Startup City

By Anna Comfort

Named one of the top 20 best cities for entrepreneurs by, Columbia offers a wealth of resources to residents who want to start a new business or expand an existing one.

With a strong economy, diverse industry and abundant opportunities, Columbia’s entrepreneurial ecosystem empowers entrepreneurs to thrive. Named one of the top 20 best cities for entrepreneurs by, the city offers a wealth of resources to residents who want to start a new business or expand an existing one. Entrepreneurs are embraced by a supportive community that shares their passion for innovation and creativity, so if you have a great idea for a business, you’ve come to the right place.

Built for better business

Columbia fared better than other cities during the Great Recession due to its diversified and stable economy. In 2015, Boone County’s unemployment rate was 3.5 percent, compared to 5 percent for the State of Missouri. And this did not happen by accident. Regional Economic Development Inc. has worked since 1988 to attract and cultivate businesses in Columbia and Boone County. REDI is a nonprofit, public/private partnership funded by the City of Columbia, Boone County, the University of Missouri and more than 100 area businesses and offers services such as area demographic reports, labor availability studies and customized state and local incentive proposals. REDI works to enrich Columbia’s business scene by supporting legacy businesses and attracting new companies. If you are looking to start or relocate your business to the area, REDI’s representatives will help make it happen.


Resources for entrepreneurs

“Columbia features a vibrant startup community with impressive creativity as well as a deep support system for new entrepreneurs,” says Becky Bocklage, director of the Fishman Center for Entrepreneurship at Columbia College. “The market is rich with opportunity for residents to access the newest innovations dreamed up by big thinkers.” The Fishman Center provides entrepreneurial coaching and support to students of the college. Entrepreneurship majors at Columbia College have access to professional mentors, internships and networking opportunities.

The University of Missouri offers a minor in entrepreneurship, with courses in management, creativity and innovation. The university also sponsors Collaboration Leadership and Innovation for Missouri Business (CLIMB), a student-run organization to support, connect and mentor student entrepreneurs, and MU Entrepreneurs, which includes people from all majors (undergraduate and graduate) who are interested in starting or running their own business.

In addition to attracting and supporting existing businesses, REDI cultivates new businesses through its Innovation Hub, a 24-hour workspace and structured program to help startups succeed. Innovation Hub clients receive ongoing individual counseling, participate in monthly lunches and workdays with other Hub clients, attend business courses and workshops and join in REDI events such as demo days and pitch competitions. The Innovation Hub’s 1 Million Cups program, sponsored by the Kaufmann Foundation, hosts weekly entrepreneurial education presentations that are free and open to the public.

The Small Business and Technology Development Center, which provides no-cost counseling to individuals wishing to start or grow their small businesses, offers support in business planning, marketing, management and technology. SBTDC has made significant contributions to Columbia’s rich network of minorityowned businesses.

The Missouri Innovation Center is another nonprofit, providing support for sustainable business ventures focused on improving human life. In addition to mentoring, the Missouri Innovation Center emphasizes research and development and operates a life science business incubator in partnership with MU.

To best serve Columbia’s aspiring entrepreneurs, these organizations foster a spirit of collaboration by sharing resources and co-sponsoring events. REDI hosts the Mid-Missouri Entrepreneurial Calendar on its website, which all area organizations can post to, that notifies business owners of upcoming events around the city.


Mid-Missouri Innovation Week

Perhaps the greatest show of Columbia’s collective entrepreneurial enthusiasm is the annual Bringing Up Business: Mid-Missouri’s Innovation Week. Typically falling in October, the event kicks off with Startup Weekend, during which teams launch a business in 54 hours and compete for the top spot. Participants in Innovation Week can attend a Small Business Exhibition and participate in workshops, panels and a “startup crawl,” all aimed at fostering innovation and sharing the latest ideas in business and technology.

With a bedrock of strong legacy businesses and a vitalized entrepreneurial support system, Columbia is at the heart of innovation in Missouri. “In Columbia,” Bocklage says, “aspiring business owners will find a supportive community focused on helping them develop their ideas, launch and succeed in the long run.