6 Underrepresented Entrepreneurs Get Help Starting Their Business

Winners attend an eight-week program and receive a $50,000 grant.

British stone. Lewis County, Missouri – Yingshi. Louisan Cami Thomas is usually behind the camera.

But now her business is in the limelight.

Thomas’ company was one of six startups recently selected for UMSL’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion accelerator cohort.

The other winners were B Juiced, FYSIQ, JAKAPA, Mr. Fresh and Posie Pots.

“I’m the founder and director of My Friends and I, a St. Louis-based production company,” Thomas said. “My friends and I are the only production company in St. Louis owned by a black woman. We do commercial work, film work and documentary work in St. Louis, and we serve clients outside of St. Louis.”

Founding executive director Dan Lauer knew there was a lack of such a program.

“As a university, nobody does that. The number of applicants and the quality of applicants shows that we have a lot of talent here. It’s the first check, the first break is so hard, we’re facilitating,” Lauer explained road.

The goal is to find six underrepresented entrepreneurs.

Each owner goes through a rigorous elimination process that includes a tournament.

The winners will then attend an eight-week course and receive a $50,000 grant.

The program offers co-ops, purpose sessions, accountability coaching, faculty assistance, and connections to investors.

In the program’s first year, it received 437 applications during the pandemic.

Now in its third year, it continues to see success with 200 applications.

Lauer believes there are fewer applications this year because of the high competition.

While the quantity has declined, the quality has not.

“We want the best of the best, whether it’s tech or retail, we have a variety of products,” Lauer said.

Thomas believes this opportunity will move her company into the next role.

“To take it to the next level, from where we are to where we want to be, which is the mid-production powerhouse here. When we bring people in, recruit them, it creates a knock-on effect in St. Louis,” Thomas said.

Thomas was born and raised in St. Louis. louis.

This opportunity will only inspire her to do more.

“I feel deeply rooted in this community and it’s important to me to build something here and hire people from here,” she added.

As for prospective applicants, Lauer said, act now.

“Work for your cause. We do it every year, so plan now,” he said.

“A lot of people don’t work in finance. If you can’t describe it, if you don’t figure it out, why are we investing?” Lauer explained.

On April 6th, six business owners will showcase their progress at a demo day.

Customers and investors can come out and show their support.

Major sponsors include Ameren, Edward Jones, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and private donors to make it all happen.

The Anheuser-Busch Foundation also stepped in this year and pledged $100,000 to fund the sixth place.

They have all exceeded revenue goals, opened new locations, and expanded their operations nationwide.

Since the launch of the DEI Accelerator, more than 800 entrepreneurs have applied to participate.

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