Meet the CoMo community. A startup tour of Columbia, Missouri
About the author: Brent Beshore (left) is the owner and CEO of AdVentures, an angel investor and an active member of the Columbia, Mo. startup community. For more on Beshore, including disclosures for companies mentioned below, see the note that follows this post.
Editor's note: We're inviting individuals in Silicon Prairie cities outside of Omaha, Des Moines and Kansas City, our three flagship cities, to provide an overview of their local startup community. If you would like to contribute a guest post on that topic, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
I love Columbia, Mo. It's vibrant and artsy. It's highly educated. It's full of opportunity and has the No. 4 ranked basketball team in the country (sorry … couldn't resist). A few months ago, the community inspired me to write an article, "5 Advantages Of Small Town Entrepreneurial Living," about why I choose to live in the Midwest and make Columbia my home.
The thing I love most about Columbia is the opportunity. I've been in Columbia for the past seven years. In that time, I've been fortunate enough to build AdVentures into the No. 28 fastest growing company in the country. Our business is investments (cash and resources) in communication companies. What has allowed us to grow is talent, and Columbia has a ton of it, especially young talent which largely comes from the 45,000 students.
This combination of youthful energy and a focus on innovation leads to some exciting startups. Here's my not-near-complete roundup of Columbia's startup scene.
The CoMo startup scene can be broken down into science and technology. Being a research university, Mizzou is constantly throwing off new patents and research from its science departments. When it's time to monetize that scientific innovation, Jake Halliday of the MU Life Science Business Incubator is the man to see. His 33,000-square-foot science-focused incubator houses 19 companies that range from biomedical and animal health to energy and food sciences. These companies include: Immunophotonics, a clinical stage cancer vaccine company; Equinosis, the world's first objective system for assessing lameness in horses; Elemental Enzymes, green enzyme technology for purifying water and decontaminating soil; Dietary Innovations, advancing soybean based foods; and Bio-Interface Engineering, advanced wound dressings for sever burns.
On the tech scene, a diverse and growing group create what could be characterized as the beginnings of a true startup ecosystem. Although hardly a startup now, the pride of Columbia's tech startup community is Veterans United Home Loans. Founded by Brant and Brock Bukowsky, Veterans United was their third Inc. 500 company and now boasts over 700 employees and still growing. This success has spawned a number of other startups in the area, including the nation's leading surety bond company, SuretyBonds.com, which went from 4 to 17 employees in 2011.
There are a number of software-based companies in the region, including Book'd, Zapier, GlobalPoint, and Rockupied. Founded by ruby programmer Jamie Stephens, Book'd provides an online platform that allows service-based professionals to easily book time and manage compensation. Zapier is a simple way to for non-technical users to provide point-to-point integration between business web applications without writing a line of code. Zapier started in early October by Wade Foster, Bryan Helmig and Mike Knoop after winning Startup Weekend Columbia and in the last few months have performed over 1 million API actions. With Michael Urban at the helm, GlobalPoint takes social media monitoring and sentiment analysis to another level and has recently partnered with Mashable to analyze the GOP Presidential Primary on Twitter. Rockupied is a mobile app company whose primary focus is in mobile games, including The Hardest Test on the iPhone 2 and You Will Not Pass This Test, which were recently released in the iPhone app store. They are currently working on two larger titles, Lost Little Zombie and Parallel, that will be released this Spring.
Being in the backyard of the Missouri School of Journalism, there's always something media related springing up. Founded by well-known domainer Brian Null, MO.com is an online media company focused on telling the stories of businesses and the people behind them. Blended in with these inspirational stories, the website provides insight and advice from subject matter resources from across the world. Led by Emily Eldridge, the Agency Post is an interactive publication for ad, public relations and marketing professionals with all content written by experts and consumable in under five minutes.
AdFreeq is a classified ad service that brings sellers and buyers together in real-time, providing revenue opportunities for online news media partners, newspapers, magazines, TV and radio. AdFreeq founder Peter Meng, who is currently a fellow at Mizzou's J-School, also founded LearningWeb, a learning management service for small to medium sized businesses and organizations. LearningWeb is built to create learning courses in minutes and distribute them instantly to any PC or mobile device.
Another fast-growing media and marketing startup is Service Noodle. Founded by Rusty Brett, Service Noodle started out as an online directory for service-based businesses, but has morphed into a near-complete solution for small business marketing.
These startups are supported by a number of efforts in the region, including Regional Economic Development Inc. (REDI), the Small Business Technology Development Center (SBTDC) and The League of Innovators. REDI is led by Mike Brooks, who continues to prove himself as the biggest champion of entrepreneurship that mid-Missouri has ever known. REDI's focuses on entrepreneurship continues to bring new resources to the region, like the new downtown incubator space currently under construction. Jim Gann and Virginia Wilson of the SBTDC are always lending a helping hand to those looking for business education and advice. Housed in a 16,000 sq. ft. building, The League of Innovators is the area's only coworking space and combines mentorship, startup education, events, and networking to help support innovation and entrepreneurship in the region.
As you can see, there’s a lot going on in Columbia. If you're ever nearby, ping me and I'd be happy to get you connected.
Image credits: Photo of Brent Beshore courtesy of Beshore.
About the Author: Brent Beshore is a serial entrepreneur with a passion for startups, mergers and acquisitions, innovation-focused altruism and strategic planning. He is the owner and CEO of AdVentures, which was founded to create, enable or acquire companies that offer transformative communications solutions.
AdVentures currently maintains investments in 11 companies and was recently ranked No. 28 on the 2011 Inc. 500. Brent is 28 years old, and his plan is to create $1 billion of value by the time he's 40.
Disclosures: Brent Beshore sits on the Regional Economic Development Inc. board of directors and has a financial interest in MO.com, Book’d, League of Innovators, GlobalPoint and AgencyPost.com.