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Innovation Boot Camp: Tech startups gear up for 12-week business crash course

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Four startups are preparing to embark on a 12-week journey toward entrepreneurial success in The eFactory’s third business accelerator cohort.

“Every day is a little bit different,” said Rachel Anderson, interim director of Missouri State University’s business incubator.

Beginning May 14, companies will go through an “innovation boot camp,” she said, where they will learn from industry experts on how to launch, run and grow a business.

“The goal is really to jump-start the companies,” Anderson said. “The program alone shaves a few years off of a company just getting started.”

A volunteer committee for the 2018 accelerator selected Easy Access Hunts LLC, FiTbyPhase LLC, Gracious and SelectSitter. Each startup will receive $30,000 in seed money in exchange for 8 percent equity in their companies.

The accelerator is funded by a $725,000 investment from the Missouri State University foundation, Missouri Technology Corp., Rural Missouri Inc. and the Springfield Business Development Corp.

“I’m excited to see the progress they are going to make through the accelerator,” said Zach Swartz, a portfolio manager with BKD Wealth Advisors LLC and selection committee member. “They’re all really ready for the investment.”

The business accelerator formerly hosted two cohorts annually. In fall 2017, administrators said they planned to reduce that to one yearly cohort in 2018, increasing accelerator capacity from four or five startups per cohort to 10. However, Anderson said that did not happen.

It’s up to the committee to make a determination on which are ready for investment.

“We want to make sure we invest in the best companies that are available,” Swartz said. “If we have 10 spots, we won’t always fill 10.”

Hector Cruz was selected for cohort No. 2 for his app, Let’s Do Lunch. So far, the free appointment-setting app has been downloaded 1,700 times.

By day, Cruz is the director of alumni engagement at Evangel University and, he said the crash course in entrepreneurship and business management took his idea from handwritten sketches to a fully developed app.

“The accelerator allowed me to bring this idea to an actual tangible product,” he said. “I can’t think of a better definition of what an accelerator program is supposed to do.”

The 2018 program concludes with Demo Day on Aug. 13. The companies will share their progress and updated pitches. Anderson said after the accelerator, the next step is hopefully to find additional investors.

Swartz said these companies are in a good place to grow with Springfield’s low cost of living and real estate.

Springfield was recently ranked No. 16 on WalletHub.com’s list of best large cities to start a business and took first place for business costs.

“Springfield is very supportive of startups,” Swartz said. “There are a lot more people willing to take meetings with startups.”

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