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The University of Missouri System’s Entrepreneur Quest Student Accelerator program allows student entrepreneurs to jump start their business ideas
COLUMBIA, Mo. – Applause filled the virtual chatroom as the top three student teams were announced at this year’s University of Missouri System Entrepreneur Quest (EQ) Student Accelerator pitch competition.
The competition, now in its second year, allows students from all four UM universities — University of Missouri-Columbia, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Missouri University of Science and Technology and University of Missouri-St. Louis — to work together while also competing against one another to advance their business venture ideas. This year’s competition was held by video conferencing tools due to social distancing restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This competition is very important for all of us, especially to our students, because it fosters entrepreneurship and innovation,” UM System President Mun Choi said. “There are no winners and losers. These finalists are all very talented and their hard work and ambition will have an incredible impact not only to their own professional development, but also to our society.”
The top three student teams had achieved the program’s final step, which started last fall when they were among the students selected by their respective UM universities to join this year’s program. To get to this point, these students have pitched their business ventures in front of four different groups of business professionals, much like on the television series, “Shark Tank.”
“This is the highest quality of finalists I’ve seen in probably a dozen of these competitions,” said final round competition judge Chad Troutwine, an MU alumnus and technology entrepreneur.
Drew Patel, a sophomore computer science major at MU from Springfield, Missouri, took home first place for his startup business, Pollinate. Pollinate aims to better e-commerce delivery services in emerging economies like Nairobi, Kenya, by allowing customers to pick up their packages at neighborhood market stalls through an on-demand delivery platform.
“Many people love to fetishize entrepreneurship and the wealth that comes with it, but that’s the wrong way to think,” Patel said. “Focus on targeting real problems in the real world and attempt to positively change people’s lives.”
Second place was awarded to Vanessa Mahan, a senior biological sciences major at Missouri S&T, whose Bionic Bowel, a bioactive glass pill, aims to help over 3 million people who have Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease. Mahan, a Kansas City native, encourages other young entrepreneurs to not give up on their ideas.
“Not everyone is going to like your idea, but that just means you're not talking to the right people or the right market,” Mahan said. “There's a market for everything, and you just have to find it.”
Fahad Qureshi’s Vest Heroes aims to help health care workers with its improved operating room system that improves medical professionals’ lead vests to allow them to maneuver easier while still protecting them from radiation. Qureshi, a third-year medical student at UMKC and Glenview, Illinois-native, took third place. He encourages other young entrepreneurs to believe in themselves.
“If you know you have a good idea, make sure you believe in yourself when no one else will, so that you can reap the fruits of that idea when no one else can,” Qureshi said.
Promoting entrepreneurial spirit
The systemwide competition began last fall when representatives from MU, UMKC, Missouri S&T and UMSL each selected students from a pool of applicants. These students pitched their business ventures in front of business professionals for a chance at being selected as a semifinalist. The semifinalists spent eight weeks researching, developing and testing their business ideas. At the end of the eight weeks, the semifinalists at each university pitched to business professionals for a chance at being selected as one of the top three finalists at each university to compete in the systemwide competition.
Editor’s Note: For more on this story, please see: EQ Student Accelerator: Fueling student ambitions