By Wangui Gathungu,
The success of the UMSL Accelerate and EQ Accelerate guided the team to create a “purpose driven accelerator” says Founding Executive Director of UMSL Accelerate Dan Lauer. When discussing the program with the leaders Ameren, Edward Jones, Express Scripts, and private donors, Lauer notes there was zero hesitation. With the racial injustice, damage of the pandemic to underrepresented founders, and lack of access to capital for diverse founders Lauer declares that the “time is right to provide access to early stage capital to demonstrate it is a good economic development initiative.”
Diverse business founders who are underrepresented and overlooked are encouraged to apply regardless of socioeconomic background, education level, race, ethnicity, age, gender, immigration status or lived experience.
The winning six founders will receive $50,000 in non-dilutive capital to support their businesses. They will also be given access to a business development course, mentors, paid UMSL student interns, assistance with grant applications, technology support and incubator space. The program will end in March 2021 with a demo day to showcase their businesses to community members, UMSL students and faculty and potential investors.
The approach taken at UMSL Accelerate is a holistic approach. The course of action is to educate which is in the classroom, innovate the peer learning, co curricular, shared experience, and collaborate is the real world, intern experience to gain hands on learning.
The UMSL Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Accelerator program is a much like UMSL Accelerate and EQ Accelerate program. Lauer says the two main differences between the programs are “the audience being sought and problems being addressed”.
Lauer names UMSL Accelerate the “pioneer in University led Accelerators.” UMSL Accelerate started with a partnership with Ameren and corporate accelerators to launch committed innovation in the energy space. The program had a successful three years which then led to the EQ Accelerate program. The EQ Accelerate was a cooperative student accelerator program for all four UM system universities. Over the past two years students founders were awarded $300,000. EQ was then followed by the upcoming DEI Accelerate program. The DEI program “focuses on supporting underrepresented founders in the St. Louis region with $50k for up to six start ups as well as a best in class business development program.” Each and every Accelerator program accelerators are assisted with paid student intern, alumni engagement such as mentors/connectors, faculty, experts, and amplifiers.
Since we are still in the middle of a global pandemic the DEI program is still moving forward with just a few changes. Lauer says they are planning online, in-person, and hybrid. Lauer explains the process of matching the winning founders with their interns and mentors will occur during an event. During the event “Each shares their passion, strengths and interests, then we socialize. Once that is complete, students rank the companies they wish to work with and the Founders to the same. This way, strong matches occur to optimize impact. Same process occurs for mentors.” This method is effective both in person and online.
Lauer calls the collective meeting of all the interns, founders, and mentors getting together “collaborative magic” when everybody has created the trusts and is looking for big outcomes.
There is an upcoming emphasis area in UMSL College of Business for Entrepreneurship and Foundations in Entrepreneurship will be the gateway course. Lauer insists this is important because “the skills and learning outcomes of this course will provide 21st century skills that are applicable if you start your own business as well as skills to move you farther faster within an organization.” A few of the skills that are going to be taught are entrepreneur mindset, customer discovery, systems thinking, creativity, ability to make presentations and many other skills.
Lauer is no stranger to the collaborative magic he has spoken about or the entrepreneurial world he has lived the American entrepreneur dream through failures and successes. Lauer is the president and founder of Waterbabies having sold 35 million dolls in nearly 30 years (next year marks 30 years). When creating UMSL Accelerate Lauer says he wanted to be a part of a team to bring best practices to UMSL students who are just as smart and driven as anyone. Lauer hopes that one day UMSL is a first choice among entrepreneurially minded students.
To apply for the UMSL DEI Accelerator, visit UMSL Accelerate.