UMSL DEI Accelerator announces newest cohort

Group of six people are holding a big check for $50,000.

The company, Mr. Fresh, owned by 13-year old Joshua Danrich (fifth from left) and his mother, Shay (third from left), was one of six companies selected to participate in the new DEI Accelerator program. From left, Dan Lauer, Mike Bynum, Monique Bynum and Michael Butler presented them with a $50,000 check to help grow their business. (Photo by Jeremy Goldmeier)

Tears of gratitude streamed down Jada Huffman’s face as she watched a video of herself learning that she and her business partner, Brandace Johnson, of B Juiced, were selected to be part of the University of Missouri–St. Louis Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Accelerator’s latest cohort.

“Today is a really good, big day for us,” Huffman said. “And we are so grateful for being given the opportunity to participate in the accelerater program.”

The six founders making up the accelerator’s third class were announced in a “Big Reveal” event last week.

The group features a variety of businesses including: B Juiced, a fresh Juice company; Fysiq, a fitness business; Jakapa, a soft skills app company; My friends and I, a production company; Mr. Fresh, an air freshener company; and Posie Pots & 3D Prints, a company that makes self-watering planters using 3D printing technology.

Each company in the 10-week program will receive a $50,000 nondilutive capital infusion, mentoring from UMSL staff, faculty and other business owners and be assigned two UMSL interns to help with the operations.

Dan Lauer, founding executive director of UMSL Accelerate, is excited about the newest cohort and helping them connect with resources.

“This is going to be a strong group,” he said. “There’s a lot of gratitude. There’s a lot of energy, and we really did stick with our mission of selecting founders who need access. There was a lot of temptation to get people who were much further along. We said no. I’m proud of our team, and I’m proud of this.”

Though all of the selected businesses offer different products and services, they all share a common purpose–contributing to the greater good of the community.

Cami Thomas, founder of My Friends and I, wants to help build the reputation of diverse creatives and give them an opportunity to generate income from their craft here in St. Louis as opposed to moving to more media-focused areas.

“One of the major things, I want to do with that $50,000 is to expand and get folks and other businesses from other cities, that sometimes fly our teams out to New York or LA, and convince them you can do that here,” Thomas said. “You can come here and hire St Louis talent.”

Charles Wells, who represented his wife, Kay Wells, founder of Posie Pots & 3D Prints, at the event, said they want the business to contribute to the economy and help create sustainable income in the community.

“With $50,000 we plan to expand our footprint and get into the big box stores, grocery stores and florists,” Wells said. “We want to expand in the community as well and provide some jobs and try to build that generational wealth that we seem to be missing in our community here in St. Louis.”

Kay started the business on a small scale 10 years ago, naming it after her great grandmother. She bootstrapped it into a full-fledged company five years ago. The capital and additional resources will also assist with increasing production and marketing, necessary components to scale her business.

“Being in the program means exponential growth,” Kay said. “It was our very first big win. We’re going to expand on manufacturing space and hopefully execute on a deal with a boutique and hire staff to help with production and marketing to get the word out.”

With the demonstrated success of past participants, the current cohort is looking forward to experiencing similar achievements in the program.

“I feel incredibly happy, grateful and excited about what’s to come,” Thomas said. “I’m a little nervous, but in a good way. I haven’t had any formal kind of education or mentorship since graduating college, so knowing that I’ll have a mentor who can walk me through things and teach me new things is huge. I’m just really excited.”

View the video of founders learning of their acceptance into the DEI Accelerator program.

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