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Entrepreneurship and Innovation Network Growing at University of Missouri

April 16th, 2012

Story Contact: Christian Basi, 573-882-4430, BasiC@missouri.edu

By Brad Fischer

COLUMBIA, Mo. – According to a 2011 study by the Kauffman Foundation, 54 percent of people in the millennial generation want to start their own business or already have. Missouri Innovation Center (MIC), a non-profit organization affiliated with the University of Missouri since 1986, and others at MU are supporting young entrepreneurs by providing a network of tools for entrepreneurs and students to succeed in start-up firms.

“By becoming a home to entrepreneurs and start-up enterprises, MU is helping to drive the state’s economy,” said Rob Duncan, MU vice chancellor for research. “Without the MIC and other resources at MU, many of these firms would have to move out of the state, and some would never make it out of the research phase. Instead, with help from MU, these firms can move forward, make revenue and employ Missourians.”

MIC provides an array of services to prospective innovators and entrepreneurs. Jake Halliday, president of MIC, said one focus at the center is on helping graduate students working on high-tech, high-growth ventures. MIC provides grant-writing assistance, access to a patent attorney, regulatory advisory service, business plan advice, education on how to pitch ideas to investors, and access to potential investors.

Halliday teaches a course, “High Growth Ventures,” in the Crosby MBA program in the Trulaske College of Business. In the course, Halliday leads graduate students from across campus through the process of evaluating the commercial prospects of inventions made by MU researchers, building business plans and obtaining financing.

“In the course, students buil real inventions,” Halliday said. “This course is a great learning tool for students and closely simulates the real-world start-up environment. In several cases, the class simulations convert to real companies led by graduate students sharing ownership with the faculty inventors. This is helping Missouri retain some of our most promising graduates.”

In the last three to four years, Halliday estimates that the course and the MIC have helped more than 25 MU students obtain executive-level positions with start-up firms. One such former student is Xandra Sifuentes. Sifuentes holds an MU undergraduate degree in computer science and worked in engineering roles at Honeywell and Garmin. However, she decided she wanted a more entrepreneurially focused career and returned to MU to pursue an MBA. In the MBA program, Sifuentes enrolled in Halliday’s course, where she developed the business plan and later founded Adroit Motion to explore commercialization of a laparoscopic hand instrument developed by MU researchers. As the firm’s CEO, she pitched the company at the Rice University Business Plan Competition, winning $24,100 in funding for Adroit Motion.

At MU, Sifuentes also served as the business fellow in the Biodesign and Innovation Program and a graduate assistant in the Missouri Innovation Center. During her fellowship, Sifuentes worked with a clinical fellow, an engineering fellow and MU faculty members to invent and develop a device to treat mastitis, an udder infection in dairy cows. Mastitis is the most common disease in dairy cattle, costing farmers nearly $2 billion annually. Now, the team is working with MU to help license the product to another firm for production. If licensed, the product will be made available commercially.

Sifuentes was named the 2010 Emerging Business Woman of the Year by the Columbia Daily Tribune. Since graduating in 2010, Sifuentes has moved on from Adroit Motion and is now president of Metactive Medical, a start-up in the Kansas City area.

Another Crosby MBA student, Francesco Marconi, has similar career goals, but in a different field: media and communications. Marconi, a native of Portugal and Italy, has developed an iPhone app during his time at MU and is partnering with another student on a second app. Marconi worked through the computer science department to find students with the technical capabilities to bring his strategic visions to life and a journalism student to write the text. Currently available in the iTunes store as a free app, HeroGraph allows users to participate in “photogaming.” In the free app, users take photos to complete challenges.

“I am learning about the challenges of creating a successful business by founding my own developments and projects at MU,” Marconi said. “MU helped me find the resources to get my ideas off the ground. With these smaller projects, I hope to build a breadth of knowledge that will guide me as I work strategically on a larger scale.”

In addition to creating iPhone applications, Marconi serves as a graduate assistant overseeing strategic development of a business journalism start-up company based in the MU School of Journalism. Marconi has written a Portugese-language book, IN-ovation, which focuses on the process of turning creative ideas into innovative businesses. The book was published in Feb. 2012 by Bnomics, one of Portugal’s leading publishing houses.

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