Kickstarting bright ideas

Entrepreneur Quest recently awarded a $30,000 prize pool to three student ventures. Since 2018, the program has supplied more than $175,000 in funding to help students translate their ideas into scalable businesses.

Dec. 5, 2023
Contact: Deidra Ashley,

A University of Missouri student’s venture that involved repurposing Lego-style blocks for customizable building sets captured the top spot at this year’s Entrepreneur Quest (EQ) final pitch competition.

The 2023 winners were:

  • First place: Parker’s Brick Builds founded by Parker Owens, a third-year law student from Noel, Missouri.
  • Second place: The Breast Formula founded by Lauren Compton, a nursing doctoral candidate from Kansas City, Missouri.
  • Third place: Hi, Period founded Jia Wu, a textile and apparel management doctoral candidate from Qingdao, China.

The top-10 teams accepted into the semester-long program learned firsthand the teamwork, daily grind and persistence required to launch a new business. On Nov. 28, they participated in a final pitch competition, with three promising ventures taking home seed funding from a $30,000 prize pool.

“The purpose of EQ is to provide a launch pad for our student entrepreneurs so they can go off and do bigger and better things,” said Greg Bier, executive director of entrepreneurship programs based at the Griggs Innovators Nexus in the MU Student Center. “When I went through the applications, I was really impressed with the strength and diversity of ideas represented."

Undergraduate and graduate students from seven colleges and schools in EQ’s 2023 cohort attended workshops, conducted market research, networked and received coaching from business and legal experts. They pitched businesses offering a wide range of products, including a smart irrigation device, a cash-based chess skills app, a group travel service and mixed reality hockey training.

The top-three ventures will receive a lump sum investment along with the opportunity to win additional funding (called an earnout) if they achieve jointly agreed upon milestones. Bier said allocating the funding this way more closely mirrors how venture capital firms invest in early-stage companies. Now in its fifth year, EQ has an impressive track record of successful graduates.

First place: Parker’s Brick Builds, founded by Parker Owens

EQ investment:  $15,000

Entrepreneurs are often resourceful, self-disciplined and creative – characteristics that serve Parker Owens well as a business owner, law student, president of MU’s Graduate Professional Council, part-time law firm employee and father of a 14-month-old boy.

Owens uses Lego-style blocks to create customized build kits for retailers and individuals, especially in rural areas. In 2024, he projects that more than 200 stores across the U.S. will offer his kits. His designs include a grand piano, catapult, lawn tractor and even a dumpster fire as well as the Mizzou Columns and branded kits for individual companies.

“A lot of the funding is going to help me prep for a full retail rollout now that I can actually buy inventory to put on my own website instead of just getting paid by stores and then fulfilling their orders,” Owens said. “EQ has been one of the coolest experiences, not only because I’m able to get funding for my own business, but because of the many cool people who have helped me along the way.”

Second place: The Breast Formula, founded by Lauren Compton

EQ investment:  $10,000

Lauren Compton is launching a business that will offer a freeze-dried breast milk service for moms who want the ease of formula, but the nutritional and immunological benefits of breast milk. Initially she plans to offer the drop-off service in Kansas City and hopes to franchise her business for customers in other communities.

The mother of a nine-month-old daughter and a nurse practitioner, Compton will graduate with her doctorate in December. She and The Breast Formula won an additional $2,000 as the audience favorite at the September elevator pitch competition that determined EQ’s finalists.

“I look forward to being an affordable, convenient resource to modernizing breastmilk so that parents can feel supported in giving their baby the best nutrition possible,” Compton said. “This program has been super supportive, pairing us with legal counsel and helping us develop pricing and evaluate customer acquisition costs. As a nurse, I had no idea how to do that.”

Third place: Hi, Period, founded by Jia Wu

EQ investment:  $5,000

Jia Wu is passionate about making life easier for people with disabilities, especially those facing challenges during menstruation. Existing period products tend to be expensive, can irritate the skin and are not always easy to access.

Before coming to Mizzou, Wu spent a decade working in the underwear industry as a design and brand manager. This background helped her develop a new adaptive period underwear made of functional fabric that is easier for people with disabilities to wear and more affordable. In fact, Wu has already filed a provisional patent to protect her innovations.

“This award means I can combine my industry experience with my research,” Wu said. “I plan to use the funding to start my business and help create a more inclusive and compassionate society.”

EQ is sponsored by the U.S. Bank Foundation, Hawthorn Bank and the employees of Veterans United Home Loans.

Story written by Laura Roloff

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