Drew Hall, 18, stood in front of three judges Thursday in the University of Missouri’s Bush Auditorium and for the first time, pitched his business: H&H Premium Meats and Eggs.
“With the ever rising demand for farm fresh products … there’s never been a better time to be engaged in the agriculture industry,” Hall told the judges
Hall, who is starting his senior year at Warrenton High School next month, walked out of the auditorium with a $250 prize to go toward his startup costs. He was one of 13 who participated in the Build a Business youth camp this week. The camps is offered through Summers @ Mizzou and is open to youth ages 12 to 18 from across Missouri.
Steven Henness, associate extension professional/state 4-H specialist at the MU Extension 4-H Center for Youth Development, said many entrepreneurs got their first idea at age 12 or 13. This year marks the Build a Business camp’s 10th year of a push for teens in Missouri to get involved in entrepreneurship.
“It’s about supporting entrepreneurship at any age by getting today’s students started at the age they are,” he said.
Henness said the camp is part of a growing community effort to create an ecosystem for entrepreneurs and a culture that encourages people to try things, collaborate and learn from failure.
Henness said the build-a-business camp has students focus on ideas with low start-up costs that they could start immediately.
“You don’t have to wait 10 years to get something started,” he said.
The camp, he said, aims to inspire students to start something, even if they do wait until they’re older.
This year’s camp attracted 13 students from 10 different Missouri counties, including students from Columbia, Kansas City and St. Louis. The camp, he said, is learning by doing. During the four days, Henness said, students aren’t put into a simulation. Instead they work with real ideas.
Hall and a friend already have farm access near Warrenton thanks to Hall’s family.
“We always did things the traditional way: sold hogs for market and sold a couple cows for market. Here lately it hasn’t really been working due to commercial companies pushing us out of the business, undercutting our prices,” he said. “I came to camp with an idea to get into a different market.”
Hall’s family buys young cows and pigs, raises them, then sells them at the county fair or livestock auction. He said his plan is to raise the animal and take them to a processor and distribute the cuts of meat and eggs himself.
During the camp, he looked at farmers markets reports and other research that shows people are willing to pay more for “farm fresh” food. His pitch Thursday focused on the difference in how animals on his farm are raised compared to large commercial farms. He said animals have more room to roam, which makes them healthier and in turn healthier for the consumer. Healthy animals taste better, too, Hall said.
Hall said it’s difficult to balance his work on the farm with school, but he’s committed to his work.
“Having to wake up an hour early every morning to go out and feed hogs and sheep and cows. It’d definitely a little strenuous but it’s well worth it in the end,” he said. “It can be tough at times.”
The camp pushed Hall and his business partner, who did not attend, to start their business now. Hall said the camp’s leaders helped set up a booth for his new business at the state fair next month. H&H Premium Meats and Eggs will be there, he said.
During the four-day Build a Business camp, students find a business idea if they didn’t come in with one already. Then, they test the idea, conducting market research that includes talking to people to see if they would buy their product or service. After market research, students focus on building their business and business plan.
They record details including where the business will be located, its target audience and customers and financials. The pitches Thursday ranged from athletic camps for kids to phone applications that map out a museum’s exhibits to a traveling hair styling salon. One student didn’t pitch an idea and instead said he learned through the camp that entrepreneurship is not for him, at least right now.
Twelve-year-old Andy Durham came to camp intending to learn how to distribute his root beer. He has made and sold root beer in kegs through his parent’s brewery, Piney River Brewing Co., for a couple of years. He hopes to distribute his root beer to grocery stores and restaurants in the next year. He said the camp taught him what steps he needs to take to accomplish that.
“I need liability insurance,” he said. “I’m a little worried about getting sued.”
Brandon Banks, who attended the camp nearly a decade ago, said the experience gave him a foundation as an entrepreneur. He started a theater company at age 15 in Troy after attending the camp.
“I had all the general information from summer camp and then I went home and I locked myself in my room for the rest of the summer,” he said.
The theater held drama camps, weekly workshops and plays during the summer. Banks managed the administrative side of the theater, marketing the programs, gaining sponsorship and communicating with parents. His theater company had three adult staff members that ran the programs.
The theater company, called Spotlight Stars, was open for about four years and closed a year or two after Banks went off to college.
“When you step into class on the first day you don’t really believe in yourself,” he said.
Banks said he thought starting his own business would first require him to go through college, work at a company to get experience for about 10 years and then leave to start his own operation. The camp aims to change students’ perspective and encourage them to act on their ideas.
“It’s about being the pioneer of an idea rather than a facilitator in some regards,” he said.
Banks has continued to stop in at the camp each year to help. After graduating from the University of Central Missouri, Banks connected with a local business owner who spoke at a build-a-business camp a few years ago. That connection through the camp turned into a job at Modern Media, where Banks helps small business with marketing and efforts to grow.
Quinten Messbarger, vice president at the Missouri Innovation Center, said that when he was working to assist startups about 20 years ago, most people didn’t understand what it meant to raise equity. Angel networks, he said, were just beginning and the University of Missouri focused on research for the sake of knowledge, but hadn’t yet integrated entrepreneurship into the equation.
Regional Economic Development Inc., he said, also was focused more on attracting companies. Now, the not-for-profit public-private partnership with the city also focuses on providing resources for entrepreneurs.
“Everybody now kind of gets the value of growing your own rather than just attracting,” Messbarger said.
He described coordination between the various resources for startups in Columbia as “critical.” Coordination stops the innovation center, city, university and others from duplicating resources.
“We’re good at making all the connections to what they need,” he said of current efforts to assist startups.
MU has since dedicated more resources to helping and encouraging entrepreneurs, including the Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic, which offers free legal aid, and the university system’s push for faculty to take research to the marketplace. Additionally, the innovation center’s incubator is under the umbrella of MU’s Office of Research. The university sets licensing agreements with those using its resources to obtain a small percentage of royalties.
Included in a lease fee, the innovation center provides office space, labs and some specialized equipment, decreasing expenses for the budding business. The incubator also offers opportunities for mentoring and support for entrepreneurs developing business plans, production models and finding investors.
During the build-a-business camp, students saw REDI’s innovation hub for entrepreneurs and toured the Missouri Innovation Center. Messbarger showed the labs and office spaces available to companies working with the center. One company, called Elemental Enzymes, has been at the innovation center for about five years. The lab creates a coating for seeds that increases crop yields about 7 percent. The enzymes it produces are designed to survive harsh conditions.
The company has grown significantly since it started in 2011 and added a production facility in St. Louis.
Messbarger said the innovation center can assist startup companies in many ways.
“This company took advantage of everything we have to offer,” Messbarger said.
Messbarger said the company had assistance from a class he teaches at MU in which students pitch a client to investors. That class helped the company gain some funding connections, he said.
Elemental Enzymes, he added, had a great product when it was starting out and would have gotten investors and become established without the help of Columbia’s resources.
“They got there faster, cheaper and better because of all the resources our community can offer,” he said.