From Startup Weekend to Silicon Valley

Feb 09, 2015  | 

Smack-dab between Kansas City and St. Louis, the city of Columbia has once again reminded Missouri and the world that we’re much more than just another “flyover” or a “drive-through” town. In fact, we are as impactful as any large city when it comes to culture, education, entertainment — and especially new business. 

The latest startup to hit the radar,, not only won Startup Weekend Columbia 2014, but as of today we're excited to break the news that they have been invited to join and are currently working from one of the most prestigious business accelerators in the world Y Combinator in Silicon Valley. 

Startup Weekend in Summary

For those unfamiliar with Startup Weekend, it is an annual event hosted by some of the most forward thinking communities across the country. Columbia, Missouri, hosts one of the most highly regarded Startup Weekend events in the U.S. — not only due to the amazing ideas constantly being churned out, but also due to a robust community of helpful and proactive entrepreneurs (led by CEO Brent Beshore).

Every year, Startup Weekend Columbia kicks off around the first week of October. Beginning at 6 p.m. on Friday, rookie and veteran entrepreneurs alike take turns presenting their business ideas (in 60-second pitches) to an audience of roughly 150 web designers, developers, graphic designers, marketers, business mentors, investors and of course, judges. All entrepreneurs who pitch must be prepared; they must explain their vision in an inspiring, articulate and persuasive manner to draw a team to help execute their business idea.

Soon after the pitches wrap up (typically there are about 45), the audience disperses and audience members determine the idea they’d like to work on. Web developers, marketing specialists and other audience participants approach the aspiring entrepreneurs they are most interested in working with, teams are formed and the weekend begins, initiating a 54-hour frenzy that would rival Shark Week footage.

The host venue, the Museao building, quickly transforms into makeshift living and office quarters for the weekend as teams scramble to set up shop and get to work. Two sleepless nights later, the Sunday deadline bell sounds. Finalists pitch the business they developed over the weekend, judges ask questions and the top three businesses receive cash and B2B service prizes.

For 54 hours, intellectually charged and highly motivated people from all walks of life give up everything and work for free to turn a business idea into reality. And from personal experience, it’s more fun than you can possibly imagine.

Silicon Valley Startups with Mid-Missouri Mojo

Startup Weekend is an event where entrepreneurs can intersect with opportunity. Columbia has proven itself time and again to be a breeding ground of success and thought leadership. 

In 2011, Zapier won the inaugural Startup Weekend Columbia and things have been going full throttle for them ever since. Zapier is an application that connects and integrates over 350 different web apps (e.g. Gmail, Mailchimp, Twitter, Evernote) to easily move data and automate tasks. They use event-based automation to avoid repetitive tasks and since their founding at Startup Weekend Columbia, they have exploded with more than $1.2 million in funding and 400,000 users.

Shortly after winning Startup Weekend Columbia, the company was invited to Y Combinator, an exclusive business incubator and accelerator in Mountain View, California. For those unfamiliar with the process of joining a business incubator, it typically involves startups being carefully vetted, interviewed and eventually selected. In the case of Y Combinator, however, the selected startups are moved out to Mountain View, California for three months, where they are funded and mentored by a remarkably experienced team of business mentors, web developers, marketing strategists, investors and others.

Although a number of their employees still live and work in Columbia (among other parts of the world), Zapier has relocated its headquarters to Silicon Valley. But employing a small Columbia office isn’t the only way Zapier stays true to its roots — founders Wade Foster, Bryan Helmig and Mike Knoop revisit Startup Weekend Columbia every year to mentor aspiring entrepreneurs and give back to the launching pad that helped them make their dream a reality.

EquipmentShare, which received first place at Startup Weekend Columbia 2014, is a platform for contractor-to-contractor equipment renting. Contractors by trade, EquipmentShare founders Jabbok and Willy Schlacks had a simple business idea that would solve a problem they regularly encountered in the construction industry. Like many contractors, Jabbok and Willy often had a lot of equipment they weren’t using, which would instead just lay dormant. After realizing how many other contractors had the same problem, they launched EquipmentShare as a platform for equipment owners to make some extra money on unused equipment and contractors in need of rental equipment to receive more reasonable rental rates than those charged by traditional equipment rental companies.

The idea behind EquipmentShare is an innovative one that helps solve a critical problem for contractors everywhere. Beginning today, EquipmentShare will work side-by-side the brilliant people at Y Combinator, just like Zapier before them, who have mentored many companies that have been tremendously successful in their own rights, such as AirBnB, Reddit, Stripe, Dropbox and WuFoo.  

When you consider there are an estimated 8,000 applicants to Y Combinator and less than 100 businesses are invited, simply getting a formal invitation (and the $120,000 in initial funding and mentorship resources) to join Y Combinator is an incredible accomplishment in and of itself. 

Other Startup Successes in the Heart of Missouri

Success stories in Columbia don’t stop with the successes of Startup Weekend. Several successful startups have come out of Columbia in recent years (or in Newsy’s case, came into Columbia), including:

  • Newsy:  multi-sourced, multi-platform news
  • Influence&Co:  a content marketing and thought leadership platform
  • Book'd:  a platform for appointment scheduling
  • 9thandElm: an eCommerce site for handmade and independent fashion designers
  • ScoutandNimble: a unique eCommerce site making home decor shopping more fun
  • Gladitood: a platform for goodwill projects to find funding and volunteers
  • MedSocket: a clinical decision support platform to improve patient care 
  •  a platform to request services from multiple local service providers at the same time 
    (Disclaimer: is a Lift Division property)

While each of the companies above have shown incredible traction, it’s possible many central Missouri residents haven’t heard much about them, simply because they are built with scalable technologies (i.e. they monetize regionally or nationally as opposed to locally).

Cheers to Our Local Entrepreneurs

One of the guiding principles at Lift Division is to help fellow entrepreneurs — and we are proud to have been in the trenches with many growing business owners over the years. It has been our privilege to have members on three of the winning teams at Startup Weekend, helping with strategy, web development and design, SEO and content marketing plans. We are incredibly proud of our friends at EquipmentShare and we look forward to watching them grow in the coming months.

It takes a village to launch a startup company. Columbia has once again shown that its village is an interlaced web of talented thinkers, doers, supporters and backers — all of which are critical to create a big business from a big idea. If you’re thinking about launching a business, it doesn’t get much better than doing so in Columbia, and at this point it almost goes without saying that Startup Weekend is a great place to start.

Cheers to the entrepreneurs of Columbia. Your stories help motivate us all to transition from idea people to action people.


By  Rusty Brett

Rusty Brett is the owner and Chief Executive Officer of Lift Division. With several years of entrepreneurship, business ownership and marketing experience under his belt, Rusty has a passion for not only launching businesses, but also helping other businesses grow their sales and client base.