Mid-Missouri offers budding entrepreneurs and established companies many benefits but also some recruitment challenges, local business owners said at a panel discussion Monday.
During an event at Stephens College’s Kimball Ballroom, Guy Bouchard, who privatized Sinclair Research Center, LLC after working as the attending veterinarian at Sinclair Research Farm in the early 1990’s; Sarah Hill, CEO and chief storyteller of StoryUp VR, and Brant Bukowsky, Veterans United co-founder, discussed what they’ve learned since launching their businesses.
The group shared what benefits and struggles come with starting a company as part of Bringing up Business: Mid-Missouri’s Innovation Week, which concludes Friday.
Hill said startups in Columbia have a lot of people ready and willing to help them. She worked with several local resources including the Missouri Innovation Center when starting StoryUP VR, an immersive media company which sells mind spa kits for workplace, medical or emotional stress. She has a provisional patent on virtual reality therapy.
She said another pro to starting a company in mid-Missouri is the low cost of living, which means the money a new company needs for salaries, goods and office space is less than startups on the east or west coasts.
“Your ability to stretch the dollar as an entrepreneur is great,” she said.
Bukowsky said another benefit to central Missouri are the number of recent graduates from several colleges and universities who often look for work locally. Veterans United is a national lender based in Columbia helping veteran and military families with home buying and the VA loan process. The company, Bukowsky said, has focused on building a workplace culture that makes good employees want to stay.
Having those local job seekers is important, he said.
One struggle Bukowsky said comes with running a business in mid-Missouri is recruiting people with a certain expertise to move to Columbia. He said Veteran’s United has had success in recruiting some people. Hill said she also has noticed that same recruitment struggle. To combat it, she has been able to hire developers across the globe to work for her remotely.
Bouchard said mid-Missouri has many people with a farming background, which has been beneficial for Sinclair Research Center as it recruits employees. Sinclair Research specializes in biomedical research and has the largest herds of miniature swine in the country.
However, Bouchard agreed it’s difficult to find job candidates with more specialized skills who are willing to move to central Missouri.
“It’s very hard to bring people here,” he said.
Bouchard said he also can’t afford to pay some job candidates what they would make working in large cities, which sometimes deters prospective employees.
Hill said better bandwidth could be beneficial as more Internet companies pop up. And, she’d like to see more angel groups locally investing in startups.
Columbia’s location between Kansas City and St. Louis, she added, means startups have other options to find additional funding nearby.
The panel discussion Monday is one of several events this week focused on area businesses and entrepreneurship. The week kicked off with startup weekend and includes a “Shark Tank” style pitch event Wednesday night at the Blue Note and a breakfast on Thursday celebrating women in social entrepreneurship.
University of Missouri Vice Provost for Economic Development Steve Wyatt said the week’s list of events is an example of how the city, county, higher education institution and others collaborate to let business owners and entrepreneurs know about local resources available.
The week, he added, also is meant to spotlight current businesses.
“Our business community is one of the keys to us being a vibrant community and region,” Wyatt said.
He described Columbia’s business and startup ecosystem as strong. Panelists on Monday also discussed evaluating risks and being ok with uncertainty as necessary skills for entrepreneurs. Bill Turpin, president and CEO of the Missouri Innovation Center, said thinking about the worst case scenario can help entrepreneurs cope with fears related to uncertainty.
“Before I start a company, I ask myself what’s the worst that could happen,” he said. “Convince yourself that even if that happened, you’re going to learn things.”