UM System ‘Entrepreneur Quest’ encourages students to pursue startup ideas

Andy Moats is a senior at the University of Missouri studying sales marketing. Like many students, he has a new business idea.

Moats wants to create a fast-casual sushi restaurant that is cheaper and more convenient than a typical sushi restaurant but offers higher-quality sushi than grocery stores.

“I want it customizable, where customers can go down the line and say, ‘I want this, I want that.’ I think it would be something different for customers,” Moats said.

Moats is bringing his idea to Entrepreneur Quest, or EQ. The first-time program gives students across the University of Missouri System an opportunity to pitch their business ideas, gain entrepreneurial experience and win cash prizes.

On Monday, students from the University of Missouri in Columbia met for the last of three introductory Entrepreneur Quest workshops.

“One of the big challenges students face is just having a little money to start one of their ventures,” said Greg Bier, an MU professor and the EQ program director in Columbia.

By providing up to $30,000 to the winner of the statewide competition, EQ gives students incentive to bring their ideas forward.

Andy Moats

Moats always thought he would go into sales. It wasn’t until recently that he decided to try his hand at entrepreneurship.

“Entrepreneurship is something that I haven’t been taught or exposed to,” Moats said. “It’s something I wanted to explore that was outside of my comfort zone.”

The workshop Monday night addressed the importance of pitching a business. One strategy discussed was gathering a team that possesses skills the founder lacks. This can strengthen a pitch and show that young entrepreneurs are willing to work with others.

Moats said he lacks the skill of food science.

“That’s what I’m struggling with right now,” he said. “I’m trying different meats, but I don’t know much about food science and good food combinations.”

Bier said collaboration is another reason for these workshops and the competition as a whole.

“Entrepreneurship is a team sport,” Bier said. “So if you need a business student or an engineering student, we wanted to provide a forum where they could come together and collaborate and push those ventures forward.”

The deadline to apply for Entrepreneur Quest is Oct. 29 for MU and the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and Nov. 1 for the Missouri University of Science & Technology and the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

After that, judges will pick 15 applicants from each UM System campus to pitch their ideas later this fall for a spot in their campus accelerator. Ten teams will go through each accelerator, an eight-week education program that will take place during the spring semester.

Each accelerator program will conclude with another pitch competition, where the top three teams will win prizes of $15,000, $10,000 and $5,000.

Another pitch competition will follow that, featuring the 12 winners from the campus pitch competitions and another $30,000 in prize money.

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