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In MU’s TECH-SERIES program, students help entrepreneurs

Sandra Marin sits at a table and looks over papers with Cameron Webber and Eduardo Passos

TECH-SERIES director Sandra Marin, left, discusses an upcoming project with students Cameron Webber, middle, and Eduardo Passos, right. TECH-SERIES is a consulting program put on by the Small Business and Technology Development Office. The program is funded by University of Missouri Extension and Missouri Technology Corporation. Photo by Ryan Owens.

In two years, MU Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department student Cameron Webber has had the chance to provide consulting work for 10 entrepreneurs, helping to design designing and prototype market tests.

It’s an opportunity that’s granted to Webber and a small group of students who work with MU’s Tech Entrepreneurship event series, or TECH-SERIES, a consulting program put on by the Small Business and Technology Development Office. The program is funded by University of Missouri Extension and Missouri Technology Corporation.

Through the TECH-SERIES program, part of the MU Business Development Program, Webber and other students gain hands-on experience doing consulting and business development work for technology-based companies and entrepreneurs.

“It’s the University wanting to reach out and help the local community and make Columbia a hotspot for tech startups and entrepreneurs,” Webber said.

Started in 2014, TECH-SERIES already has worked with 91 entrepreneurs, helping them get their businesses up and running. In that time, the program has helped entrepreneurs pull in $14,251,000 in funds for their businesses.

“It’s been really cool to get them actual, real money and funds to further themselves,” Webber said.

A lot of the consultations are done through workshops the program puts on. The program has three workshops coming up in the spring: the 2-week Innovator Track where entrepreneurs identify their market, the 4-week I-Corps Track that helps tech entrepreneurs commercialize their product and the 6-week Entrepreneur Track that focuses on strengthening pitches.

“A lot of people coming in are experts in their own area, but they may not have the business or technical knowledge needed to really translate that to a company,” Webber said. “We partner them up with people who know those things and fill in their gaps in knowledge.”

At a workshop last year, the program brought in a couple of investors from banks around Columbia to meet with the entrepreneurs.

“Everyone who was ready and willing was able to pitch their ideas in a small environment, talk to real investors and possibly get some funding,” Webber said.

In its third year, TECH-SERIES is trying to reach out more to graduate and undergraduate students. The team recently opened an office in Lafferre Hall in the hopes that students who drop in for questions or business advice can get pointed in the right direction.

One of Webber’s favorite consultations to work on was for a tablet-type device in development in Columbia. The idea was to have programs on the device that could track multiple people in a conversation and read or type everything back in real time to the user. For hearing- or sight-impaired people, it would be a great tool, Webber said.

“That’s great, because they can communicate with their children or grandchildren and don’t get excluded just because they can’t understand what they’re saying,” Webber said. “Technologies like that — high tech that helps people and is local to Columbia — those are the things that I like. And we get a dozen of those every semester.”

Webber said the hands-on experience with real concepts means everyone benefits, students and entrepreneurs alike.

“It’s really great because they get the help that they need, and we get them as a client,” Webber said.

TECH-SERIES program director Sandra Marin said the businesses that have participated greatly appreciate the help they are given by students like Webber.

“The feedback from our stakeholders in the entrepreneurial community relate Cameron’s outstanding performance,” Marin said.