COMO features a plethora of entrepreneurial resources.
The easily recognizable names of entrepreneurs and businesses with roots in or connections to Columbia is vast: EquipmentShare, Veterans United, Paytient, Carfax, and Zappier are just a few examples of individuals and teams that took an “aha!” moment and followed the path to enormous financial and community success.
While there’s not a single playbook or only one path to success, there are common threads and to-do lists for those wanting to follow their dreams and to possibly, someday, join the ranks of COMO’s homegrown business icons.
A variety of organizations offer help to startups and existing businesses seeking to navigate growing pains. In Columbia, the selection of local resources includes the Missouri Women’s Business Center (MoWBC); the Regional Economic Development Inc. (REDI) and, more specifically, the 1 Million Cups network that meets weekly at the REDI Hub; and the Women’s Investment Network for Entrepreneurs (WINe).
Also keep in mind that local banks — and each of the local business assistance entities will stress the advantages of working with local lenders — have either teams or specialists who will help would-be entrepreneurs turn their brainstormed business ideas into full-fledged, viable, and even thriving businesses.
1 Million Cups
One of the best COMO resources for making an immediate connection with other entrepreneurs — many of whom have started multiple businesses — is 1 Million Cups, the energetic, eager-to-help group that meets at 9 a.m. every Wednesday in the REDI Hub. The weekly event is for local entrepreneurs to meet and present their startups to a thriving peer network. Virtual attendance is also available via the group’s Facebook page.
Each week, entrepreneurs present business ideas to the community and learn how those around them can support their business in its growth. It’s a chance to refine your business’s elevator pitch to a diverse audience. Training programs and a support network are additional benefits of the free program.
Columbia was one of the first 12 cities that launched 1 Million Cups chapters 10 years ago. The initiative was created by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in 2012 and is a free opportunity to help educate and connect entrepreneurs and business owners. Entrepreneurs share their experiences and wisdom with startups and existing businesses by making a short presentation — not a pitch for funding — about their businesses and the challenges they face.
Nickie Davis, executive director of The District and a moderator/emcee for 1 Million Cups, says one of the most appealing facets of the initiative is that it “fosters a safe culture of inclusivity and support.”
The sense of community is unmistakable.
“If you try to go off in a silo and do it yourself, it’s often too hard,” Jay Sparks, REDI’s entrepreneurship coordinator, told COMO Magazine in an interview about 1 Million Cups last fall. “The hill is too steep.”
The list of myriad presenters is evidence of the diverse menagerie of startups, entrepreneurs, small businesses, and nonprofits that dot Columbia’s economic and cultural landscape. Presenters have included: Life and business coaches; media and technology businesses; pet sitting services and services focused on kids; event and party planning; digital and virtual training and education; “boutique” bookkeeping (services tailored for niche businesses); marketing and consulting for small businesses; and dozens of other topic areas.
“1 Million Cups is that oasis that links some of our silos and opens doors” to expanded knowledge and resources, Sparks says. “That happens when everyone starts to pull together.”
Have you thought about …?
Sparks, who joined the REDI team in September 2020, is often among the first with tough questions for presenters. The back-and-forth with 1 Million Cups attendees and organizers is never intended to call out anyone, but it’s intended to offer points of view and questions that help entrepreneurs strengthen their presentations and plans.
Those questions, ranging from “have you thought about this?” to “how do you manage the pitfalls that have derailed others?” reflect how Sparks coaches business owners and entrepreneurs through his work at the REDI hub.
Missouri Women’s Business Center
The MoWBC, a program of Central Missouri Community Action (CMCA), is dedicated to breaking down barriers to entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial success, with a focus on women-owned, minority-owned, and low-to-moderate income-based businesses. The center offers sundry resources to help entrepreneurs explore and navigate the process of creating and starting a new business – or assistance in helping take a business to the next steps of growth.
The MoWBC website explains: “From initial concepts to building a steady stream of economic resources, our mission is to break down the barriers that women and minorities in our community face when owning and operating or growing a business.” But the center is not exclusively for women or minorities, following a “deeper purpose … to assist CMCA on their mission to eradicate the causes and conditions of poverty through individual empowerment, access to resources, and entrepreneurial success.”
The nonprofit MoWBC is designed to help anyone seeking assistance — not just women. The organization contributes to the economic development and stability of mid-Missouri’s small business ecosystem, supporting Boone, Cooper, Howard, Audrain, Callaway, Osage, Cole, and Moniteau counties. It has offices in Columbia and Fulton. MoWBC staff and coaches own and operate multiple businesses “and understand the difficulties of balancing family, career, and other responsibilities,” according to the organization’s website
MoWBC, like REDI and 1 Million Cups, offers its business assistance programs free of charge. MoWBC provides business coaching, access to the Kauffman FastTrac Business Academy, business funding coaching, and other resources.
Some aspects of the MoWBC coaching navigation include:
- Registering your business
- Creating a sustainable business model
- Developing your offer
- Fine-tuning your target market
- Brainstorming successful marketing strategies
- Increasing revenue
- Decreasing expenses
- Basic bookkeeping,
- Community impact and networking
- Building a team of professionals to support
- Writing a business plan
- Obtaining capital
- Assistance with the commercial loan process
- Employee management
- Work-life balance
- Maintaining a successful entrepreneurial mindset.
The Kauffman FastTrac Business Academy is a training series that helps aspiring and early-stage business owners complete a written feasibility plan to help determine if the business idea is a “go” or a “no.” That plan can be adapted into a business plan.
For business funding coaching, MoWBC’s trained coaches will help discuss funding options and whether the would-be entrepreneur is facing a lack of capital, credit challenges, or both.
In 2022, MoWBC provided 763 coaching sessions, assisted 31 new businesses, held 24 training events, and helped bring about an estimated $2.3 million in capital infusion for businesses it helped.
WIN For Entrepreneurs
The Women’s Investment Network (WINe) is a somewhat relatively new organization whose genesis was an idea for creating an opportunity for women investors to pool their resources — via “angel” investing, shared knowledge, and business skills — to help support and invest in other women entrepreneurs.
The mission is to bring together women who have strong business skills, networks, interest in investing, and capital to recognize and enable growth for women entrepreneurs by supporting and promoting companies with women as executives and leaders. Despite its name, WINe isn’t exclusively for women, though that demographic is its main audience.
WIN For Entrepreneurs positions itself as an organization to help “demystify” the questions around investing in others to build wealth. The factors WIN For Entrepreneurs focuses on are:
- What it looks like to invest in women-led business
- What it looks like to build your women-led business and know when to seek investment
- What it looks like to build a sense of community among entrepreneurs and investors.
- Discovering the empowering freedom of putting your dollars toward others and yourself.
The WINe website explains: “Women start-ups and women investors have been looking for each other for quite some time. Historically, women start-ups are vastly underfunded and under-represented.” But that is changing, and WINe is “part of that constellation.”
In 2018, about 26 percent of the 300,000 self-described angel investors in the U.S. — about 78,000 — were women. A dozen years earlier, only about 5 percent of the 225,000 angel investors — about 11,000 — were women. It’s a best of both worlds scenario that WINe envisions building wealth as both an investor and as an entrepreneur benefiting from those investments.
An additional local resource to consider is the Small Business Development Center located downtown.
Missouri SBDC is a program of University of Missouri Extension and is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. The SBDC helps businesses in every stage, from concept to startup, growth to renewal, and maturity to succession.
Statewide, the program assisted 878 startups from fiscal year 2020 to fiscal year 2022, resulting in some $440 million in increased sales and $452 million in approved capital. Demographically, 22 percent of SBDC assisted businesses were women owned; 26 percent were minority owned; and 7 percent were veteran owned.
Regional Economic Development Inc.
1 Million Cups
- 500 E Walnut St #103, Columbia, MO 65201
Missouri Women’s Business Center
- 500 E Walnut St #103, Columbia, MO 65201
- 510 Market Street, Fulton, MO 65251 (by appointment only)
Women Investment Network For Entrepreneurs
Small Business Development Center
- 540 S. Hitt St.