Startups Slowly Bringing Jobs to Columbia

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COLUMBIA - As more entrepreneurs choose to start their new businesses in Columbia, residents can find more job opportunities. 

In 2011, J. Michael Roach and his wife, Nelly, joined forces with two others to create KimberMedia, a sister company for their original company, Caledon Virtual. But Roach does not think of the business as a full-fledged company just yet.

"I think we're still in the startup phase. I think there are some things about it that we have figured out that work. But at the same time, there are things about the process that we know don't work," Roach said. "So I'd say we're at about 50 or 60 percent in terms of a long-term process, there's still that 40 or 50 percent that's not where it needs to be."

Despite taking time to develop into full companies with several employees, startups create several new job opportunities in Columbia.

According to statistics for Columbia, from 2011-2012 the number of new startups in Columbia increased by 25.3 percent and created 568 jobs.

Regional Economic Development, Inc. aims to continue the success of employment from local startups.

"Our strategy actually is if we can work year in and year out to create entrepreneurial companies, startup opportunities will become significant employers in the community," REDI President Mike Brooks said.

As the number of startups increases throughout mid-Missouri, Roach thinks there are a number of factors that contribute to this growth.

"I think part of the appeal of startups in the mid-Missouri area is due to really just an increase in the idea of startups nationwide. I think that's a part of it. A part of it certainly has to do with deliberate efforts from REDI from MU and other key players that are actively pushing it and fertilizing that process as well as the university in general helps to facilitate that. It's an ever-changing town full of energy and constant change."

Matt Fischer owns SportsFormulator and currently only has two interns, but he hopes he can add full-time employees soon. He said he thinks startups will soon be an important part of the local economy.

"I think we can bring a lot because we all have small businesses that are one or two person businesses right now, but all are capable of growing here locally to employ several different people. I think we will see a year, two years, three years down the line once you start getting that additional funding to bring people on full time I think you'll see quite a bit of job growth from the incubator here and all through the area."

While Roach does think startups are important contributors to the local economy, he said it's only one important part of job growth.

"I don't think there's any one solution for creating jobs. Like anything else in life it's going to be like a campaign. You're going to have a lot of different pieces working together. We're really going to allow for all of those things to come together," Roach said. "Some are going to contribute more at certain times than others. You're going to find those benefits coming from all sorts of venues. It can be from startups that expand and hire, it could be from mergers, from off-shoots and it can also be from existing companies just continuing to expand."

Brooks said REDI plans to continue to help entrepreneurs jump start their businesses and bring more jobs and business opportunities to Columbia.

"We're interested in facilitating job growth and one of the ongoing efforts that we can employ is to support entrepreneurial job growth. You know, looking at the assets that we have in the community, working with those that have that interest, and again we have people in the community that have ideas of what they want to do to start a business. One of the key things we're trying to do is support those entrepreneurial efforts because it is a long-term job growth strategy."

For now, Roach will focus on turning his startup into a business.

"You've got to be very curious, very keen to measure, very OK with failure because you're not trying to make an idea, you're trying to see if it will work," Roach said. "There's a very fine line between never giving up and knowing when to give up. And I think that's where the curiosity really have to come from."

Business owners and REDI alike think startups could play a big role in Columbia's future economy.