Written by Mike Martin
Columbia's leaders need to get creative and follow suit
COLUMBIA, 5/5/12 (Beat Byte) -- Xandra Sifuentes and Francesco Marconi are good role models for local leaders so desperate to increase local employment, they are bent on giving away the proverbial store to any large employer with a pulse. Both former Mizzou students are products of programs designed to spur innovation and grow employment from the ground up.
Fresh out of Mizzou business and computer science programs, Sifuentes founded Adroit Motion to commercialize a laparoscopic surgical instrument developed by MU researchers. In the Rice University Business Plan Competition, she won $24,100 in startup funding.
Like a modern-day Guglielmo Marconi, the father of radio, Francesco Marconi has developed an iPhone app -- HeroGraph, a gaming application -- with Mizzou journalism and computer science students.
If a 2011 Kauffman Foundation study is right, Columbia's leaders are wooing new business the wrong way. Fifty four percent of people in the millennial generation want to start their own business or already have, the study claims. Among Columbia's young population, that's a tremendous pool of ready talent that few in local leadership even recognize, let alone try to help.
For a better way, the non-profit Missouri Innovation Center (MIC) is helping lead the way. Under former ABC Laboratories CEO Jake Halliday, MIC provides grant-writing assistance, patent attorneys, regulatory advice, business plan advice, and access to potential investors for entrepreneurs.
Through his course High Growth Ventures at Mizzou's Trulaske College of Business, Halliday helps students evaluate inventions, build business plans, and obtain financing. "This course closely simulates the real-world start-up environment," Halliday said. "In several cases, class simulations convert to real companies, helping Missouri retain some of our most promising graduates."
Contrast this focus on retention with the big push to "lure" out-of-state companies with tax incentives that take money from, of all things, education -- the most important tool in Halliday's tool box.
In the last three to four years, Halliday and MIC have helped students such as Sifuentes become start-up executives. In Halliday's course, Sifuentes developed a business plan for Adroit Motion, and worked with Mizzou faculty members to develop a device to treat mastitis, a common disease in dairy cattle that costs farmers nearly $2 billion annually.
She is now president of Metactive Medical, a Kansas City area start-up, and ironically, was named the 2010 Emerging Business Woman of the Year by the Columbia Daily Tribune, whose owners are front-and-center on the tax incentive push.
Instead, they should listen to startup innovators like Francesco Marconi, and support incubators like MIC instead of lobbyists like REDI. "I am learning about the challenges of creating a successful business by founding my own developments and projects at MU," Marconi said. "With these smaller projects, I hope to build a breadth of knowledge that will guide me as I work strategically on a larger scale."