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Entrepreneurship program gives students practical experience

The Bridge grows into successful student-run business

Published May 4, 2017
Story and photos by Sarah Sabatke

Blaine Thomas and Drew Rogers in front of The Bridge

Blaine Thomas and Drew Rogers, both sophomores, pose for a portrait outside of The Bridge in the MU Student Center in Columbia, Missouri, on Thursday, April 20, 2017. The two will continue to run The Bridge during the 2017-2018 academic year.

The Missouri Method, a process built on learning-by-doing, is practiced across the University of Missouri campus. Sophomores Blaine Thomas, a finance and economics major from St. Louis, and Drew Rogers, a strategic communication major also from St. Louis, have taken full advantage of these opportunities by proposing and creating their own business.

The two have been friends since childhood. As seniors in high school, Thomas and Rogers were a part of “Spark!,” an entrepreneurial program in their district. They learned stages of idea implementation, networked with professionals and had their business ideas mentored by local CEOs and business owners.

Blaine Thomas in The Bridge

AstronoBEAds is one of the many products sold at The Bridge. The space-themed line of jewelry is made by MU student Bea Doheny. April 20, 2017, in Columbia, Missouri.

When they arrived at MU the two ran a start-up media company called Outbreak Adventures, but they struggled to find entrepreneurial opportunities on campus.

“Most of the clubs and opportunities the school provided either lacked legitimacy or were inaccessible to an average student,” said Rogers. By that, Rogers said he meant that the "[programs] that are great are hard to access for beginning-stage entrepreneurs."

The MU sophomores applied to the Missouri Student Unions Entrepreneurial Program and were accepted. Now they run The Bridge, a student-run shop housed in the MU Student Center.

Mizzou Made

Support local board

The Bridge sells products made by local artists and entrepreneurs, including MU students. The products are given a trial run to see how well they do business and if they will continue to be carried in the store. April 20, 2017, in Columbia, Missouri.

The Bridge sells clothing, art, jewelry and other products contributed by almost 30 unique partners. 

A team of 20 interns manages the store on a daily basis, with smaller teams in charge of marketing, finance and other specialties. Seventy percent of all profits go back to the original creator while the remaining 30 percent goes to The Bridge, says Rogers. 

The store is “100 percent Mizzou made,” says Rogers. “We invite current students and alumni with ideas, products and tangible goods they've created to partner with us.”

Rogers says revenue for The Bridge has been “incredible.”

“Within 20 days of being open, the store brought in over $10,000 in sales alone,” he said.

Applied Learning

The Missouri Student Unions Entrepreneurial Program launched in 2010 and has supported 11 student businesses since its inception.

“The goal is to create an inclusive learning environment that supports students as they integrate classroom theory with hands-on application,” said Michelle Froese, assistant director for marketing and strategic communication.

Approved businesses are housed for one year in one of the “white box” spaces in the MU Student Center with rent and utilities included. US Bank co-sponsors the program, providing $2,000 in start-up funds for selected student businesses each year.

"We're thankful Mizzou has given us this hands-on opportunity," said Blaine Thomas. "I'm excited to keep serving this community."

Rogers said the preparation process took about six months from paper to physical store. The students were responsible for writing a 20-page business plan, finding partners, forming a team and pitching the idea the Missouri Student Unions before their business was selected for the entrepreneurial program.

For his work, Rogers received the Student Entrepreneur of the Year award in March 2017 from University of Missouri System Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs Bob Schwartz. The award recognizes students "who have demonstrated innovativeness, originality and entrepreneurial spirit in the development of processes, products or technologies of commercial potential and/or of benefit to the University of Missouri," according to the UM System website

The Unions program is also supporting Roots, a social business, during the 2016-17 academic year. Roots sells various art pieces created by students in MU's art department.

Students interested in being a part of the Missouri Student Unions Entrepreneurial Program can view eligibility criteria and information about the application process online.

Published by the Division of Student Affairs, 211 Jesse Hall, Columbia, MO 65211 | Phone: 573-882-6776 | Fax: 573-882-0158 | E-mail: StudentAffairs@missouri.edu

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Last updated: Aug. 7, 2017