Meet the UMKC entrepreneurs of the EQ Student Accelerator

Twelve student startups from across Missouri are converging in Columbia on Friday to pitch their businesses and compete for a share of $30,000 in cash prizes.

They are part of the inaugural Entrepreneurship Quest Student Accelerator, a program launched in late 2018 by the University of Missouri System to encourage entrepreneurship among students.

Read more: Meet the other student entrepreneurs of the EQ Student Accelerator

All 12 startups finished in the top three of pitch contests held last month at the UM System’s four campuses, where winners also earned a share of $30,000.

Missouri Business Alert got some face time with the student founders to learn more about their businesses and backstories. Here’s a look at the three winning startups from the University of Missouri-Kansas City:

DeepLens, Gharib Gharibi

DeepLens started as Gharib Gharibi’s idea to help a friend who was blind and did not have the technology to aid him.

Gharibi, who was awarded $15,000 at UMKC’s EQ competition, wants to produce eyewear equipped with artificial intelligence and a video camera. He said the video feed would be aided by the AI in order narrate surroundings to the user.

Gharibi hatched the idea when hew as in high school but has focused more seriously on it since last fall. He said the balance between starting up and working toward a degree is achievable with a team of mentors and supporters.

“It has been very tough; things have been moving very fast,” Gharibi said. “But we like it, we love it and we are fully invested in what we are doing.”

Gharibi said he hopes the product can extend from simple narration to more complex actions — such as reading a restaurant’s reviews when a user walks past it — as AI algorithms continue to improve.

Beth Brinkley, Family Partner Solutions

Beth Brinkley spent portions of her childhood homeless, living in abandoned barber shops and hotel rooms. Her firsthand experience of these struggles led her to believe she could improve the family welfare system by making it more direct.

Brinkley founded Family Partners Solutions in August 2014. The company works directly with families to provide parenting lessons, transportation and resource connections. Brinkley said this education can keep children with their families, which she identified as crucial for children in struggling families.

“If I had been removed from my home, I can’t imagine what that would have done to me,” Brinkley said. “Although I was still facing trauma, I had that love and support and feel strongly connected to my family now.”

The project recently received $10,000 from UMKC’s EQ competition, and Brinkley said she wants to use the funds to increase the number of families she is able to serve.

Tonderai Kambarami, Air Traffic Awareness

Tonderai Kambarami has always taken an interest in planes, but he believes safety standards are too disparate between commercial and private flights.

In order to address this gap, Kambarami co-founded Air Traffic Awareness. The company, officially launched in August 2018, has developed a product that uses artificial intelligence and ADS-B technology — the satellite signal used to locate planes — to alert planes of the location of other aircraft.

Kambarami and his co-founders, Merwan Abdelmajeed and Cameron Knight, will begin pitching to other investors following the final EQ competition. Kambarami said having three founders alleviates the stress of being a student entrepreneur.

“Everybody has their tasks,” Kambarami said. “I wouldn’t be able to do it with just myself. We all are important cogs in the machine.”

The startup received $5,000 at UMKC’s EQ competition, and Kambarami said the success stems from his group’s interest in the aerospace industry.

“I’ve been passionate about aircrafts my whole life,” Kambarami said. “We love it so much, so why don’t we make it something we do for the rest of our lives?”

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