Fourth EIC Demo Day showcases five entrepreneurs who have grown businesses with Anchor Accelerator program

by | May 6, 2024

UMSL's program helps local entrepreneurs scale up their successful businesses with help from local companies.
EIC Anchor Accelerator

Rachel Burns (center) is the founder of Bold Spoon Creamery. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

Rachel Burns learned her mint lesson quickly. When planted directly into an open garden instead of in a confined space or pot, mint plants tend to grow rapidly and spread widely.

She knows this now. But back in 2017, she suddenly found herself with an abundance of the fragrant herbs growing in her garden at her home in University City. One of the ways she decided to use her surplus was to make mint ice cream for family and friends. Everyone loves mint ice cream, she thought. She was right.

That delicious discovery was the start of a journey that led her to the stage in front of more than 350 people at the Millennium Student Center at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, as part of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center’s fourth Demo Day, highlighting Anchor Accelerator founders who have used the program to grow their companies. The event was hosted by Michael Butler, the EIC director of operations, with Scott Morris, the EIC executive director, offering insights and context throughout the evening.

Standing by her table of Bold Spoon Creamery samples after the presentations ended, in front of a posterboard showing 15 of her company’s non-mint flavors, Burns had a big smile.

“It is just so fun to be in such a supportive environment,” she said. “All these people coming out to support local entrepreneurship is amazing. Everyone is just so positive. So many people have come up to me and offered support. It really is amazing.”

Bold Spoon Creamery, branded as small-batch, premium ice cream with unique flavor profiles and locally sourced ingredients, has been a resounding success. The company’s product is in more than 70 Schnucks grocery stores in Missouri and Illinois, at CITYPark (for soccer fans) and Enterprise Center (for hockey fans), plus other locations across the city. Bold Spoon has been such a success that Burns and her team know more is possible.

That’s where UMSL’s EIC Anchor Accelerator comes in. Burns was one of five motivated individuals selected for the spring semester’s program, designed to help local entrepreneurs scale up their already successful businesses. Not only does Anchor Accelerator offer mentors – Jeff Barry of Dot Foods was indispensable for Burns – but it offers an eight-week program with access to experts in the field and customized educational support from faculty members in UMSL’s College of Business Administration. UMSL also pays for student interns to assist with the businesses.

And maybe the biggest help for these burgeoning companies? A $50,000 non-dilutive capital injection, courtesy of local companies – including Missouri Technology Corporation, Edward Jones and Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation – looking to give entrepreneurs a boost.

Burns found the Anchor Accelerator program at the perfect time. She officially founded Bold Spoon in 2020 with retail and wholesale sales. In 2021, she struck the deal with Schnucks, and Bold Spoon moved to a farm south of St. Louis, where they grow most of their ingredients. In 2022, production increased. In 2023, stands opened at CITYPark and Enterprise Center. In 2023, Bold Spoon landed contracts with BJC Healthcare and Washington University.

“I knew I needed help. We’re still very small, but we’re out of the little phase and in the scaling phase,” Burns said. “When it was just me and my husband, there was no real risk, per se. We didn’t have employees who counted on us to pay rent. Our financial investment was not nothing, but it was not huge. But to move it forward, we needed big financial investments. We have people who depend on us to pay their bills. There’s more at risk for us if I get it wrong. I really wanted help to make sure I got it right.”

Like the other Anchor Accelerator program honorees, Burns’ journey with UMSL didn’t end with the completion of the eight-week program. Bold Spoon’s goals are bold, including expanding relationships with grocery stores, hospitals and universities, along with establishing new food service contracts and key corporate catering clients.

Bold goals were the theme of the event.

EIC Anchor Accelerator program

The 2024 EIC Anchor Accelerator Demo Day was a huge success. From left: Michael Butler, Scott Morris, Pat Upchurch, Rachel Burns, Denise Williams, Kwamane Liddell, Kevonne Martin and Shani Bennett. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

Inspired by her grandmother’s cheesecake recipe, Pat Upchurch started Patty’s Cheesecake. Her miniature delicacies can be found at City Foundry, along with local grocery stores (including Dierbergs and Fresh Thyme) and restaurants. Upchurch’s company also caters weddings and other events from a catering truck purchased with help of the capital injection. Upchurch was recently featured during a Fox 2 segment. “We’re just really, really excited,” Upchurch told the crowd at the end of her presentation. “Everybody who knows me knows I’m going to say this, but just remember that you are somebody’s reason to smile.”

Kwamane Liddell is a nurse who has developed a way to create a positive impact on thousands of folks who need medical care by removing the barriers and making the process more accessible. His company, ThriveLink, uses voice-activation technology to help simplify enrollment in already-available programs like health care, utilities and food stamps, to name a few. ThriveLink has already helped more than a half-million people, and Liddell’s goal is to reach more than 3.6 million Medicaid members who are eligible.

“We would not have been able to do this without going through this program. I didn’t ask Scott and Michael easy questions,” Liddell said. “We asked about how to navigate our system from this important cloud system to another one, and they were able to find people with the expertise who have done this before. They helped us think through the pros and cons, and they introduced us to people who helped us make those decisions.”

The duo behind Figozo, Kevonne Martin and Shani Bennett, wanted to find a way to help solopreneurs stay organized while taking on the challenges associated with launching and running a new solo business opportunity. Figozo’s digital agent handles customer interactions and administrative tasks around the clock, giving solopreneurs the chance to focus on more important tasks. They’re currently targeting the beauty and wellness space but have used the Anchor Accelerator program as a way to assess scaling up their business.

Denise Williams, an UMSL graduate, founded Real Document Solutions, a company that offers software for people and companies doing due diligence work. The idea is to deliver an all-in-one management platform to assist with speed and accuracy by automating elements to free up companies to focus their time on other areas. “Document retrieval companies, a lot of them are stuck in 1995, with old workflows and using old technology,” Williams said. “With a lost document, your transaction could fall through and cost you time and money.”

After the presentation, Morris announced that the EIC is scaling up its program.

As with the first four cohorts, the Anchor Accelerator program will still choose winners from the applicants – Morris said over the course of four years, there have been 1,100 unique applications, with 22 program winners – and those winners will continue to receive the $50,000 capital injection, plus the mentors and interns. But the eight-week program will be expanded.

“As the next stage of our evolution, we’re going to start opening up the program,” Morris said. “We’re calling it the democratization of our Accelerator. We’re going to open the curriculum to anyone in the local community that wants to come in and take the classes.

“Within the St. Louis ecosystem, we think there’s a gap, and that’s helping businesses that have gotten through the start-up phase and they’re really getting ready to scale.”

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Ryan Fagan

Ryan Fagan

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