Fostering entrepreneurship: Zapier CEO and Mizzou Engineering alumnus speaks to students at Griggs Innovators Nexus Grand Opening
Mizzou Engineering alumnus Wade Foster spoke to students about the importance of entrepreneurship in light of the Griggs Innovators Nexus grand opening and the Entrepreneurship Quest kick-off on Sept. 14.
“My advice is to just get started,” said Foster, who is co-founder and CEO of tech company, Zapier. “People can be intimidated by entrepreneurship, but getting started is often one of the hardest steps.”
Foster received his bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering in 2009 and his MBA in 2010 through the dual BS industrial engineering and MBA program. Foster co-founded Zapier in 2011 with fellow alumni Bryan Helmig (BS Finance ’11) and Mike Knoop (BS Mechanical Engineering ’12). While doing freelance work, Foster and Helmig noticed the need for integrations between software as a service (SaaS) apps, such as Google Apps and Microsoft 365. SaaS apps are centrally hosted and licensed as a subscription model.
“People wanted the convenience that SaaS apps offered, but bringing those apps together at the time was complex, frustrating and usually required technical help,” Foster said. “We knew there had to be an easier way, and thus the idea of Zapier was born.”
Zapier now connects more than 3,000 apps, has millions of users, employs 500 people around the world and has a $5 billion valuation.
A Jefferson City, Missouri, native, Foster was not sure what path he would take when he came to Mizzou, but he knew that the University would allow him to explore his options. Foster’s interest in math and science led him to engineering, and the focus on productivity and efficiency drew him to industrial engineering.
“Mizzou Engineering did a really good job at teaching theoretical concepts like how math applies to the real world,” Foster said.
Foster was also able to explore his love of music at Mizzou and says that his involvement with jazz music gave him his first taste of entrepreneurship as he navigated finding an audience, getting bookings and receiving payments for his performance. It was through music that he later connected with Helmig, Zapier co-founder and chief technology officer.
Foster entered the tech space when he interned at a software company in Columbia, Missouri. In the midst of the financial crisis and knowing he did not want to work in manufacturing, Foster pursued the marketing internship that exposed him to many areas and helped him find his love for building software.
The future of entrepreneurship
To celebrate the opening of the Griggs Innovators Nexus and to kick off the Entrepreneurship Quest, Foster shared some words of wisdom with current students.
“The best things you can do if you want to be a business owner at some point in your career are one, start something, and two, get involved with other people who are starting things,” Foster said.
The Griggs Innovators Nexus, named after alumnus and donor Robert Griggs (BS Agricultural Economics ’77), is located inside the Student Center and offers retail spaces for student entrepreneurs, for which students can apply in 2022.
The Entrepreneurship Quest provides students the opportunity to workshop and pitch business models for the chance to win up to $15,000.
Interested in becoming an engineering entrepreneur? Learn more about the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering!