stay in the St. Louis region. Many alumni have gone on to do big things in the innovation space in St. Louis and are eager to work with UMSL Accelerate and its students to keep the level of ingenuity alive and thriving in the St. Louis region.
“The key for current students is the mentoring part. There are around 29,000 College of Business alums in St. Louis and many have already reached out to us expressing interest in mentoring our students,” Dean Hoffman says. “It’s nice that we have plenty of support.”
This support will lead to UMSL College of Business being able to offer students the ability to major in entrepreneurship by Fall 2018. As the ideas continue to develop under this cross-campus, interdisciplinary banner of UMSL Accelerate, Lauer is looking for innovative ways to run the program like a business that produces cash flow.
Dean Hoffman gives Lauer a lot of credit for moving the program forward, “Dan says, ‘we may be behind, but we want to leapfrog past the others.’ That’s true entrepreneurial spirit.”