Founders show off their companies’ growth during DEI Accelerator Demo Day

by | Apr 10, 2023

The event celebrated the success of the six companies that made up the DEI Accelerator's third cohort and offered networking opportunities.
Mr. Fresh co-founder Joshua Danrich speaks on stage at DEI Accelerator Demo Day as his mom looks on

Mr. Fresh co-founder Joshua Danrich talks about the company’s growth from the stage at Demo Day for the latest cohort of UMSL Accelerate’s DEI Accelerator. (Photos by Steve Walentik)

Joshua Danrich briefly described his journey into entrepreneurship as he stood on the stage in the ED Collabitat Thursday night at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

It started with a dream back when he was 10 years old – or all of about three years ago. Like many young boys, he developed a love of sports cars, so he asked his mother, Shay, if he could open a luxury sports car dealership.

“‘No, Josh, you can’t own a luxury sports car dealership at 10 years old,’” he remembered her saying. “So then I asked her, ‘Can I make luxury car air fresheners?’ She said, ‘Yes.’”

That’s how, with Shay’s help, he came to develop Mr. Fresh, the air freshener and deodorizer company that now offers a line of six fine mist fragrances available in local stores such as Schnucks, Dierbergs, Mobil on the Run, Phillips 66 and Zoom gas stations.

Tony Thompson delivers the keynote at the DEI Accelerator Demo Day

Tony Thompson, chairman and CEO of Kwame Building Group, delivers his keynote address at DEI Accelerator Demo Day. Thompson described some of the keys to success for entrepreneurs.

Speaking with a confidence that belied his youth, Danrich had the audience captivated as he talked about the growth of his company during Demo Day for the latest cohort of UMSL Accelerate’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Accelerator.

“We have won $50,000,” he said of the nondilutive capital infusion awarded to each six companies in the cohort. “That is truly amazing. We have been using this money wisely on marketing, sales, hiring employees, website redesign and supply chain, and we have launched five new stores, and we have two amazing interns, Michael and Mia.”

To gain new customers, he’s hoping to get his fragrances on shelves in stores such as QuikTrip, Whole Foods, Walmart, Target and Fresh Thyme, as well as trying to build relationships with rental car companies such as Avis and Budget and local car dealers such as the Bommarito Automotive Group.

“Here’s how you can help to be a part of my journey,” Danrich said. “We need help partnering with corporate gifting so our product can be given to all your employees and more. We want to partner with QuikTrip convenience stores, so our products can be in all their stores. A warm introduction would be very helpful. And we want to get in the car dealership industry, car washes and the car leasing industries too so that my product can be a complimentary gift to all their customers. Last but not least, we’re looking for new warehouse space.”

Misha Gutzler shows off the bungee fitness equipment at DEI Accelerator Demo Day

Fysiq founder Misha Gutzler shows off her company’s bungee fitness equipment.

Mr. Fresh wasn’t the only company to experience growth through its participation in the DEI Accelerator, which is in its third year helping diverse entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities improve their fortunes through a non-dilutive capital investment as well as participation in an eight-week business development program that includes mentorship and access to subject matter experts, and customized educational support from faculty members in UMSL’s College of Business Administration. They are also paired with paid student interns and given help with research, grant applications and other guidance.

The program is made possible with support from corporate funders Ameren, Anheuser-Busch, Edward Jones, Husch Blackwell and CSI Leasing.

“This is not UMSL’s money,” said Dan Lauer, the founding executive director of UMSL Accelerate. “This is corporate money, philanthropy money that’s passed through for economic development, for job growth, for founder wealth creation, for principled entrepreneurship.”

Lauer added that they put the founders “through a firehose eight-week program” and that “they’ve moved a milestone or two ahead.”

Misha Gutzler, founder of bungee fitness company Fysiq, has doubled her revenue from $3,000 to $6,000 per month and established relationships with United Healthcare, the Disabled Athlete Sports Association and MS Bright Spots of Hope.

B Juiced founder Brandace Barnett speaks to guest at her company's booth at DEI Accelerator Demo Day

B Juiced founder Brandace Barnett meets with attendees of DEI Accelerator Demo Day at her company’s booth in the ED Collabitat.

Brandace Johnson and Jada Huffman of B Juiced, an organic cold-pressed juice company, are getting set to open a brick-and-mortar location in Ferguson in May.

Gavin Pringle, founder of JAKAPA, a customizable web-based solution for teaching soft skills, has made the tool more engaging, sent out 22 new client proposals and, since January, conducted 230,000 individual educational sessions.

Kay Wells of Posie Pots & 3D Prints, which makes 3D-printed self-watering planters, is getting set to move into a building across from the Wellston MetroLink Station with room for a showroom and manufacturing space.

Cami Thomas, who founded My Friends and I, a visual storytelling and video production company, has set a goal to generate $300,000 in revenue this year and is already more than a third of the way there after the first quarter.

She shared her gratitude with Lauer and his team, including Director of Operations Michael Butler, Managing Director Monique Bynum and Strategic Advisor Michael Bynum.

My Friends and I Founder Cami Thomas speaks on stage at DEI Accelerator Demo Day

Friends and I Founder Cami Thomas speaks on stage at DEI Accelerator Demo Day.

“You guys have completely changed the trajectory of my entire life from being a part of this program,” Thomas said.

But Demo Day wasn’t really about looking back as much as it was about making connections that can lead to future collaboration and success. All six companies had booths set up around the ED Collabitat to show off their products and engage with the community. They were joined by members of the first two DEI Accelerator cohorts, also on hand to share information about their businesses.

“We’d like introductions, and that’s to you all here in this room,” Thomas said. “If it’s to your marketing person or whoever would talk about bringing on media work. We really want to meet you – if it’s in person, if it’s back there, you can come to our office, we’ll come to yours, we can email, whatever. I just want to have these conversations and really hear about what are your goals? What are the stories that you want to tell, and what’s the part of your company or organization that you don’t think has been quite communicated yet? Because what might have been missing the mark is that heart piece in that part where you’re actually authentically telling the story, and that’s what we do.”

Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik

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