Inside Mizzou: M-I-Z Entrepreneur

Profile of head-shaped light bulb: Creativity, Leadership & Innovation

April 2, 2019

This campus community has a track record of innovation and excellence dating back to 1839. For example, MU was the first university west of the Mississippi River. And of course, we developed the first — and best — journalism school in the nation. Now, through programs such as the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the UM System Entrepreneur Quest and the Unions Entrepreneurial Program, our students, faculty and staff continue to expand the university’s community impact through innovation and entrepreneurship.

Join Chancellor Cartwright for this week’s Inside Mizzou podcast for his talk with Clay Cary, a senior studying business administration who is a serial entrepreneur; and Sara Cochran, the UM System director of entrepreneurship initiatives and MU’s interim director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. They discuss the many ways Mizzou supports entrepreneurial activities on campus as well as how this benefits our state and the world.

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[00:00:08] From the classroom to the cornfield, journalism to SEC athletics, the University of Missouri works 52 weeks a year, every year. This is Inside Mizzou — real stories, real discoveries and real impact of the Mizzou community.

Moderator: [00:00:26] Today’s episode is called “M-I-Z Entrepreneur.” We had to have some fun with this title because creativity is such an important part of entrepreneurship. In fact, in the early 1800s, the word “entrepreneur” literally meant the manager of a theatrical production. That’s really fitting — in so many ways, entrepreneurs are always balancing creativity, leadership and performance. Joining Chancellor Cartwright today to talk about how our community supports innovation and entrepreneurship are Clay Cary, a senior studying business administration who is a serial entrepreneur; and Dr. Sara Cochran, the UM System director of entrepreneurship initiatives and MU’s interim director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Thank you all for being here.

Everyone: [00:01:12] Great to be here. Thank you.

Moderator: [00:01:15] Clay, you are pretty immersed in Columbia’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Can you tell us more about your entrepreneurial journey?

Clay Cary: [00:01:23] Sure. So, I’d say it probably started when I took Greg Bier’s entrepreneurship alliance class. I got to meet just a lot of students who are interested in entrepreneurship and also a lot of people who owned local businesses in Columbia. And then that was the second semester my sophomore year of college. And so, that summer I sold sunglasses in the Columbia Mall, and what I would do is, about half an hour before work and about half an hour after work, I would just go around the mall scanning barcodes. And if something was selling for higher online, I would buy it and I would list it on eBay, and if it didn’t sell, then I would just return it. It was basically an impossible way to lose money. And so, I did that that summer, and then last year I started really getting more into e-commerce, so I sold on Amazon and I did that. I also took Bill Turpin’s class, which was investing in startups, and W.D. Allen’s class, which is another investing class. So, in Greg’s class it was more about building a business, and in Bill Turpin’s class and W.D. Allen’s class, it was a lot more about learning the best way to invest in a company — red flags and kind of what investors are looking for.

Moderator: [00:02:32] That’s awesome. It sounds like Mizzou has really influenced you. Have there been any other ways that Mizzou has helped shape what you’re doing?

Clay Cary: [00:02:38] Sure. So, after I had started to sell on Amazon or whatever, I of course had to do a lot of research to learn how to do that — learn how to run ads, learn how to build websites, stuff like that. And I kept seeing that there was all these online courses available that would teach you how to do all this stuff. And the problem with it was that they were all like extremely expensive. They were like college level classes, but it wasn’t like a Mizzou class. So, it was kind of hard to tell, “Is this legit or not? Do I really want to spend, you know, $1000, $2000 on a course like this?” And you couldn’t really find reviews anywhere, and if you could maybe find a review, there was no way to verify that the person had actually taken a course. So, that was kind of where I got this idea of like a website that would review independent online education classes that weren’t necessarily affiliated with a college or university. And so, I started working on that in July, and then talking to Greg Bier, I had heard about the Entrepreneur Quest (EQ) program. And so, I entered into that, and the first round of that was in October, and I believe 10 teams moved on to pitch in the competition, which is this semester. And that’s been a really good way to kind of stress test your business model and also just kind of have access to mentors who have kind of been there and succeeded and failed, which I think is key to have both of those.

Moderator: [00:03:59] Awesome. Chancellor Cartwright, as an engineer you have to constantly think outside the box. So, how has entrepreneurship been a part of your career, and why do you think it’s so important to build a learning environment that encourages entrepreneurial thought and activities?

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:04:16] You know, one of the things that I’d mention first is just that, generally, with engineering we’re taught to actually operate in a certain way and to solve problems a certain direction. One of the biggest challenges that we have is to start to think outside the box. It actually turns out to be a big challenge for us. We spend a number of years teaching people — you know, in the first three years of engineering, typically — how to do things and which things are right and which things are wrong, and then you get into your fourth year and you start thinking about design, and all of a sudden you have to think differently. You have to work on an open-ended problem, which doesn’t necessarily have a specific solution or could have multiple solutions, and you have to then start making decisions about which ones are the best and what’s the reason for that. So, those are skills that are challenging for many of us. And for me, the ability to think entrepreneurial and to think outside the box — for me, it was mostly focused on the things that I was doing in my research. I was very interested in how do you look at problems differently? How do you come up with a different type of sensor? How do you use materials that have not been used before for sensing to do some sort of novel sensing using optical techniques? And those are things that without having a mindset — a little bit of resilience in terms of if you fail to come back from it — those are the things that you learn through entrepreneurship. And I think it’s one of the most important concepts and skills that you can actually work on, is that ability to think creatively and come up with different solutions than what people might be expecting.

Moderator: [00:06:13] Dr. Cochran, can you talk more about how Mizzou’s entrepreneurial programs support innovation in a comprehensive, hands-on way?

Dr. Sara Cochran: [00:06:22] Sure. So, we have entrepreneurship and innovation throughout the university in every college. And this really gives an interdisciplinary approach to entrepreneurship, and it allows students to collaborate and learn from one another. And it also gives students opportunities to blend entrepreneurship with any area of study. We have a lot of hands-on, experiential entrepreneurial opportunities in both curricular and extracurricular offerings. So, for instance, in my own entrepreneurship classroom, I employ a lot of experiential exercises, and this gives students a hands-on approach and hands-on learning in the classroom. And we have other classes, such as some of the ones that Clay mentioned that he’s taken, that have that hands-on approach. And outside of the classroom, we have a lot of hands-on extracurricular opportunities. For instance, we have a new program this school year called Entrepreneur Quest (EQ), and it’s actually System-wide. So, each of the universities are providing students training and mentoring with their businesses, and each university has $30,000 worth of prize money on the table for student ventures. And those winners are pitching at the system level for another $30,000 in prize money. For a student venture, that can really go a long way in helping them continue it, and this is on top of the sort of mentoring and training that they have received throughout the program. We have other opportunities: So, for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, we have an Idea Pitch Competition that allows students an opportunity to craft an elevator pitch and get feedback on their ideas to prepare them for a program such as Entrepreneur Quest. And with the idea that the entrepreneurial mindset can be beneficial in lots of areas, we also recently held a Corporate Innovation Challenge that gave students an opportunity to apply this mindset to a large organization’s real issues that they’re dealing with, and students walked away with having worked to solve a real company’s real problems with an entrepreneurial mindset.

Moderator: [00:08:31] Even with all the support, so much of being an entrepreneur is about mentality, which is what you’re talking about with mindset. What does it mean to think like an entrepreneur, and how can we support this kind of thinking here?

Dr. Sara Cochran: [00:08:43] Yeah, absolutely. So, thinking like an entrepreneur means having a vision and desire for change and creation, and having that creativity that you’ve talked about and being able to recognize opportunity, oftentimes in places where others see chaos or confusion. So, an entrepreneurial mindset can be utilized in lots of areas of life and in any type of organization to bring forth those creative ideas. For our students, being able to think like an entrepreneur and implement that entrepreneurial process will help them in any areas of their lives, whether it’s building a business, working for an existing organization in a for-profit or not-for-profit or even in their personal and civic lives. You know, scholars have said that the 21st century is the “golden age” of entrepreneurship, but they’ve also said that the at-risk student is the one that’s not prepared for this bold new age. And so, I feel like we have a big responsibility to encourage students towards an entrepreneurial mindset. And I think as educators, we can facilitate opportunities for students to develop an entrepreneurial mindset and to practice it — you know, it’s a process that can be practiced and learned. That’s really why I believe that these hands-on opportunities are so important for students and that we should continue to provide these types of opportunities for students to recognize these opportunities and grow their ventures and be entrepreneurs in lots of areas of their lives and in their communities.

Moderator: [00:10:07] Definitely. Chancellor Cartwright, what kind of impact can all of this have for Missouri and the world?

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:10:13] Before I answer that, I’d actually just like to follow up on what Dr. Cochran was saying and that is, she made a comment about, you know, seeing solutions where others may see. I think chaos and confusion is what she used. And when I was talking about the things that we did and that we do in research, that’s exactly the mindset, right. Is that you have to think through “What could you do differently?” And others might not think that a particular solution is possible, but if you’re able to think a little bit more innovatively and take those risks, because sometimes you’re not sure if it’s gonna work, and you feel comfortable with the failure that might occur, but have plans if it doesn’t work. So, I completely agree that those are skills that translate out into the workplace. And we’re fortunate here at Mizzou in that we have so many programs that have terrific hands-on learning experiences: the Missouri Method, agriculture, other areas. All of these really give our students opportunities to explore, and if we can add one additional layer to that, where people are then allowed to try and be innovative in the way that they’re approaching some of those problems, this could be beneficial for our students and certainly beneficial for the institution. In terms of society, I mean this is how we — for the world, it’s how we remain being a competitive nation. It’s coming up with new ideas, new solutions, being inquisitive to look at what is happening in society. And part of this is actually to see needs where others may not see the needs, and knowing that you can do things a little differently, a little better, and that there might be a benefit for a person. Whenever you develop the solution to that, of course then you have opportunities that you can protect it through intellectual property, you can start up companies with just knowing that you know how to do something differently than others do. And of course, that has benefits to the economy — certainly in Missouri and beyond — and we want to have that entrepreneurial ecosystem here at Mizzou so that all of the capabilities, the tremendous capabilities of our students can be leveraged to come up with new companies, new ways that we will help to build the economy here. But in addition, our faculty and our staff are in a position that their innovations can then be translated out into economic development that benefits the entire state, and of course, ultimately, the entire world. So, there’s real impact on society from the things we’re doing in entrepreneurship.

Moderator: [00:13:20] That’s great. It sounds like entrepreneurs on this campus are doing amazing work. So Clay, what is one piece of advice you can give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Clay Cary: [00:13:29] I think the best thing, or at least my piece of advice, is try to figure out a way to limit your downside. So, I think a lot of times people don’t start because they build up something in their head, and they think like out of 10, if they fail it’s a six or seven. But I think like if you just write it down on paper, you realize  downside is probably like a two or maybe a three.

Moderator: [00:13:50] Well, thank you all again for being here today. This has been such an insightful conversation. One more thing before you leave: What did the grape do when it got stepped on?

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:14:01] No idea on the grape. Uh… I don’t know.

Clay Cary: [00:14:04] No clue.

Moderator: [00:14:04] It let out a little wine!

Everyone: [00:14:09] (laughing)

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:14:10] Oh, that’s pretty good.

Moderator: [00:14:10] Thank you!

Everyone: [00:14:10] (laughing)

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:14:10] Yeah, I like that one.

[00:14:24] Our audio engineer is Aaron Hay. Our featured music is “Forest Park Rhapsody,” composed by MU undergraduate and music composition major Ben Colagiovanni. You can find more information about Ben and his piece on the Inside Mizzou webpage. Make sure to join us next time, and keep an eye out for the chancellor’s newsletter to stay on top of what’s happening at Mizzou. Thanks for joining us on this episode of Inside Mizzou. See you around the Columns!