While the world awaits an invitation to another door where it can beat the metaphorical path, Columbia’s next generation of innovators is rolling out the welcome mat. Local entrepreneurs gathered at Columbia College in April to trot out their ideas before a panel of judges for Ignition, the annual pitch competition hosted by Regional Economic Development Inc.
The big winner was EpicEd, a company that offers middle school and high school students enhanced educational experiences through competitive video gaming. University of Missouri business student Connor Hall pitched the idea and took home the $6,000 first prize.
“EpicEd educates students in valuable lifelong skills through e-sports,” says Hall. “Through our competitive gaming programs, they develop advanced gaming skills and improve communication, teamwork, self-control, critical thinking and physical fitness. Older players learn about the gaming business and the importance of developing your own personal brand.”
Hall believes he has found a way to cash in on the rising popularity of e-sports and competitive gaming tournaments. Tapping into the market of youths who yearn to be professional gamers, Hall used his experience over four years of professional Halo competition while in high school to develop his curriculum. Additional input comes from team members Dan Clay, MU’s dean of education, and Jack Jones, a personal trainer and founder of The Healthy Gamer.
EpicEd derives its revenue stream through league fees, licensing and ad proceeds, and gaming camp tuition. The company hosts three gaming camps this summer at Columbia Area Career Center.
Find Out More, 314-698-9000,

THE COMPETITORS pitched a wide range of products and services in the April contest. Here’s a look at some other ideas that mid-Missouri entrepreneurs are bringing to the marketplace.

With a system of monitors collecting traffic and environmental data in urban areas, Ulytic offers detailed data to its customers in real time. “These sensor systems serve as comprehensive ‘fitness trackers’ for cities,” says CEO Billy Martin, who took second place in the pitch contest and won $4,000.
The company manufactures small monitors to place on buildings or streetlights that count pedestrians, bicycles and vehicles that pass it. Sensors also measure surrounding environmental conditions. Ulytic’s software analyzes the data, which the company will market to small businesses, advertisers, real estate agents, urban planners, public safety officials and meteorologists.
Ulytic is pursuing partnerships with geographic information system companies and plans a revenue stream from selling the harvested data. A mobile application is also in development.
Find Out More:, 660-631-4680,

Solar Nomad
Columbia College student Adam Smith had already pocketed $3,000 in startup capital at the Fishman Entrepreneur of the Year competition for his portable solar panel tree when he entered REDI’s Ignition contest. He added $2,000 to his business’s coffers as the third-place Ignition winner.
Solar Nomad is a free-standing solar panel apparatus that Smith says homeowners may install at a fraction of the cost of commercial rooftop installations. As a supplemental source of electricity, Solar Nomad can provide a 15 percent savings on monthly utility bills, Smith says, and would pay for itself in about eight years.
Smith’s target market for Solar Nomad is young professionals who move a lot.
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The $1,000 winner of the CORE Economic Impact Most Promising High Growth Award, EssentialSpots is an interaction design company that uses Bluetooth low-energy “beacons” to connect businesses and smartphone users. Principal Keith Politte, former manager of the technology testing center at Reynolds Journalism Institute, says the beacons’ sensors and microlocation tagging add functionality to smartphone applications, giving users more than a mobile version of a website. Politte expects a revenue stream from selling subscriptions to businesses or one-time service fees to trade shows and special events. The company is currently running tests in downtown districts, arts festivals and business conferences.
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Big Info LLC
Andrew Hutson’s business, Big Info, builds smartphone applications to help researchers recruit and retain participants for studies. Big Info offers consulting, coding and marketing of the apps. Revenue comes through a subscription model sold to universities that add the cost to grant applications.
Find Out More:, 314-616-9669,

Dan Dyer, J.C. Holmes and Will Spiller have teamed up to provide digital solutions to the financial advising industry. The trio offers industry-specific technology tools such as an automated client relationship management platform and customized software for tracking contacts, sales and other metrics. EverFin’s revenue stream will come from subscriptions.
Find Out More:, 888-786-4243,

Music distributor Mark Serrano curates hip-hop music on his MixtapeMonkey website that fans won’t find on iTunes or Spotify. The website’s 2.7 million users may download or stream free mixtapes without subscriptions. “One click,” Serrano says. “No logins, no captcha codes, no waiting.” MixtapeMonkey’s artist pages offer exposure to those whose music Serrano samples. Revenue comes from ads on music pages.
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The Healthy Gamer
A self-described former World of Warcraft addict, certified personal trainer Jack Jones is determined to change 1 billion lives in 30 years by helping video game players live healthier lifestyles. His website, The Healthy Gamer, offers motivational and instructional content, e-books and fitness products. Revenue comes from website advertising, product sales and YouTube subscriptions.
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One for All Adult Day Care
Diane Loepke and Ali Abbott provide a community-based, socially structured group program for functionally impaired adults. The service in Jefferson City offers individual and group activities in a creative environment. The company charges fees for attendance.
Find Out More:, 573-635-4501,

Phase 2 Fitness
Using technology developed through the University of Missouri’s Biodesign and Innovation Program, Adam Rau’s company has developed a dual-pole weight machine he says will revolutionize the fitness industry. “Our product is built around the need for a user to safely and effectively perform eccentric exercises without the help of a trainer,” says Rau. “Our machine allows the user to select different weight amounts for the concentric (up) and eccentric (down) portion of an exercise.”
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Pick Champ
Matt Fischer’s Pick Champ is a social gaming platform that allows participants to challenge friends, families and people around the world to predict events. Available on a free mobile application, contests range from sports to entertainment to election returns. Pick Champ’s revenue stream comes from contest sponsorships and partnerships.
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Shock Box
Austin White and Benjamin Kessler, students at the State Technical College of Missouri in Linn, have developed a next-generation cellphone protective case that focuses on screen protection. The duo says the case is fire- and shock-resistant; the clear cover provides convenience. White and Kessler’s marketing plan is to sell the Shock Box in retail outlets.
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NEVER TOO YOUNG to be bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, these mid-Missouri teens have turned their passions into innovative business ideas.

Freight Care
Kingdom Christian Academy freshman Hunter Middleton took inspiration from his grandfather’s stories of his truck-driving days and came up with Freight Care, a referral service for over-the-road truckers in need of health care when away from home. The program helps truckers find nearby hospitals or doctors’ offices, makes appointments and provides routing. The revenue stream comes through referrals from physicians. The 15-year-old won first place in the high school category and $500.
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The Elementals
Macon High School students Maddie Hasten and JoAnn Schwieter head a student team that invests in people by raising funds and marketing students’ ideas. Their first project helped classmate Dominic Bergfield, a quadriplegic, acquire adaptive technology he used to publish his first book, Earth. The Elementals won the pitch competition’s $1,000 People’s Choice Award and garnered another $250 as the second-place winner in the high school category.

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