Kat Riddler, Managing Editor

The Alumni Association of the University of Missouri-St. Louis hosted their first Celebrating Entrepreneurship and Innovative Thinking event on October 18. This event was focused on bringing legislators to Cortex to see what the university system and UMSL have been doing to work with business startups, encourage innovation and help the citizens of Missouri as a whole.

The event started at 5:30 p.m. with guests checking in at the Havana Room in the innovation and technology district of Cortex at the CIC@4240 Building. Guests were invited to speak with the Ameren Accelerator Cohort, with alumni, faculty, staff, and students of UMSL, and to see the UMSL Accelerate and Ameren Accelerator space in Cortex.

The Ameren Accelerator is a unique partnership between public and private institutions and is one of the first of its kind in the United States and the first in the St. Louis region to focus on energy technologies. The partnership with the University of Missouri System, UMSL Accelerate, Ameren and Capital Innovators was created to assess, mentor, and invest in energy technology startup companies. Seven startup companies were chosen out of the 200 applications from 31 countries and 22 states who applied. There was an intense selection process including their own “Shark Tank” like presentations to the selection team. Each of the winning groups received $100,000 in seed capital to participate in the 12-week program.

UMSL Alumnus Warner Baxter, chairman, president, and CEO of Ameren, said, “This partnership with the University of MIssouri System and UMSL Accelerate is a great partnership because it is all about the St. Louis region. It’s all about the corporation like us collaborating with a public university to not only create jobs but also innovation in an area that frankly, is incredibly innovative. I’m proud to be part of that. Ameren is proud to be proud of that. We are going to make a difference in the St. Louis region with this collaboration.“

Baxter continued, “The whole Ameren Accelerator is truly about identifying innovative ideas, but also mentoring these companies to accelerate their products and ultimately implement those. Because when I look at the energy future of our country, we need innovation. So what we are looking for much as the demo day but going forward is for these startup companies, they have the opportunity to show their wares, show their talent, to get more investors so we can accelerate their products to get it to our customers and the constituents in this community to make their energy future brighter.”

Alumni Association Vice President Joe Blanner, BSPA 1998, welcomed everyone that evening to start the program. He thanked the number of elected officials who attend to speak with the start up companies and learn more about the partnership. Blanner said, “On behalf of the university I would like to express our heartfelt and sincere appreciation for all that you do for our state and for the great citizens in our state. You know that in many ways your job is a thankless job and it requires a lot of hours, hard work, and sacrifice so we really appreciate what you do for the state and for the university and we really appreciate that you are here tonight.”

Blanner noted that there are 98,000 alumni of UMSL and 72 percent of them live and work in Missouri. Blanner said, “They are working here, they are spending here, they are part of the economy.”

Kristin Sobolik, vice provost for academic affairs, spoke about the diversity of the student population. She cited that of the 17,000 students, there are representations from 44 states and more than 100 countries, but there are still many from Missouri. In fact, over 85 percent from Missouri.

Dan Lauer, founding executive director of UMSL Accelerate, spoke about the accelerator process and the founding of UMSL Accelerate. Lauer said that the idea of UMSL Accelerate was a collaboration between UMSL College of Business Administration Dean Charles Hoffman and himself in 2013. Lauer said, “We do three things really well. We educate, innovate, and collaborate.”

He went on to explain some of the programs and successes UMSL Accelerate is engaged in doing, “In the entrepreneurial journey from the educative perspective, we are proud to say now we are offering a certificate in entrepreneurship for the first time ever. One of the wonderful things about it is that it is taught by practicing entrepreneurs and we start with intro to entrepreneurship and end with a capstone where we want the students to have a viable product.”

Lauer emphasized the community engagement with UMSL Accelerate. Lauer said, “We have 68 students enrolled in these courses. If you know entrepreneurs, you know they don’t want to be in a classroom. Immediately we go from the rigour of classrooms to out of classroom learning. We have a host of innovative courses— this is where we need legislators and alums— to help us invest, to help us invent, but we are off to a great start. We have an entrepreneur in residence program. We have 37 students in under a year… and more to come. It’s a great program. We have an entrepreneurial scholars and interns program. It is system wide and it is a cohort. You have to win…We go to each campus to assist them from a collaborative perspective in a cohort way so we can learn more together as peers.”

Lauer focused a little more on the new cohort and collaboration with the Ameren Accelerator. He said, “One of the many unintended benefits of the Ameren Accelerator is that we were able to engage 10 students and give them $2500 to be in the cohort with these accelerator…. Ameren chose 3 or 4 senior leaders for each of these seven companies to engage with. Imagine being a startup and to get that intimate that quick with a big company”

Warner Baxter, who gave the main address to those attending the event, summed up his feelings about why the program is so important to him and why UMSL made a difference in his life, and is making a difference in the lives of others, “I am very proud to be a University of Missouri-St. Louis alumni and being able to partner with a university that has done so much for me is actually quite special. They have not only given me the opportunity that I had, but by instituting this collaboration and giving students at the University of Missouri-St. Louis an opportunity to have an internships, we are giving back. I’m also convinced that together we will do something special— not just for the students, not just for the university, but for this region. That is what makes me so proud.”

There were several State Representatives from around the region who attended: Gretchen Bangert, Donna Baringer, Doug Beck, Jean Evans, David Gregory, Kirk Mathews, Karla May, Gina Mitten, Jay Mosley, Becky Ruth, Fred Wessels, Peter Meredith and Kathie Conway. Brian Williams from the Office of U.S. Congressman William Lacy Clay was also in attendance.

Representative Beck said, “The UMSL Ameren Accelerator program is an exciting collaboration between a state institution of higher education and private industry that is opening new doors for entrepreneurs. I believe we must support innovation and business start-ups to keep Missouri’s economy moving forward.”