By Selcen Phelps, Associate Professor of Management and MIS, William Gordon Buckner Endowed Chair in Business, President’s Assistant for Strategic Initiatives
I am issuing a challenge to the entire Westminster family. Answer the following two questions, and dream big:
What can you achieve with access to local mentors, affordable office space, seed money, and other entrepreneurs with whom to pool resources?
How many ways can we, Westminster faculty and staff and students, leverage the new Show Me Innovation Center to showcase and hone our skills and our passions, in partnership with the local community, and make an impact?
There is so much positive energy on campus as we start a new semester, and here is yet another piece of good news: Renovation and fundraising are moving full steam ahead for the Show Me Innovation Center (SMIC), and the goal is to have the Center fully operational, right down the street from Westminster campus at 510 Market Street, before the year is out.
The mission of SMIC? “To be the place where people gather, to start and grow the businesses of their dreams.”
Goat Farms – or Whatever Your Dream May Be
I taught Entrepreneurship at WC for seven years, and was often impressed with the quality of research and creativity our students put into their pitches and business plans. An early example, the plan for a local goat farm, haunted me twice last week.
First: when I heard from the alum who led the project team, now a high executive in an international company, I could not help but wonder how the local economy would change if we could hang on to some students with that skill set and that kind of drive.
Second, I got a sense of déjà vu when I heard that, as part of the SMIC initiative, a Fulton high school student took out a microloan to raise goats.
Callaway Bank has established a $50,000 loan pool for high school aged entrepreneurs and appears willing to work on a parallel program for college students if we create a process to vet business ideas and seek co-signers. Imagine linking this to our academic offerings and alumni outreach.
What Should You Do Now?
“Like” the Show Me Innovation Center on Facebook, run a fundraising campaign – or at least spend $10 on a ticket to the September 9 party to see the space and meet the area’s movers and shakers.
Generate ideas to tie Westminster to SMIC and through it to local businesses, high schools, and government entities.
Greek organizations, sports teams, and student clubs: Contact the SMIC and offer to help with service opportunities – fund raising, renovation, securing resources, designing programs.
Faculty: Brainstorm and propose class projects or workshops.
Students: Think about ways to connect with SMIC and watch for internship opportunities.
Alumni: Explore whether an affordable Fulton office would benefit your business, or think of other ways you can partner with SMIC and WC.
Calling All Majors
Our budding entrepreneurs, who lack the resources for the early steps of business or program creation, have repeatedly expressed the need for a local business incubator. Now that dream is being realized, and opportunities abound.
Technology and science majors: Don’t abandon the products you design in and out of the classroom, and seek a conventional job, before seeking SMIC support for possible commercialization.
Leaders and social entrepreneurs: If your idea for positive social change has local applications and economic sustainability, SMIC might be a resource for you.
Business and other professional program majors: Build your resume working with the SMIC and your faculty – The Center will serve new and growing businesses with marketing research, branding, accounting or legal problems, technology services, and more.
Humanities and social sciences majors: Study, document, and support the change. The first two internships to emerge were for History and English Majors – capturing the oral history of the Fulton entrepreneurship community, and developing marketing content such as blog entries for businesses which will – physically or virtually – reside in SMIC. Want a hands-on project on the psychology or the economic impact of entrepreneurship? Work with the SMIC.
At the moment, to make all of this happen, the key question is, how can we get involved in accelerating the development of the center and its programs? Let me know.
The Developing SMIC
Support for SMIC has been expressed, in very tangible ways, by the City of Fulton and other contiguous county/city governments, the Fulton Area Chamber of Commerce, the Brick District Association, the Fulton Area Development Corporation, many small and large businesses, financial institutions, entrepreneurs, community leaders, and educational institutions. Since June, the Center has secured nearly $40,000 in cash and $200,000 in in-kind contributions. The community’s efforts have generated interest from the Missouri Technology Corporation, the Kauffman Foundation, the National Center for Economic Gardening, the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office, and others. But there is still much to be done to raise funds, raise awareness, and position Westminster to be a part of this exciting development.
I’m so proud to act as our liaison with SMIC, because I’ve been known to occasionally complain of being stuck in the Fulton bubble, and I am humbled to find out what’s already inside that bubble that I wasn’t even aware of. And so excited to imagine how we can expand that sphere, revitalize it and tie it to the wider world, in the service of both our individual dreams and our community.
Wishing all of you an inspiring new school year, full of significant connections and accomplishments.
Goals of SMIC
- Cultivate a spirit of entrepreneurship and an ecosystem favorable to entrepreneurship in the region (Fulton, Callaway County and surrounding communities).
- Assist existing businesses with growth and development, as well as the formation of new businesses in the region, and aid in their success.
- Nurture businesses that create good paying jobs and raise the standard of living in the region.
- Position the City, County, Region, and Educational Institutions to take advantage of new business opportunities that may be generated.
- Provide experiential learning opportunities and internships for college and high school students and faculty that will complement programs offered by regional schools and institutions of higher learning.
- Diversify the regional economy and create competitive wage jobs and opportunities for its community members, graduating students and alumni.
- Expand opportunities for business, entrepreneurs, government and education to partner and engage with each other and the community.
- Transfer knowledge & better leverage intellectual property from the Higher Education Institutions and area research institutes.