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Business planning, mentors, funding: How to find the help your startup needs

At just 23 years old, Columbia, Missouri-based entrepreneur Libby Martin won over $40,000 in the University of Missouri System’s first Entrepreneur Quest Student Accelerator competition. She is using her winnings to further launch Calving Technologies, a veterinary tech startup that is revolutionizing how birthing cows are tracked and cared for. Calving Technologies is solving a major problem for cattle ranchers and livestock producers. When calving, cows usually separate from the herd. If something goes wrong in the birthing process, farmers often can’t find the cows in time. Growing up in California, Missouri, Libby had seen the issue firsthand—and knew it needed to be addressed. She did what any person with a problem would do: She called the experts,local vet clinics and farm stores, looking for a product or a solution. Over and over again, she was told, “We don’t have anything for that.”

Libby was left with only one option: to solve the problem herself.

Alexces Bartley

Alexces Bartley

As a student at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Missouri-Columbia, Libby understood the problem and even had an idea for how to solve it.

What she didn’t know was how to turn that idea into a startup.

While Libby’s idea is new and unique, her story isn’t. Dreamers, doers and makers across Missouri— their innovations, inventions and ideas scribbled into notebooks, on napkins, on legal pads, in spreadsheets—too often hit a wall on their way to entrepreneurship.

Too often, good ideas don’t become startups because people don’t know who to ask for help.

So you have an idea. What do you do first?

Take a business class or talk to a business counselor (someone who does not love you so very, very much) to honestly evaluate your business idea and the commitment you have to turn it into a startup.

Case in point: Kirksville, Missouri-based entrepreneur Max Mungyeko wanted to introduce amaranth, a fiber-rich, gluten-free plant, from his native Democratic Republic of Congo to the American diet. He knew the strain he needed and how to grow it, but he didn’t know how to turn the dietary staple popular in Africa, China, Thailand and South America into a business.

So he made an appointment with a business counselor at the Missouri Small Business Development Center in Kirksville. Together, they worked on a business plan that helped Max launch his startup, sell his first crop of amaranth and pave a path to selling the grain to ethnic food stores.

Follow opportunity, not passion

How do you know if your idea is a good business opportunity? If people are willing to buy it.

Chris Goode started experimenting with juicing in 2014 while traveling for business as a catastrophe claims adjustor. Inspired by his late grandmother who died early of diabetes, Chris knew he wanted to turn his juice experiment into a business to honor her memory. In 2015, he researched and opened the first location of Ruby Jean’s Juicery in midtown Kansas City. A year later, customer reviews earned Ruby Jean’s a spot on the business directory website Yelp as one of the country’s top 100 businesses.

And all along the way, Chris leveraged local resources — business coaches and classes through the Innovation Center at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and site location assistance from the Economic Development Corporation — to turn his passion into opportunity.

The lesson: Before you squeeze all your money, sweat and tears into your idea, take the time to research who will buy your product or service and what competition you will face. Reach out to a counselor or even visit your local library (ask for the business databases) to answer these questions: What is your target market? Who is your competition? How will you price your product? What’s the best location? How will you market your business?

Leverage (and build) your network

Your social network—your friends, family, former colleagues—is invaluable to your business. Human capital, those relationships you keep and cultivate, is the largest investment you can make in your business.

Why? Because, at the beginning of your venture, you don’t have much else. Most startups don’t yet have customers, capital, traction or even a performance record. The people in your network will be your first critical feedback as well as your connection to your first mentors, customers and investors.

When Libby was ready to take her next step with Calving Technologies, she reached out to her professor and mentor Dr. Jim Spain. With his help, she started building her network and her startup. She worked with the Missouri Women’s Business Center, Columbia Regional Economic Development, Inc. (REDI), the Missouri Innovation Center and the EQ Student Accelerator to find her first business partners,secure proof-of-concept capital and get initial traction. With those connections, Libby created her prototype: a collar that tracks the biometrics of cows to monitor their physiological changes and report changes to farmers. The collars also help farmers locate birthing cows by utilizing an internet-ready mesh network whose metrics can be accessed in the cloud.(Yes, she made an “internet” on a rural farm.)With that prototype, Libby won the accelerator competition and has started working with Scollar, a national manufacturer of smart animal collars that recently relocated their headquarters from Silicon Valley to Missouri’s Animal Health Corridor.

So sure, entrepreneurship is risky, by its very definition. But with right resources, entrepreneurs like Libby, Max and Chris are clearing their challenges with clarity and confidence.

What does your startup need?

Alexces Bartley is the network builder at MOSourceLink, a network of 500+ statewide resources ready to help entrepreneurs start, grow and accelerate businesses in Missouri. To get a Personal Action Plan of your next steps, call 866-870-6500 or email info@mosourcelink.com. MOSourceLink’s services are free, thanks to generous support from the University of Missouri System and the Missouri Technology Corporation.

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