Aspiring young entrepreneurs workshop ideas in mock business accelerator

by | Dec 8, 2016

Dan Lauer and Charles Hoffman offered Normandy Middle School students an early start in innovative thinking.

As director of the UMSL Accelerate program, Dan Lauer makes it his mission to introduce business principles to the next generation of strategic thinkers. (Photos by Marisol Ramirez).

Sixteen eighth-grade entrepreneurship students from Normandy Middle School gathered Dec. 2 in Room 63 of the J.C. Penney Building on the campus of the University of Missouri–St. Louis for a crash course in business innovation.

Their mission? Reinvent the Kleenex for a new generation of snifflers, honkers and nose-blowers.

With the guidance of Dan Lauer, inventor of Waterbabies dolls and the executive director of UMSL Accelerate, the students formed groups and came up with a range of creative updates, including Kleenex boxes equipped with automatic dispensers and tissue warmers.

Keeping in line with UMSL Accelerate’s mission of outreach and connection to the St. Louis community, Lauer emphasized the importance of education in keeping a fresh, vital business ecosystem active in the area.


Lauer used his line of Waterbabies dolls as an example of how industry innovation can equal lasting success.

“Our goal is to foster a community of thought leaders through a three-pillar structure of education, innovation and collaboration,” he said.

Julie Monken, an executive at the Greater St. Louis Area council of the Boy Scouts of America, helped facilitate the class visit by reaching out to College of Business Administration Dean Charles Hoffman and Chancellor Tom George, who have both achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. Monken coordinates the acquisition of career education programs for Normandy Middle School students through the Boy Scouts of America Exploring program.

Dean Hoffman welcomed students and Normandy staff at the start of the session, followed by presentations and workshopping from Lauer; Diane Redden, a recruitment coordinator in the College of Business; and Ala Al-Lozi, assistant director at UMSL Accelerate.

Lauer hopes to connect with more community partners like Monken to advance the imaginations and aspirations of young students.

“The earlier we can reach future entrepreneurs, the better,” Lauer said. “Inspiring young minds, affirming that their ideas have merit and igniting their confidence is crucial.”

The UMSL Experience

Ron Austin

Ron Austin