Konnar Jones watches his 3D printer on Saturday at Parkade Plaza. Jones was the receiver of the 2019 Young Entrepreneur Award

Konnar Jones watches his 3D printer Saturday at Parkade Plaza. Jones was a receiver of the 2019 Young Entrepreneur Award, for his business Nerd King 3D Printing. Jones got into 3D printing when MU students visited his school with one. Jones is now 15 and makes prototypes. Jones said that one of the more interesting commissions he has made was a prototype device to keep squirrels off of power lines.

Women and minority business owners got a chance to celebrate their work and bring more exposure to their products during an expo Saturday at the Plaza Event Center.

Businesses offering everything from a line of Christian athletic apparel to hair extensions were on hand for the second annual Minority and Women Owned Contractor and Business Expo.

Autumn Newby laughs with a visitor

Autumn Newby laughs with a visitor on Saturday downtown. Newby is the owner of Unnaturally Domestic, an all natural soap company. She got started after her own ezcema flared up and she had to get rid of all of her old soaps.

James Whitt, director of the Supplier Diversity Program for the city of Columbia, said the approximately 70 exhibitors marked a three-fold increase from the number of businesses in attendance last year.

Yessnia Austin is the winner of the 2019 Young Entrepreneur Award

Yessnia Austin is a winner of the 2019 Young Entrepreneur Award for her business Creations by Yessnia. Austin said she hopes to eventually open a performing arts center for underprivileged kids. “I never had the money or chance or lessons,” said Austin.

Whitt, one of the primary organizers of the event, said it serves as an opportunity for the community to get to know businesses owned by women and minorities, as well as a chance for those business owners to network with each other.

He said the organizers plan to gather information about the longer-term results of the event this year by sending out a survey.

Several entrepreneurs at the expo said they hope the event gives new businesses a boost and helps existing ones reach a new level.

Cheryl Cheadle said she and her business partner founded Unique by Design, a company specializing in sterling-silver jewelry, 17 years ago because they didn’t like wearing the accessories available at typical department stores.

Cheadle said they want to expand the business so it can eventually become their main focus after retirement. For now, she and her partner have full-time jobs in addition to running Unique by Design.

Naia and Armoni Owens, 8, play connect four

Naia and Armoni Owens, 8, play Connect Four on Saturday at Parkade Plaza. The game was set up at the Connection Exchange table. The owner of Connection Exchange, Jennifer Schenck, won the 2019 Woman Owned Business Award.

Marissa Whitley Tago talks with a visitor at her booth

Marissa Whitley Tago talks with a visitor at her booth Saturday at Parkade Plaza. Whitley Tago is the owner of the Whitley Company, and is an interior designer. “It was work I had always done for free,” said Whitley Tago. “If I could possibly make a living helping other people it was a win-win for me.”

Susan Hart, an owner of Huebert Builders, was the featured speaker at the event. She said it’s important for events like the expo to celebrate minorities and women who lead businesses.

During the program, several awards were given out to business owners. Marissa Whitley Tago, winner of the emerging business award and owner of The Whitley Co., said the supportive environment in Columbia helped her get her interior design business off the ground two and a half years ago.

“Columbia has an amazing community of entrepreneurs,” she said. “I never felt discouraged.”

Supervising editor is Tom Coulter.

  • Education reporter, fall 2019 Studying investigative journalism Reach me at mariabenevento@mail.missouri.edu or in the newsroom at 882-5700.

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