Seven startup companies from around the world will be traveling to Cape Girardeau this week, competing for a $50,000 grant in the local startup competition, 1ST50K. To date, the competition has received applications representing 39 countries and 31 states across the U.S. as it enters the fourth Pitch Day since launching in early 2015.
Surprisingly, four of the seven teams are located within an hour of Cape Girardeau. “We started this competition as a way to attract, develop, and retain innovative startups and talented entrepreneurs to Cape Girardeau,” said Dr. James Stapleton, 1ST50K Executive Director and recent appointee of Missouri Governor Eric Greitens’ Innovation Task Force. “We were excited to see even one local team at previous Pitch Days. Having four make it this far into the competition this round is incredible. It just proves that you don’t have to go to the coasts or away from the Midwest to find quality ideas and talent.”
Startups go through a series of qualitative and quantitative judging before being invited to Pitch Day. There is an initial application review, an eligibility phone interview, and then the field is narrowed down by the judging committee before a select few are invited to Pitch Day in front of the competition committee. The committee is comprised of local experienced investors and entrepreneurs.
Traction from past 1ST50K awardees is starting to make an impact, as well. Round 3 awardee Ann Butler, with Edible Education, came into the competition having only sold a handful of her patent-pending mobile carts that help kids get hands-on with learning about foods and how to cook healthy meals. As of today, the company is in 21 states. Stephen Myers of Impress Software, a Round 2 awardee, spent 2016 testing technological feasibility around analyzing software developers’ past code to determine actual day-to-day productivity and skill. Now that the team has validated that the technology is possible, they are in a fundraising campaign to commercialize and expand the product. They have also been invited as an applicant to the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Innovation Research program, where they would have the chance to develop new innovative technologies around machine learning, pattern recognition, and education that give developers individualized paths to improving their code quality.
“It takes a lot of much needed resources to support these startups,” said Chris Carnell, co-director of the competition. “We’ve tracked past finalists that did not receive awards and have found that only a handful are still operating, while only one has made any real progress. It goes to show how critical access to startup funds really is.”
Pitch Day is scheduled for Friday, July 28, where teams will have 10 minutes to pitch their startup, followed by 20 minutes of Q&A with the competition committee. The committee completes their own due diligence before recommending awardees to the board of Traverse Ventures, who makes the final selections. Winners sign a program agreement where they are required to locate their operations in Cape Girardeau for at least a year. “Our goal is to attract innovative teams and talented entrepreneurs to Cape, or give local companies a reason to stay with what the 1ST50K program has to offer them,” said Stapleton. “We as a community then have to work together to give them a reason to stick around.” Pitch Day is a private event, but the public will get a chance to learn more about the startups that will be looking to call Cape home for their company.
The community is invited to meet the startups showcasing their products during the reception of the second annual Marquette TechFest. The event is from 6-8:30 pm Thursday, July 27, at the historic Marquette Tower. More information and ticket purchases can be found at www.marquettetech.com/techfest
The finalists include: