Alumnus Dan Lauer leaves a legacy of success as founding executive director of UMSL Accelerate

by | Apr 28, 2023

Lauer led the creation of the Ameren Accelerator and DEI Accelerator as well as helping weave entrepreneurship into the curriculum in the College of Business Administration.
Dan Lauer

Dan Lauer, the founding executive director of UMSL Accelerate, welcomes the audience to Demo Day for the third cohort of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Accelerator on April 6. (Photo by Steve Walentik)

Dan Lauer returned to the University of Missouri–St. Louis in the spring of 2016 looking to instill a culture of entrepreneurship at his alma mater.

Lauer, who earned his BSBA from UMSL in 1983, brought with him a track record of achievement as the founder of Lauer Toys and creator of Water Babies. But no one could have imagined how successful he’d be these past seven years in his role as the founding executive director of UMSL Accelerate.

Under Lauer’s leadership, UMSL Accelerate has helped teach and inspire students and members of the wider St. Louis metro community to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams through the addition of entrepreneurship into the curriculum of the College of Business Administration and the creation of programs such as the Ameren Accelerator and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Accelerator as well as the elevation of the EQ Student Accelerator.

Lauer, who earlier this month helped celebrate the completion of the third DEI Accelerator cohort, has decided to step away from his role, and he’s doing so with gratitude.

“What a run, and as an alum, what a gift,” Lauer said of his tenure as director. “This could not have happened without incredible people selflessly offering their time, talent and treasure to make everything we’ve accomplished possible.”

Lauer expressed thanks to former dean and fellow alumnus Charles Hoffman and colleagues such as Michael Butler, Michael Kehoe, John Palmer and other faculty and staff members in the College of Business Administration, along with Monique Bynum and Mike Bynum, who’ve been part of the DEI Accelerator team since 2020.

He’s also grateful for the people and corporations whose financial investments helped fund much of the work that Lauer has done to support business founders. Some of the foundational benefactors have been UMSL alumni, including Joe Stieven, Hoffman, Stan and Terry Freerks and Peter Racen. UMSL Accelerate also has received financial support from partners including Ameren, Edward Jones and Express Scripts.

Lauer worked closely with Ameren and Executive Chairman Warner Baxter – another UMSL Business graduate – to create the Ameren Accelerator, a partnership between UMSL, University of Missouri System, Ameren and Capital Innovators, that launched in 2017. It would become the first university-led corporate accelerator program in the country to mentor and invest in energy technology startup companies. Over three years, it provided founders of 19 startups with $100,000 in capital investments along with business training and access to paid UMSL student interns.

Lauer then shifted gears to lead the creation of the first-of-its-kind DEI Accelerator to empower underrepresented entrepreneurs in the St. Louis region beginning in 2020. Over the past three years, the DEI Accelerator has awarded 17 founders from across the region $50,000 each in nondilutive capital injections and participation in an eight-week business development program that includes mentorship, access to subject matter experts and customized educational support from UMSL faculty members. It also paired founders with paid student interns and provided assistance with research, grant applications and other guidance.

“As an UMSL alum, Dan has set an example of giving back to his university and the St. Louis community,” said Michael Elliott, interim dean of the College of Business Administration. “For UMSL Business and the Department of Marketing and Entrepreneurship, he has provided vision and optimism. To the many businesses led by people of color that have been part of the DEI Accelerator over the past three years, he helped reestablish the belief that UMSL cares about its neighbors.”

Last fall, the St. Louis Business Journal presented Lauer with a Champion for Diversity and Inclusion Award and also honored the efforts and impact of the DEI Accelerator with a Fire Award.

Lauer established UMSL Accelerate on the three pillars of education, innovation and collaboration, and while he was engaging with partners in the St. Louis community to support founders and help them put their ideas into action, he was also helping to weave entrepreneurship into the curriculum of the College of Business Administration.

Today, all UMSL business majors are required to take a course in the Applications of Entrepreneurship, and in 2019, the college also launched a BSBA with an emphasis in entrepreneurship.

“We are grateful for all Dan has done to help build entrepreneurship into the culture of the College of Business Administration and our university as a whole,” said Steven J. Berberich, UMSL’s provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. “We are committed to building on his legacy and the foundations that he built to help our students discover the entrepreneurial spirit and to support business innovation, which is critical to growing the workforce and strengthening the economy of the St. Louis region.”

With this strong base of support, UMSL entrepreneurship programs and their impact on the community will continue to expand with the recent addition of a new faculty member in the Department of Marketing and Entrepreneurship, Assistant Professor Jeremy Xu, who holds a PhD from Texas Tech University and does research around the topics of venture capital formation, social network analysis and intrapreneurship. UMSL will also be looking to expand of partnerships with current collaborators in the St. Louis business accelerator space.

As part of the Transform UMSL effort to enhance the university campus, UMSL Accelerate and other entrepreneurship programs will have a new home following a capital renovation aimed at creating a new space for UMSL students, faculty and the community to engage in a variety of entrepreneurship and business development services.

Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik