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Student entrepreneurs in the University of Missouri System could earn up to $30,000 in prize money thanks to a new systemwide initiative known as the Entrepreneur Quest Student Accelerator.
The program, which UM System President Mun Choi announced Friday in his State of the University Address from Columbia, involves the University of Missouri–St. Louis and the system’s other three campuses. It works toward the goal of fostering innovation and entrepreneurship among students from every discipline. The Entrepreneur Quest Student Accelerator is backed by a $250,000 investment from the UM System and includes an eight-week educational program, mentorship opportunities, pitch competitions and significant financial support for finalists from each university.
“We want the University of Missouri System to be the first choice for entrepreneurially minded students,” Choi said. “This innovative program will provide educational tools and financial backing for our best and brightest students to start their ventures. We’re proud to invest in an accelerator that naturally blends across disciplines, departments and universities.”
Applications for the first program are open through Oct. 19. Ten semifinalists per university will be selected for the educational program, which will begin on each campus in January. Students will receive dedicated workspace and mentorship from a selection of executives, industry leaders, investors and subject-matter experts. The individual courses will conclude with demo days and the selection of three finalists per campus, who will receive $15,000 for first place, $10,000 for second and $5,000 for third.
All 12 campus finalists will meet at the Entrepreneurial Educators Summit in April and compete for another chance at $15,000, $10,000 or $5,000.
Dan Lauer, the founding executive director of UMSL Accelerate, said this investment is a “game changer” for student entrepreneurs.
“One of the things we’re noticing with our students is that they don’t have enough time and they don’t have enough money,” Lauer said. “For the UM System, under President Choi’s leadership, to invest $250,000 so that each campus can participate in a collaborative and competitive way incentivizes our students. This program can serve as a catalyst for students to move farther, faster.”
Applications are open to undergraduate and graduate students. Business ideas can include products or services and be nonprofit or revenue generating.
“We know innovation comes from everywhere,” Lauer said. “We want a wide, diverse student population as well as ideas. It’s an open call to action.”
Fall enrollment in entrepreneurship courses at UMSL is six times higher than it was for the first course offerings in spring 2016. UMSL students can earn an undergraduate certificate in entrepreneurship, and a degree program is slated to begin in spring 2019.
“It’s an exciting time to be an entrepreneur at UMSL,” Dean of the College of Business Administration Charlie Hoffman said. “The university’s support of inventive programs, like UMSL Accelerate and the Ameren Accelerator, offer unique and insightful opportunities for students as they pursue their own business endeavors. The Entrepreneur Quest Student Accelerator powered by UM System lifts our commitment to student entrepreneurs to the next level. We are excited to participate in this first program and to foster the growth of our students.”