6 underrepresented entrepreneurs receive help to start their business

Winners participate in an eight-week course and receive a $50,000 grant.

S T. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — St. Louisan Cami Thomas is often behind the camera.

But now your business is in the spotlight.

Thomas’ business is one of six startups recently selected for the UMSL Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Accelerator cohort.

The other winners are B Juiced, FYSIQ, JAKAPA, Mr. Fresh and Posie Pots.

“I’m the founder and director of My Friends and I, which is a production company based in St. Louis,” Thomas said. “My Friends and I is the only Black woman-owned production house here in St. Louis. We do commercial, film, documentary work here in St. Louis, and we serve clients outside of St. Louis.”

Founding CEO Dan Lauer heard that a program like this was lacking.

“No one is doing this as a university. The number of applicants and the quality of the applicants showed that we have a lot of talent here. It’s that first check, that first breakthrough that’s so difficult that we’re facilitating,” Lauer explained.

The objective was to find six underrepresented entrepreneurs.

Each owner goes through a rigorous culling process, including a toss competition.

Winners then participate in an eight-week course and receive a $50,000 grant.

The course offers paid interns, goal sessions, accountability coaches, faculty assistance, and investor connections.

In the first year of the program, it received 437 applications in the midst of a pandemic.

Now in its third year, it continues to be successful with 200 applications.

Lauer believes there are fewer applications this year due to stiff competition.

While the quantity has gone down, the quality has not.

“We want the best, whether it’s technology or retail, we have a wide variety,” Lauer said.

Thomas believes this opportunity will propel his company into its next role.

“Going to the next level to get from where we are right now to where we want to be, which is a medium production powerhouse here. When we bring people in, we recruit them, it causes a ripple effect here in St. Louis,” Tomas said.

Thomas was born and raised in St. Louis.

This opportunity only motivates her to do more.

“I feel very attached to this community and it’s important to me to build something here and employ people who are from here,” she added.

As for future applicants, Lauer said, act now.

“Work on your business. Every year we’ll do this, so plan now,” he said.

“A lot of people don’t work in finance. If you can’t describe it, why would we invest if you don’t have that figured out?” Lauer explained.

On April 6, the six businessmen will present their progress in a demonstration session.

Customers and investors can come out to show their support.

Lead sponsors include Ameren, Edward Jones, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, and private donors to make it all happen.

The Anheuser-Busch Foundation also stepped in this year, pledging $100,000 to fund a sixth-place finish.

All of them have exceeded revenue goals, opened new locations, and expanded their presence nationwide.

Over 800 entrepreneurs have applied to the DEI Accelerator since it began.

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