What can our startup community do for you? The organizers of Jefferson City’s free monthly gathering of entrepreneurs, 1 Million Cups, or 1MC, asks each presenter this question every time a founder shares their journey. The organization that started 1MC, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, promotes grassroots work supporting small business owners in their earliest stages. The foundation operates under a simple yet powerful principle: entrepreneurs are uniquely equipped to use uncommon solutions to solve complex problems. 

During the local 1MC chapter’s independently organized State of Entrepreneurship address in June 2019, organizers expanded the question: What can Jefferson City do for entrepreneurs? 

About 30 people attended the event, which featured a keynote speech by Tori Benson, interim executive director of the Missouri Technology Corporation, or MTC. 

Panelists included:

  • Jill Antweiler, local founder of two tech startups
  • JJ Smith, owner of Express Signs & Banners, a local commercial sign shop
  • Missy Bonnet, director of economic development for the Jefferson City Chamber of Commerce
  • Collin Bunch, entrepreneurship coordinator at Columbia REDI 

After the panel discussion, Bunch led an activity identifying Jefferson City’s opportunities and needs in all areas of a business’s journey.

Here are key takeaways:

The state of Missouri is investing in startups

MTC, a public-private partnership housed under the Missouri Department of Economic Development, awards “Missouri Building Entrepreneurial Capacity” grants of $50,000 to $1 million to emerging high-tech startups. Unlike more traditional small business models, tech startups expect rapid growth. 

“Missouri companies aim high,” Benson says. Tech startups here serve serious needs and help recent graduates find their dream jobs. While MTC focuses on 21st century bioscience industries that build on Missouri’s agricultural heritage, the corporation has also funded non-agricultural startups. For instance, personalized gift box website Greetabl is a product-based company founded in Kansas City with investment from MTC. 

Startups don’t need to be in cities

“Communities like Jefferson City are bucking the trend that successful tech startups have to be located in big cities,” Benson said. The internet has flattened the field for collaborating in tech. Programs such as the Missouri Women’s Business Center, MO Source Link, and 1MC offer mentorship, advice, and networking opportunities that lower the barriers to entry for starting a business.

However, startups need better financing

What do startups need that they’re not getting? Antweiler had one word: “Capital.” The plight of a daring founder is that they have to wear a hundred hats at once. Human resources. Developer. Coder. Web designer. Marketer. A lot of great products die when founders get overwhelmed and their business can never get off the ground. Better financing helps startups hire staff that can push their companies farther and contribute back to the community. (Antweiler’s first company was acquired by TeamSnap, which is based in the tech hub of Boulder, Colorado.)

Now is the time for imagination

Bonnet called for Jefferson City to be more creative. The tornado that hit the city in May, she says, is just one recent example of an opportunity to ask, “What can we do differently?” and work hard to trust in new ideas by investing time and money in helping daring businesses succeed.

We at 1MC support people who are making something remarkable. Something that gives Jefferson City a sense of place. Something that makes people want to stay here, enjoy a fulfilling livelihood, and give back to the community. We see a better future for the city through entrepreneurship. We are passionate about sharing our experiences because figuring out everything on your own can be daunting. 

For this to work, we also need non-entrepreneurs. “Only three out of 1,000 people will become entrepreneurs,” the Kaufmann Foundation claims in its introduction to its national State of Entrepreneurship for 2019. “The other 997 of us can all play a part.” Benson agrees. “If you have an idea, talent, startup advice, get up and do something,” she says. “Connect with people, because that’s how you build a startup ecosystem.” 

Entrepreneurial Resources

1 Million Cups
Free coffee and conversations with other founders on the first Wednesday of every month at SBDC, 917 Leslie Blvd.

Incubator at the Small Business Development Center at Lincoln University
Lauren Carter, Center Director, carterl@lincolnu.edu
573-681-5031 | missourisbdc.org

Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce
Shaun Sappenfield, shaunsappenfield@jcchamber.org
573-638-3586 | jeffersoncitychamber.org

Christopher Scott, mila.cscott1@farmersagency.com, or
Linda Landon, LandonPhD@researchcommunique.com


Missouri Women’s Business Center
A program of Central Missouri Community Action
Sherry Major, MBA, Business Coach, sherry@MoWBC.org

Tina Casagrand is founder and publisher of The New Territory magazine and an organizer of Jefferson City’s 1 Million Cups chapter.