Many businesses in Columbia started when entrepreneurs had had an idea for a need that wasn’t being met. That was the case with Veterans United and EquipmentShare, two companies that use web-based applications to run a nationwide business.

When it comes to starting a business, there’s a phrase that many entrepreneurs hear repeatedly: “Location, location, location.”

When looking for a site to start a new business, entrepreneurs often consider factors such as affordability, a talent pool and where they can get the most support for their business ventures.

Recognizing that start-up companies are a big source of new jobs, The Missouri Innovation Center supports fledgling companies in the Columbia area. According to the center’s website, the organization provides mentorship, financial support and resources to high-growth ventures that “improve human life and sustainability.”

“I think we’re a mystery and a secret to a lot of folks,” says Missouri Innovation Center Vice President Quinten Messbarger, “I would argue, unfortunately, we’re definitely a hidden gem that folks don’t know about.”

The Missouri Innovation Center was founded in 1984 as a technology transfer resource for MU. It’s been recognized that universities are a major driver of economic growth.

“It was to help get these amazing inventions and discoveries turned into products and out in the marketplace where they can help people as opposed to just a published research paper,” Messbarger said.

Since the Missouri Innovation Center was founded, he said the goal has shifted to helping entrepreneurs navigate obstacles to get their products to the market.

“Our job has always kind of focused on helping knock down those barriers and make it easier for startups to be successful,” Messbarger said. “Through the last 30-some years, that’s looked a lot different year after year because the problems and the obstacles change.”

As part of its support network, the organization operates two incubators housed in one building — one for companies in life science and one for businesses in technology. The incubators include lab space, offices and conference rooms for its resident startup companies.

In the fiscal year that ended in June 2020, 23 companies operated out of the incubator space.

In addition, the Missouri Innovation Center supported 27 other startup companies that do not work in the building. According to Messbarger, the companies the organizations support all start in Missouri.

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