Hear from three UMSL startups pitching for a share of $30,000

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-St. Louis:

Letisha Wexstten, Hire Me

Hire Me CEO Letisha Wexstten said her entrepreneurial ventures have always been centered on lifting up her community.

Wexstten, born without arms, created a YouTube account in 2012 after she noticed that employers were hesitant to hire someone with a physical disability. Her first video garnered 3.1 million views, leading Wexstten to an epiphany.

“I wanted to alleviate the stress of the employers, but also have fun doing it,” Wexstten said. “I realized that I was actually helping a lot of people with physical disabilities.”

Wexstten founded Hire Me in September 2018 and describes the startup as a LinkedIn-style website for people with physical disabilities. She received $15,000 from UMSL’s EQ competition, saying it was the first time she realized she could achieve the goals set out for her startup.

“I wasn’t really expecting to get past the application process,” Wexstten said. “A lot of people are behind me waiting for me to succeed.”

Alex Zviebleman, Seize The Bean

Alex Zviebleman wants to encounter fewer exhausted — and unfamiliar — faces around USML’s campus.

Zviebleman is founder of Seize The Bean, an USML startup dedicated to putting a coffee shop near the university’s center. Zviebleman said he hopes such shops would help revitalize the social scene of commuter colleges.

“There’s a lot of potential at the university, and it has phenomenal infrastructure,” Zviebleman said. “Since we’re so spread out as a commuter campus, students are being deprived of the ability to make new friends.”

Zviebleman believes the campus needs more shared, non-academic spaces for students to interact outside of the classroom.

The judges at UMSL’s EQ competition awarded Zviebleman $10,000 for the startup, and he said he’s working with the university to find a space for the shop. He envisions the shop expanding to other commuter campuses, if all goes well.

Tim Bragg and Bailee Warsing, Singular Construction Automation

The co-founders of Singular Construction Automation see a future where robotics change the layout of a construction site.

The startup, founded in November 2018, aims to create asphalt-cleaning devices for the construction industry. Co-founders Tim Bragg and Bailee Warsing also hope to extend their work to autonomous machines that would accomplish these projects on their own.

Bragg believes this automation could put less stress on workers and provide more business to contractors.

“Our customers will be able to increase the total amount of jobs they accept each year,” Bragg said.

The inspiration for the project stems from Bragg’s personal and family experience in the construction industry, which he said could be more efficient with the use of automation.

“Almost everyone in my family — my father, my uncle, everybody — has always worked and lived in those industries,” Bragg said. “I’ve become very familiar with the frustrations and issues that people face.”

Having earned $5,000 for the startup during USML’s EQ pitch contest, Warsing and Bragg agreed that the program opened doors for them to find work space and build their startup’s name.

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