Five entrepreneurs have been selected to participate in the second UMSL Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Accelerator.
They include two businessmen working in food and catering, a woman with a skincare brand, a POC-oriented branding and development agency, and a man making company web presences accessible to people. with disabilities.
Skin care brand La’Crassia Wilderness Butter Love, Will Bubenik from Nebula media group, Paris Rollins from Picky eater, Tony Davis from Pop Pop Hooray! Gourmet popcorn, and Valeria Rodriguez from Creative VR each received a non-dilutive grant of $ 50,000 to grow their business on Wednesday. They will embark on a year of entrepreneurship training in early January. Their year at the UMSL DEI Accelerator will also include a paid UMSL student intern, masterclasses with leaders in various aspects of business, and connections with networks of UMSL faculty and alumni.
Akeem Shannon’s brand of phone crutches Flipstik was part of last year’s inaugural cohort and featured on Shark Tank. Since its participation in the UMSL DEI accelerator, Flipstik is expected to be sold in thousands of big box stores across the country next year.
Shannon said that UMSL’s Diverse Business Accelerator Program is special because it provides resources to businesses that traditional investors are less likely to take a chance on – and then when those businesses thrive, the dollars stay in. the community.
“There are companies, there are entrepreneurs, there is a lot of potential here,” Shannon said. “When you look at the coasts, when you look at other major metropolitan areas, they’re not really interested in investing in the kinds of businesses, frankly, that a lot of minorities are starting. If you look around, not everyone here is a high tech business model. And a lot of people outside of St. Louis, they’re not going to invest in that. So the fact that we have somebody in town that’s like, if you’ve got a good idea… we’re going to invest in you? It’s enormous.”
One of those deep-rooted community businesses in St. Louis is Pop Pop Hurray, which opened its first physical store in the heart of Ferguson during the pandemic.
“We knew we wanted to open our first store in North County, in the community. Because it’s family owned and there aren’t many around, ”said founder Tony Davis.
Now they hope to use their UMSL Accelerator grant to open a second site and employ more people.
“We are really connected to the community,” he said. “We provide jobs… our current location, we have seven employees. And that money will go to our second site, where we will have more employees. So, continue to grow, continue to be able to… reintegrate into the community. ”
Although the other four companies selected do not currently have physical locations, that does not mean that they are not connected to Saint-Louis. La’Crassia Wilderness has been running Butter Love, her natural and personal care brand, for seven years.
“It has been amazing but difficult,” said Wilderness.
Will Bubenik, who founded Nebula Media Group to help companies make their websites accessible to users with disabilities, and Paris Rollins, whose catering company Picky Eaterz provides healthy food for children and infants, have also faced challenges since. establishing their businesses, but remained rooted in St.. Louis.
“These opportunities are very slim and don’t come up very often,” Rollins said.
Rollins said she started Picky Eaterz after noticing the same health issues recurring in her family members over and over again and realizing that it was easier to change children’s health habits only adults.
“I really want to be a game-changer and raise the next generation in better health and prevent many deaths and illnesses,” she added.
UMSL accelerator executive director Dan Lauer said he wanted to make these entrepreneurial opportunities more available here as the accelerator grows. As the architects’ renderings on the walls of the current Accelerator space show, he plans to develop UMSL’s entrepreneurship space “into a collaborative space that will rival Cortex” in County of. North. “Our mission is to be the first choice for students concerned with entrepreneurship. ”
“St. Louis is home to an abundance of entrepreneurial talent with great ideas, but not everyone has equal access to opportunities,” said Lauer. “We are doing our part to move the needle forward with a significant injection of capital. By leveraging the strengths of the university, we will provide these exceptional entrepreneurs with talented paid student interns, engaged alumni leaders, and brilliant faculty determined to multiply with eventual grants and other research. “