Speakers representing startups, funders, business service providers and entrepreneurial support organizations offered guidance to mid-Missouri entrepreneurs Friday at Columbia REDI’s fifth annual entrepreneurship conference.
The Ignition Entrepreneurial Summit included eight sessions covering topics including growth strategies, investor pitches, funding methods and legal issues.
“We have some really exciting speakers, but also some helpful stuff,” said Collin Bunch, one of the summit’s organizers and a business development specialist at the Missouri Small Business & Technology Development Centers. “Some people presented on how a business gets value, how you look for investment. It’s not always the sexiest and the most exciting things, but everyone needs to know that.”
The event featured a midday “resource mart,” where about 40 groups and organizations had booths to introduce themselves and tell how they could help area entrepreneurs. The day also included ample opportunity for attendees to network, with three networking sessions built into the schedule.
Entrepreneurs and resources introduced at the summit were primarily based in Columbia and the surrounding area. Topics were narrowed down to a more regional focus because organizers said that entrepreneurial ecosystems can vary a lot between different regions.
“This year, we really wanted to reformat it and make sure that it was very practical and useful,” Bunch said, “and provided things that people can use when they leave today.”
A large contingent of high school and college students attended the conference, accounting for about one-third of the 350 registered participants, organizers said.
The conference focused on skill training as well as cultivating entrepreneurial attitudes. Such attitudes are necessary because of how careers are changing, Bunch said.
“You need to be someone independent and creative no matter what you do,” he said. “Even if you work for (an established) company, they don’t need drones and workers. They seek people who have entrepreneurial traits.”
Mike Phinney, a third-year Ph.D student in the University of Missouri’s School of Engineering, attended the conference to find practical suggestions for his organization. He is the president of Mizzou Tech Startup Evangelists, which points students studying computer science to new companies that are seeking developers.
“I really liked Diana Kander’s talk,” Phinney said. Kander, a serial entrepreneur, author and MU professor, conducted a morning workshop on how to run a lean startup.
“Her talk was about in general how to decide whether an idea is business-worthy enough,” Phinney said. “I learned from her to determine how powerful an idea can actually be, and whether you’re really filling a large need in the market.”
The summit also served as a prelude to REDI’s Ignition Pitch Competition, which will be held April 10 at Columbia College. The pitch event will feature two competitive divisions and $14,850 in cash prizes.
“The entrepreneurship culture has exploded here over the last eight years or so and continues to grow,” said Jim Gann, chair of the Ignition Pitch Competition. “In fact, Columbia continues to be recognized as a leader in this area for cities of this size.”