COLUMBIA — Two MU student entrepreneurs are starting an agency that will give their peers hands-on experience in their fields, potentially landing them a job or an internship.

The agency, called Relevant Youth, will be a hub for the creative and business community, inspiring collaboration between the most innovative and ambitious students at MU, said Drew Rogers, co-founder of Relevant Youth and The Bridge.

“We want to connect people who mutually want the same thing," he said, describing the agency as a "talent incubator."

The other co-founder is Blaine Thomas. The two have been working together for a long time, beginning their journey at an entrepreneurship incubator at their high school in St. Louis.

They opened their first business, The Bridge, a store in MU's Student Center, in 2016 with a $2,000 startup investment and a rent-free space from the Missouri Student Unions Entrepreneurial Program. Earning over $50,000 in revenue in their first year, Thomas and Rogers are the first student entrepreneurs ever to keep a business in the Student Center for more than a year. The Bridge will be re-opening in the fall, Rogers said.

Thomas said the idea for Relevant Youth was a direct result of running The Bridge.

"The skills that we were learning running a business were second to none," he said. "We thought, 'How can we give that same experience, that same knowledge to students at the university? What if we took a step back and let fellow students run our company and get that experience?'"

They plan to have the agency up and running at the beginning of the fall semester, providing account management, marketing, finance, media and merchandising to the partners of The Bridge.

Partners provide the merchandise in the store, which is sold on consignment. They receive 70 percent of the sales revenue from their products. Thomas said The Bridge had 20 partners in 2016 and that he would like to see that number double in the next two years.

That could be an achievable goal, as the staff of Relevant Youth — about 40 people — will be solely devoted to furthering the business interests of The Bridge. They will be divided into five teams, each with different responsibilities within the agency.

Business experience won't be the only benefit for students. Rogers and Thomas plan to showcase the talent at Relevant Youth to companies that would be interested in sponsoring the agency. By paying to become a sponsor of Relevant Youth, companies will gain access to the inner-workings of the agency and have the opportunity to observe or mentor students as they work for the partners of The Bridge.

“Companies care about the heart, companies care about the soft skills that people have as a worker," Rogers said. "(It will) not only help companies get to know students, but it will really help companies get their name out there to Mizzou and in kind of a cool way."

Thomas said he and Rogers are actively seeking out and talking to companies about possible sponsorships, but none have committed yet. While money from sponsorships and exposure to possible employers are both important to the long-term success of Relevant Youth, the agency's main focus will be the development of skills.

“Something I like about The Bridge and Relevant Youth is that we don’t have a monetary goal," Thomas said. “Our main goals are how many other entrepreneurs and students we can help and we can serve.”

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

  • Reporter, summer 2017; Copy editor, reporter, designer; Reach me at mitchellbartle@mail.missouri.edu.

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