MU ag tech startup wins $30,000 as program gives students guidance, capital

When Libby Martin was a sophomore studying animal science at the University of Missouri, she didn’t think of herself as an entrepreneur. She just had an idea that she thought would help cattle farmers, like her family, during calving season.

But as Martin pursued her idea, she began to step into the role of student entrepreneur.

“I’m really glad I discovered that part of myself,” Martin said, “because it’s one of my favorite things now.”

Now a veterinary medicine student at MU and founder of the startup Calving Technologies, Martin won first place and $15,000 in the final round of the Entrepreneur Quest Student Accelerator pitch competition on Friday. That makes $30,000 total that she’s won from Entrepreneur Quest, or EQ, a program launched last fall for University of Missouri System students.

The process for this competition began in the fall with educational workshops and applications. Martin’s startup was one of 10 teams from each of the four UM System universities that were chosen to participate in an eight-week education and mentoring program followed by a pitch competition.

The top three student entrepreneurs from each of those competitions then pitched in the final round Friday in Columbia.

Second place and $10,000 went to Air Traffic Awareness, headed by University of Missouri-Kansas City students Tonderai Kambarami, Cameron Knight and Merwan Abdemajeed. Third place and $5,000 went to Sweet Tea Cosmetics, headed by MU senior Teanna Bass.

Though it was clear the money would help the startups, education was the primary goal and of the competition. This was especially evident when UM System President Mun Choi spent time as judges deliberated Friday urging students not participating in the day’s competition to come give their elevator pitch in front of the audience

MU senior Teanna Bass (third from right) and her business, Sweet Tea Cosmetics, finished third and won $5,000. | Courtesy of the University of Missouri

The EQ competition coupled education with real-life experience, a combination that Bill Turpin, MU interim associate vice chancellor for economic development, said that EQ program organizers found successful.

With EQ, students are able to get a taste of the uncertainty that comes with running a startup, something that isn’t often found in a classroom, Turpin said.

“Actually going through this breeds confidence in yourself, the ability to get through things,” Turpin said. “This is as close to real world as we can get and still be in a protected environment for students. I think that’s the magic.”

For Martin, the competition helped her business get to a place where she can envision it being successful. She said the mentorship offered through the program helped her to build her prototype.

“EQ Accelerator helped us to actually get a project in hand,” Martin said.

“We were able to put that engineering together and create the product we’ve been envisioning since 2016.”

The four judges of the final pitches all agreed choosing the winners wasn’t easy. Turpin, who was in the room during deliberation, said judges were consistently impressed with the quality of the pitches.

“Nobody lost today,” said Natalie Self, who works in entrepreneurship at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and served as a judge. “Everybody did an incredible job. To be here really makes you incredible.”

Representatives from each of the UM System universities will be meeting in the coming weeks to discuss the future of the EQ competition, Turpin said. Choi urged members of the audience to write letters to the chancellors of each university to support the competition happening a second time.

“We want to do this again next year,” Choi said. “We don’t want this to be a one-shot opportunity.”

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