UMSL Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center announces fourth Anchor Accelerator cohort, expanded entrepreneurship program

by | Jan 18, 2024

Scott Morris, executive director of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center, touted new courses, plans for future programming and a $3 million investment in the center's facilities.
Anchor Accelerator cohort

The founders of five local businesses were selected to be part of the Anchor Accelerator’s fourth cohort. They included (from left to right) Kwamane Liddell of ThriveLink, Denise Williams and Chris Lewis of Real Document Solutions, Pat Upchurch of Patty’s Cheesecakes, Shanni Bennett of Figozo, Rachel Burns of Bold Spoon Creamery and Kevonne Martin of Figozo. (Photos by Derik Holtmann)

Shani Bennett and Kevonne Martin, founders of Figozo, had little time to waste after learning about the Anchor Accelerator at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

“We saw this LinkedIn post of someone saying, ‘Hey, there’s 24 hours before the application closes, go apply,’” Bennett recalled. “I went to Kevonne and I said, ‘Hey, we need to apply for this.’”

Luckily, as entrepreneurs, Bennett and Martin are used to working on the fly and getting things done. Not only did they meet the tight deadline, the pair was selected from more than 300 applicants to become part of the Anchor Accelerator’s latest cohort.

Scott Morris and Michael Butler, executive director and director of operations, respectively, at UMSL’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center, announced the Anchor Accelerator’s fourth class Tuesday evening at the Angad Arts Hotel in St. Louis’ Grand Center Arts District.

The new class includes Bennett and Martin, whose Figozo mobile application helps solopreneurs manage appointments, payments, orders and more; Rachel Burns with Bold Spoon Creamery, a premium ice cream manufacturer; Kwamane Liddell with ThriveLink, a venture capital and private equity firm investing in impact-driven software, technology and intellectual property companies; Pat Upchurch with Patty’s Cheesecakes, a handcrafted dessert company; and Denise Williams and Chris Lewis with Real Document Solutions, an order management and vendor management platform to support real estate transactions.

“I’m so excited to see where your businesses take you, where your drive and determination and innovation and your entrepreneurship take you,” Chancellor Kristin Sobolik told the founders. “We want to be there supporting you every step of the way.”

Brittany Raji Alberty and Kristin Sobolik

Brittany Raji Alberty, an UMSL alum and founder of The Marketing Midwife, speaks with Chancellor Kristin Sobolik during the event.

The UMSL EIC will provide the founders of each company with $50,000 in nondilutive capital, access to resources such as paid interns and an eight-week business development and mentorship program.

Bennett is excited to leverage the resources and connections available at UMSL, and he believes the accelerator will help take Figozo to another level as a business.

“We wanted to get some credibility, and we think that UMSL is one of the perfect spaces for us to actually do that,” Bennett said. “We’re also trying to tap into the investor network across the Midwest. We think that UMSL is perfect because of the alumni it has. So, we’re hoping this program helps us to get to at least 100k MRR, monthly recurring revenue, so that we can do greater things for not just St. Louis but other metropolises across the U.S.”

Williams, who earned an MBA at UMSL in 2000, is aiming to positively impact the real estate industry with Real Document Solutions. The cloud-based platform is designed to make the closing process more efficient by improving accuracy and turnaround time.

“In the real estate industry, it’s about an average of 49 days to close on a residential property,” she said. “A lot of that is due to some of the antiquated systems and decades-old workflows that they use, so that’s where RDS comes in.”

Like Bennett, Williams is ready to take advantage of the accelerator’s resources to facilitate networking opportunities and help her business gain greater exposure. She also looks forward to joining a community of likeminded entrepreneurs.

“For me, this is very much a catalyst,” she said. “As a founder, you can be part of the startup and it can be in your blood, and you’re thinking about it all the time, but it really helps when you’re around others who are there to support you and help connect you.”

EIC expands programming to serve UMSL, wider community
Butler and Morris also touched on the expansion of the university’s entrepreneurship programming during the event. UMSL established the EIC this past fall as part of the College of Business Administration, strengthening an already comprehensive entrepreneurship program.

Scott Morris

Scott Morris, executive director of UMSL’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center, discusses the expansion of the university’s entrepreneurship programming and a $3 million investment in the EIC’s facilities on North Campus.

Morris noted that new courses in areas such as intrapreneurship and entrepreneurial finance and investment have been added for the spring semester, with a range of cutting-edge courses also slated to begin during the fall semester. The EIC will also offer non-credit courses to meet the individual needs of entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs.

“The UMSL EIC is a community of St. Louisans who see the world through a lens of opportunity,” Morris said. “Through accessible learning styles and formats designed to fit every individual’s unique needs, we will create a place where the best and brightest learn to embrace a growth mindset and think big, not just to succeed as individuals, but to try to catalyze large-scale transformation that improves our world.”

There are plans for certificate programs, mentorship programs, a speaker series and other events on the horizon as well.

Morris closed his remarks by touting a planned $3 million renovation to the EIC’s facilities on North Campus beginning this summer.

“When complete, our new UMSL EIC headquarters will be a place where the residents of North County and the region of St. Louis can connect and support each other and find community,” he said. “So, we invite St. Louisans to reach out to us, tell us what your needs are. Tell us what you want and how we can be a resource to make your life and career goals attainable. We’re committed to deep listening so that we can design a program and close our region’s biggest gaps in entrepreneurship.”

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Burk Krohe

Burk Krohe