Twelve energy companies pitched their businesses "Shark Tank"-style at Ameren’s headquarters in St. Louis on Monday.
The companies, from around the world, are all vying for a spot in the 12-week Ameren Accelerator, which this year focuses on smart cities. The winning companies — up to nine — will also each receive a $100,000 check.
The companies’ identities are confidential until the winners kick off the program in August at the Cortex Innovation Community. Currently, the finalists range from solutions that reduce the cost of rooftop wind energy to those that install solar panels to power electric vehicles.
The public-private partnership is a collaboration among Ameren, Capital Innovators and the University of Missouri-St. Louis Accelerate program, which runs other accelerators, too.
The winning companies will receive mentoring and technical assistance from professionals at Ameren as well as researchers throughout the University of Missouri system.
UMSL Accelerate Executive Director Dan Lauer said the odds are usually stacked against startups, adding that he believes 95% of startups fail. But, he’s encouraged that 70% of startups that go through accelerators succeed.
“Entrepreneurs have four issues: not enough time, not enough money, not enough process, not enough mindset,” he said. “So if UMSL can teach these things to students, the rate of success may go up.”
As part of the program, 10 UMSL students will intern for the winning startups. They’ll be paid $3,000 each while receiving college credit and real-world experience working with startups.
Keven Gilbert, a rising junior in UMSL’s entrepreneurship program, is one of them.
“You can learn a lot more from an emerging company — that’s where you develop a lot of your gritty skills and the stuff you need to be successful — and then you can take that and apply it to any business context,” he said.
Gilbert wants to start his own business in St. Louis someday, but if that doesn't work out he said he’s glad the program is opening him up to a few backup plans, and a lot of industry connections.
For Ameren CEO Warner Baxter, one of the goals is to learn from emerging companies that are experimenting with new technologies. Another is to develop a talent pipeline.
“Jobs have been created. Whether we’re going to have the next Apple here, who knows? But you have to start somewhere,” he said. “Some of these organizations are already doing some work for Ameren, doing some work within our industry, but they’ve set up shop here.”
The winning companies will present their business plans and what they’ve learned at a demo-day event on Nov. 4.
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