The Good, Bad and Ugly of Entrepreneurship in CoMO

by Matt Fischer

I’ve been an entrepreneur for 18 months here in Columbia, MO now.  I’ve experienced a lot starting a business here and wanted to share my thoughts on Columbia’s startup community.  I’m going to make it simply and break it down by good, bad and ugly.


There’s a lot of good here in Columbia to help your startup.  We have tremendous support from REDI, our local economic developer and the Small Business Technology & Development Center.  REDI has created a coworking space for entrepreneurs downtown next to their office which also houses SBTDC counselors Collin Bunch and Virginia Wilson, who are always available for us to just pop-in and seek assistance.  The staff at REDI goes out of their way to help you make connections through events and introductions that can be very beneficial.  I can say with certainty that the people at the corner of 500 E. Walnut are 100% behind entrepreneurs.

Columbia College is very active in the entrepreneurial community.  I’d even say outside of Kansas City, it has a bigger impact on entrepreneurship in Missouri than any other entity.  They host events, have the Fishman Center for Entrepreneurship and a new major to give options to explore your entreprenurial spirit.

Sean Siebert, a professor at Columbia College, is leading a movement to expose students to entrepreneurship at a young age.  He hosts the #BOOM events that offer the opportunity to pitch your ideas and hear from other entrepreneurs, business leaders and experts each year.

Museao hosts speakers and events on a regular basis that are free and open to the public.  You can often find an expert speaking and ask questions that might cost you hundreds, if not thousands of dollar, if hired as a consultant.

One of the best parts of the Columbia startup community is having other entrepreneurs that are “all in” like I am trying to build their business.  They’re not people doing it as a hobby, playing entrepreneur on nights or weekends.  They’re living it everyday.  There are several I deal with on a regular basis who are willing to help consult or just listen like Caroline Leemis of Caroline Leemis Design and Matt Murrie and Andrew McHugh of The What If Conference.  It’s a tremendous benefit to have other people going through similar situations and being able to talk to them about them.

We’ve also got people who’ve had long term success here in Columbia that stop by the incubator or attend different events and reach out to help those of us getting started.  It’s great to have their support and pick their brain on different issues.  We have a solid group with a wide range of skills and experiences to pull from in the local startup community.

Startups are getting attention here.  Silicon Prairie News, Columbia Tribune, Columbia Business Times, KOMU 8 are some of the media outlets that have profiled local startups and events that are boosting the profile of burgeoning businesses here.

The other good thing are there are tremendous success stories from companies that started right here in Columbia.  That’s all encouraging to know others who’ve come behind you have been able to build a business here.


Columbia is a very disjointed startup community.  Before I joined the REDI Downtown Incubator, I didn’t know much about the startup scene in Columbia, nor could I name more than a handful of startups here.  After joining the incubator, I’ve learned of many but there are still dozens out there, I’ve never heard of for one reason or another.  Some are still being built in a basement or garage around town.  It’d be great to get more people involved.

We need a startup czar to unite the different things going on here.  A central hub where people can find information on other local startups, events and assistance available.  It’d be great to have an accelerator here that could propel businesses that get early traction grow in Columbia.  I’ve had the opportunity to leave Columbia but have always wanted to stay here.

I’ve often felt my startup doesn’t fit in Columbia because it’s not bio-tech related.  Columbia has become a hub for bio-tech startups.  The local investors seem so much more interested in them that I feel I need to relocate if I’m going to be able to grow my startup into a self-sustaining company that will be able to employ people.  I own a home here and want to be part of the Columbia community.  I’m often torn on leaving though in pursuit of making SportsFormulator a success.


The ugly is simply the haters here.  I’ve experienced it first hand in people not liking aspects of my business, nor my speaking out on what I think needs improvement here in the startup scene. Many of us encounter local cowards who’ll want to try to sit behind their computer and disrespect us.

There are too many wanna-be entrepreneurs here that are active in the startup community.  Too many people who are all talk and no action.  I can’t tell you how many people who say they’re going to do something and switch from one idea to another every couple of weeks and never take anything to market.  There are a lot of hangers on in the startup community.  They lack the ambition and fearlessness, those of us who are living and breathing our startup have.

There are a lot of people who try to take advantage of local startups also.  I’ve talked to several other startup founders who’ve shared stories of people trying to overcharge them, not follow through on their service when hired and ruthless sales people.  This is something we’ll run into probably in each stage of our business but it’s harder to deal with when you have all the other pressures of getting a business simply up off the ground.

Columbia is a great town.  I like living here.  Building a business is a challenge though.  We have yet to harness all the tremendous resources we have available here that will make us a place where many types of businesses will start and grow.  We’ve got to focus on building businesses that will create employment opportunities and bring new money to town.  We must work together, get more people engaged and continue to educate people on what entrepreneurs need to be successful here so we can go from a town that simply wants to create startups to one that builds businesses.

Read more of my articles on entrepreneurship and startup life.