Nov. 1, 2023
Contact: Pate McCuien, 573-882-4870, McCuienp@missouri.edu
Houseplants, sneakers, custom buttons and products tailored for women are among the items available this academic year at the new student-run storefronts now open in the MU Student Center. This annual brick-and-mortar experience is provided by the Griggs Innovators Nexus, Missouri Student Unions and U.S. Bank and offers enterprising Tigers a chance to showcase their innovative products and gain mentorship. Each Tiger merchant receives $2,000 for startup costs, a credit card reader and an iPad to manage sales. This year’s businesses are:
- Buttons byTaylor
- Columbia Sneaker Exchange
- Green Society
- Iconic Society
This entrepreneurial experience is not confined to brick-and-mortar spaces alone. Two additional student businesses have been awarded incubator offices — a space that supports the development of various entrepreneurial activities that don’t need a physical retail presence. They are:
- Fisch Flips
“The funding covers many startup costs which can be a barrier to launching a business for students,” said Kelly Mattas, a senior program/project coordinator in MU’s Division of Research, Innovation & Impact. “These students provide inspiration for all Mizzou Tigers that their business vision can become a reality.”
Read on to meet the retailers.
Buttons by Taylor
Location: Room 1212B
What it is: Offering premade and custom designed buttons
Operator: Taylor McMahan, a junior finance and banking, economics, and real estate major from Sullivan, Missouri.
Whether it’s placing bulk orders for student organizations or crafting individual custom buttons for a unique gameday look, McMahan is dedicated to offering students the chance to proudly showcase what matters most to them. She also encourages customers to share their button ideas so she can help bring their vision to life.
“I envision my business doing more collaborations with other small businesses on campus as well as expanding to other universities,” McMahan said. “We have started doing Southeast Missouri State University and University of Central Missouri buttons recently, and I’m excited to keep growing.”
McMahan is also the president of the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization and has experience with the Entrepreneurial Legal Clinic and pitch competitions hosted by MU. She advises upcoming entrepreneurs to overcome their fears.
“My biggest advice to any upcoming entrepreneur is to just go for it,” McMahan said. “The worst that could happen is it doesn't work out and you learn a bunch of lessons along the way. My second piece of advice is take advantage of any opportunity or resources that you can get your hands on here at Mizzou. That could be a pitch competition or mentoring through faculty. Just go for it and see what happens.”
Columbia Sneaker Exchange
Location: Room 1206
What it is: Offering affordable and relevant sneakers, fitted hats, and other related items.
Operator: Kobe Messick, a junior secondary education ELA major from Independence, Missouri.
During his freshman year in high school, Messick’s personal interest in sneakers evolved into a business of refurbishing and reselling, giving him a reputation in the local sneaker community. Motivated by his passion, he has created a store that offers consignment, trading and buying services. With this structure, customers can trade-in or sell their old sneakers for something new or different.
“It has been a goal of mine to run one of these locations ever since I toured Mizzou and heard about them three years ago,” Messick said. “I am proud to be chosen among other highly qualified candidates.”
Messick said he’s been supported by Mizzou every step of the way and that support has been essential in opening his business. He believes that anyone looking for advice, should just go for it, noting that the rest will fly by.
“The hardest part is getting started,” Messick said. “Once you create the product, it’ll all begin to snowball from there. My biggest piece of advice is just to go get it.
Location: Room 1212A
What it is: Offering a wide selection of houseplants and plant advice for customers who want to become plant parents.
Operator: Cailey Blackmer, a sophomore plant sciences major from O'Fallon, Missouri.
Blackmer will be hand selecting the plants, sourced from a husband-and-wife business close to her hometown, to ensure that her products are plant-enthusiast approved. In addition to providing houseplants, Blackmer has stools set up next to her counter that’s open for anyone who needs advice or a plant recommendation.
“Plant parenthood quickly turned from a hobby to an entrepreneurial dream for me, and I could not be happier that the Griggs program is giving me the opportunity to share plant love with Columbia,” Blackmer said. “I hope that one day, I can have a brick-and-mortar store outside of the Student Center.”
At Blackmer’s store, customers can find plants varying in price level and expertise. She also makes her own soil mix and works to repot plants that have outgrown their current pots.
When Blackmer first visited the campus, she said she instantly fell in love with the Botanical Garden and the opportunities that would be available to her, including various degree programs. She credits Mizzou for putting her in a position to succeed.
“Being at Mizzou has helped me fulfill my dreams of entrepreneurship. This giant storefront for my business, of course, has been more than helpful,” Blackmer said. “But besides that, I'm able to pursue a plant sciences major while still getting an entrepreneurship minor. So, I'm able to get experiences in both fields, which I really appreciate.”
Location: Room 1210D
What it is: Offering unique products tailored for women
Operator: Chelsea Ruffins, a senior textile and apparel management major from St. Louis, Missouri.
Drawing from her major, she is applying her knowledge in textile and apparel management to enhance different aspects of store operations, particularly in the realms of visual merchandising and marketing. While her business originally catered to petite women, she has extended her size range to reach a wider audience and new customers.
“Apart from financial gains, I anticipate honing my leadership skills and experience personal growth while running the retail business,” Ruffins said. “I hope I can create a more connected community on campus.”
Ruffins has been running Iconic Society for over three years online but has now expanded to a retail space in the student center. She said this opportunity has helped her expand her business.
“Without this sponsorship, I wouldn’t have been able to put furniture in my retail store or expand my size range for the Mizzou community,” Ruffins said. This has really helped my company grow.”
Location: Room 1207A
What it is: Sells upcycled denim tops, bottoms and bags in addition to a curated collection of second-hand Mizzou apparel while offering an alteration service.
Operator: Clare Fischer, a senior marketing major from St. Louis, Missouri.
In 2022, Fischer operated her business from one of the Student Center's retail spaces, where she specialized in creating products from second-hand denim. This year, her primary goal is to expand her business’s online presence through platforms like Shopify, Instagram and TikTok. Fisch Flips will maintain its offline presence by continuing to host pop up shops in the Columbia area and participate in flea markets on campus.
“I hope that my venture will introduce and educate people on the benefits of sustainable fashion,” Fisher said.
Location: Room 1207B
What it is: Offering the most sought-after sneakers on the market, exclusive apparel and everyday clothing at affordable prices.
Operator: Zachary Charles, a senior general studies major from Sugar Hill, Georgia.
With the incubator office space, Charles will be managing the social media and e-commerce platforms where customers can purchase products such as Nike, Essentials and Off-White to add style to their wardrobe. In addition to his online selling platform, Charles offers a 30-day consignment policy and plans on adding a consulting service that lets potential buyers browse through upcoming styles and find items on their bucket lists.
“When you dress sharp and stylish, you feel a bit more poised and self-assured, so I hope anyone I sell to feels the same way,” Charles said. “Specifically, within the Black and Haitian American community, I want to connect with others to spread comradeship and shift the statistical narrative of minorities like me.”
Story written by Abigail Durkin