Startup Competition

We fund startups to help them thrive in the Rural Midwest. You want a founder-friendly startup environment? Look no further.

Final 2023 deadline is October 31!

Apply Now

Meet Some of Our Past 1ST50K Winners

Why Choose

Free yourself from the distraction and chaos that big city life heaps upon you.

We’re here to prove that innovative tech startups can happen wherever the founders want to live.

Big Fish in a Small Pond

In a large city, you may be one of hundreds of startups.

Here, you’ll get the help and attention you and your company deserve and need to be successful early on.

Cost of Living

When a mortgage and office space cost a few hundred bucks, your runway gets quite a bit longer so you can have time to grow your company.

Now you can get off the just-ramen diet. Enjoy more beer and BBQ.

Less Distraction

Startups are hard. You have to do a lot and work long hours. It just makes sense to remove the shiny objects.

Don't Just Take Our Word For It

“Codefi has been absolutely instrumental in Venku seeing a future, developing a product roadmap, and helping to prioritize us with what our tech needs are today, tomorrow, and helping us plan for the future. As non-technical founders, tech development has definitely been an uphill climb for us. Every step of the way, we’ve learned things that we need, who can fill in the gaps for us, and Codefi has been a one stop shop for us.”

- Murielle Gaither
Founder, Venku
From St. Louis to Cape Girardeau

“Bootstrapping the business like we did, where we spent two years without taking any cash at all would not have been possible in Los Angeles. So we would have been forced to fail or succeed extremely quickly. We’re really excited about immersing ourselves in the tech community further. More than that, showing the community that an innovative tech startup can happen here in Cape Girardeau. And as people see that, we’re really excited to have more and more people like us free themselves from the distractions and the chaos that a big city provides.”

- Sho Rust
Founder, Sho.ai
From L.A. to Cape Girardeau

“It’s wonderful. I was so surprised when we came here how the community is friendly. The community is not like an accelerator program … This program is designed to help you to really become successful. Because it’s not about the shares in your company, they are willing to make everything possible to make you a successful business based here to grow the community and give back. When you come here you can get the support built by not their financial value but by great people who want to make this city great.”

- Dmitry Norenko
Founder, UpSwot
From Ukraine to Cape Girardeau

The 1ST50K Difference

Not all accelerators are created equal.

$50,000 award

  • Keep your equity. That’s right. This is a non-dilutive award. It’s not a loan. It’s not a SAFE. We understand your first investment as a founder is typically the hardest to find and most expensive to take. We work to be as founder-friendly as possible.
  • 1ST50K, not ONLY50K. We understand you may need more than $50,000 depending on where you are in the startup lifecycle. So, we’re happy to be a part of a raise or can connect you with investors in our network.


  • Work on your business, not your slide deck. While we’re all well-versed in lean and customer development methodologies, we understand every startup is at a different phase when they enter the program. Whether you are still conceptual or generating revenue, we’re not going to shove everyone down the same curriculum path. And we won’t parade you around to show you off. We’ll meet you where you are, help you set metrics that define your success, and then get our hands dirty to help you achieve them.

Join a thriving
startup ecosystem

  • Talent development is hard. That’s why we’ve built a model that works on each side of the model - supply and demand. We have multiple programs that will help you continue to learn, connect you with and train the talent you need, and make sure you have support and resources at each phase of your growth.
  • Not me, we. We search for startups and founders who have similar values. That means helping each other succeed. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to get and give help to those who are on similar paths.

Ready to Launch Your Startup?

We look forward to getting our hands dirty and helping you towards success.

Program Dates and Locations

Cape Girardeau, Missouri

  • August 31 and September 30, 2023
    • Rolling early deadlines for feedback on application
  • October 31, 2023
    • Final deadline to submit application
  • Early November, 2023
    • Internal evaluations and phone interviews
  • November 30 - December 1, 2023
    • Mock pitches and Pitch Day
  • January 1, 2024
    • Program begins


1ST50K is looking for innovative technologies, products, or services, driven by scalable business models with regional, national or international impact. We seek to attract entrepreneurs who are already located in southeast Missouri OR are willing to relocate here. Basing your business in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, is a prerequisite for receiving a grant. Our network of entrepreneurs, partners and business leaders are investing their time and resources in making our startup scene even stronger. 1ST50K Startup Competition is an industry-agnostic competition. Our focus is on supporting businesses that are innovative and scalable, regardless of the industry.

Teams submit an application to the 1ST50K f6s page. Applications must be completed fully and teams must agree to locate to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, for at least one year if selected as a grant recipient to be eligible. Eligible applications are entered into a round where the initial reviewing is completed by three to five of our judges. The pool is narrowed for Zoom video call interviews and from there down to a group that is selected by our competition committee to be invited to Pitch Day in late July. The committee bases their decisions on the innovation of the product, technology, or service; product-market fit; the scalability of the business model; the total impact; qualities and coach ability of the team; well-understood and defined problem; and 1ST50K impact. The pitches are slide deck presentations to a group of 10-15 individuals, closed to the public. Each applicant will have 30 minutes in total – 10 minute pitch and 20 minutes of Q&A.; The committee deliberates, completes their due diligence, and awardees are typically announced within two weeks. Applicants not selected as awardees from one round may use the feedback they have received to reapply for the next.

No equity stake is taken in the companies receiving our grants. Recipients may have the opportunity for additional or follow-on investments through one of our partners or other strategic investors that provide debt and equity funding options.

1ST50K Recipients have four primary obligations to which they must agree in order to receive the business development services and grant:
  • Locate or relocate the business, with significant operations or headquarters, to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, for at least one year, beginning at date expressed in the program agreement. This is generally September 1st, but we are flexible with teams and coordinate a start date that works best.
  • Commit at least one full-time founder to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, for the year-long incubation.
  • Provide 1ST50K with data regarding jobs created, revenue generated, and follow-on capital attracted. We collect this information quarterly as long as the business is in operation, regardless if it remains in Southeast Missouri.
  • Dedicate one day (approximately 10 hours) of service to 1ST50K per quarter, during the year-long incubation, in advancement of the 1ST50K mission.

Applications are accepted from July through October. There are early deadlines for applicants to receive feedback before it goes to the competition committee. Early November, we complete internal reviews and phone interviews to make invitations to Pitch Day. Mock Pitch Day is November 30th and Pitch Day is December 1st. The program begins January 1st.

The competition committee is made up of hand-selected entrepreneurs, high-level executives, and investors from our region.

The number of finalists in the past has been from 5-12, depending on the quality of the pool. Three awards will be granted.

All completed submissions receive notification of their outcome and feedback. Those chosen to proceed to the next step receive specific instructions for that next step via email provided in the application.

A Pitch Day is when finalists in the 1ST50K Startup Competition are invited to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, to pitch their business for final consideration. During these days, finalists have the opportunity to meet with our esteemed group of venture capital and angel investment professionals on the competition committee, and network with previous 1ST50K winners.

Yes, in-person representation by at least one member of the founding team is required in order to be considered for a grant. 1ST50K requires applicants to visit Cape Girardeau, Missouri, for Pitch Day to meet our competition committee, other candidates, and get to know the area.

No, this component is not open to the public. Your audience may be comprised of judges, 1ST50K competition committee, and limited individuals present at the request of 1ST50K. You may invite additional team members to your specific session but you are not allowed to observe other startups’ sessions.

1ST50K limits access to applicants’ submitted information to its staff, due diligence team, judges, and competition committee. In addition, reasonable steps are taken to limit access to these documents. The judges and competition of 1ST50K Startup Competition are seasoned professionals accustomed to dealing with confidential materials on a regular basis. However, there is no confidentiality obligation by any recipient of the documents submitted for the competition for information contained therein. We ask that you not share in your application any information you feel to be highly confidential in nature.

For-profit startups from every industry are invited to apply. Particular attention is given to 1ST50K Impact - which is how beneficial the program and locating here would be to you. We also consider the scalability (growth) of the ventures,. Startups should demonstrate a plan to reach regional, national or international impact. Additionally, we like to see some progress against the concept (e.g.; a prototype, minimum viable product, customer discovery, etc.).

We do not place a limit on the length of time your startup has operated or how much outside funding you have received prior to applying. We define a startup as an organized effort to validate a sustainable business model. We award non-equity startup grants to businesses still in their early stages where the business development and support services, and grants of $50,000 make a significant impact.

1ST50K does not have specific tracks, markets, or industries we focus on. We anticipate supporting companies represented in Information Technology, Hardware Technology, Consumer Products, Manufacturing, Fashion, Retail Innovations, Medical Devices, Bio-Technology, Ag-Tech, Clean-Tech, and Social Ventures.

The Committee bases their decisions on the innovation of the product, technology, or service; product-market fit; the scalability of the business model; the total impact; qualities and coach ability of the team; well-understood and defined problem; and 1ST50K impact.

There needs to be at least one founder able and willing to work full-time on the startup in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, for one year. Weekly office hours are mandatory at the beginning of the program. There is no limit on team size, though winning teams of any size will receive $50,000.

No, 1ST50K will not consider applications submitted by nonprofits, although social ventures with double bottom lines are encouraged to apply.

All recipients must be at least 18 years of age.

No. Whether you are from Missouri, or another state in the U.S., you are eligible to apply to the 1ST50K Startup Competition. However, all recipients must locate their business in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, for a period of at least one year.

We are not currently accepting applications for non-US citizens.

Yes. If you are selected as a 1ST50K recipient, you are provided a reasonable amount of time to relocate to Cape Girardeau.

Although we would like to avoid this, we may fund companies that compete in some capacity. In this inevitability, we support each company equally.


Submissions must be your original idea or you must have written consent to submit an idea originally generated by another person. This must be disclosed in the application.

Yes, applicants are required to disclose all sources of funding already received and/or committed, when asked.

Only immediate family members (spouse, child, parent, sibling) of the competition committee and organizers are ineligible to apply for to the 1ST50K Startup Competition.

The $50,000 grant is distributed monthly throughout a year-long program. Awardees are required to provide basic reporting information to 1ST50K at least bi-annually, so long as the business is in operation. This information helps us track how our businesses do in the long run. We do not ask for proprietary information or trade secrets.

We work with each startup individually to define specific metrics that measure their success based on the phase of the startup cycle they are currently in.

1ST50K does not want to be the sole source of funding and works hard to connect entrepreneurs with a strong network of investors, venture capital firms, private investors, and lenders in our region. $50,000 can only go so far. If you are at a fundraising stage, we will connect you through personal introductions, networking events, and programs.

In addition to monetary awards, 1ST50K recipients receive:
  • Free office space at Codefi.
  • Significantly discounted technical services.
  • Access to venture capital and angel investment networks.
  • Internship programs with local university partnerships.
  • Professional and high-level business coaching and mentorship.
  • Personal introductions to strategic business leaders.
  • Social support and community integration services.
  • Inclusion as a part of a community of innovative entrepreneurs.

To ensure the funds are used for their intended purpose, we require you to sign a Program Agreement before formally becoming a 1ST50K recipient.

Not all startup companies succeed; we understand that. If your company fails during the year-long incubation period, you will forfeit any additional funds, but will not be required to “pay back” previously disbursed funds unless the Program Agreement has been breached. Simply failing does not constitute a breach of the Program Agreement. If your business does fail, you, as an entrepreneur, will be encouraged and supported to remain in Cape Girardeau to start a new venture, or to join an existing startup. Failure happens, and we believe that it is not something to turn away from.

Take Your Startup to the Next Level!

Win $50,000 and immerse yourself in a community working to help build your success.