If you had a business idea, would you know how to go from concept to reality?
Would you have all the resources you need: an office, conference rooms, fast internet and a network of people who know how to get things done?
Would you have never-ending coffee (the good stuff, from a local roaster) to fuel your hustle?
You would if you were at the efactory, a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs, startups and corporate leaders.
“I like to tell people: If you can get here, we can introduce you to the right people to get you started or grow your business,” said Rachel Anderson, director of the efactory.
This Missouri State resource doesn’t only benefit the university. The programs and people here spur economic development throughout southwest Missouri.
The efactory has won awards in its industry. It’s also attracting startups from around the country. Since fall 2017, the building’s office spaces have been at full occupancy. The place is booming, and ready for its next evolution.
Discover efactory emphasis areas
So much more than a business incubator
The efactory is in downtown Springfield. It’s in a building known as the Missouri State University Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center.
Missouri State took over the building, a former poultry processing plant, in 2009. The efactory opened in 2013.
“A lot of people thought of us mostly as an incubator at that time,” Anderson said. An incubator helps new businesses survive and expand when they’re most vulnerable.
Some services typically offered by an incubator
- Training in business basics, such as presentations and etiquette.
- Office space.
- Access to technology and equipment such as high-speed internet, printers and scanners.
- Facilitating relationships with potential mentors, strategic partners and/or investors.
- Setting up opportunities for networking with other entrepreneurs.
- Making connections between clients and experts on topics such as marketing, intellectual property, loans and finance, complying with regulations, etc.
The efactory did, and still does, offer all these services.
But the mission has expanded to include deeper training, more emphasis on corporate innovation, events that are open to the community and more.
All these services are available under one roof.
“You don’t have to go anywhere else if you’re looking for a support system. We make it easy,” Anderson said.
Unique resource for a university
Some other universities have incubators. Some have professors who do business research. Some have staff who work with entrepreneurs.
However, Anderson said the efactory is a rarity, and a point of pride for MSU.
“There are very few university-run resources that have business professionals and community growth as their main focus, like we do. And then you can factor in our coworking, and our accelerator program, and the fact that these are all staff-run programs — so far, I haven’t found any other university-run programs that do exactly what we do, on the level at which we do it.”
So why do we do it?
One, to retain professionals and students who otherwise would have moved away from Springfield.
Two, to attract students and professionals to this region.
Three, to give MSU students real-world experiences. Examples:
- Students in some courses may be matched with efactory clients for projects.
- Students can take a study-away course that allows them to visit the efactory, then travel to compare incubators abroad.
- Some efactory and Small Business Development Center staff members teach courses or speak to classes.
- There are student workers and graduate assistants at the efactory.
“Missouri State’s primary mission is to educate students and prepare them for careers, and we are a part of that,” Anderson said.
Plus, the efactory’s a fun place, with a “let’s try it” vibe: “We get to work with innovators and interesting people. Our job is to help be the ‘yes’ people,” Anderson said.
Overall, Anderson said, the efactory makes Springfield and Missouri State better.
“We’re able to assist people as they’re building their dreams,” said Paige Oxendine, ’13, program coordinator at the efactory. “Seeing that come to fruition is so exciting.”
Training for the workplace: Equip the people behind the businesses
The efactory offers training, products and solutions to help businesses thrive.
The Small Business Development Center: The SBDC provides training and coaching to entrepreneurs in 16 counties of southwest Missouri. The center offers products, education and resources to help Missouri’s small business economy thrive. The SBDC helps both startups and established businesses.
The Management Development Institute: This Missouri State program offers professional and leadership training to companies of any size. This training is focused on timely, real-world topics. MDI offers customized training if your company has a specific workplace need.
Offering office space: Provide different spaces for different needs
The efactory has several types of offices. In general, tenants lease for a year at first.
“After that 12-month lease is fulfilled, clients are on a 30-day opt-out and can leave any time,” Anderson said. “Typically, we say about five years is our sweet spot. That’s when companies can usually get started outside of the efactory. We are not meant to be a long-term solution. Our goal is that clients grow out into the community. However, there’s not a clock going; we don’t kick someone out!”
Everyone who works at the efactory has access to office amenities, including:
- Conference rooms
- Phone rooms
- Fast internet VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) phones
- Mail/delivery service
- Custodial service
- Ping pong tables
Curious about working at the efactory, but worried that it’s at 100 percent occupancy? Contact the staff.
“Any time you are interested, get in touch,” said Paige Oxendine, ’13, program coordinator at the efactory. “We keep a waiting list, and things change day to day.”
Types of offices
Private: These closed-door offices range from 150 to 1,300 square feet. The efactory has several focus areas for private offices: technology, manufacturing, medical device/ health services and logistics/supply chain management.
Coworking: If you don’t need a full office, you can cowork. That means you can lease a desk in a space dedicated to coworking members. You can try coworking with a day pass for $20, or on a Free Friday. On Fridays, anyone is welcome to cowork from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Meeting spaces: Efactory clients and partners have access to a few seminar rooms and five conference rooms. There are also smaller rooms and shared lounge spaces. Outside organizations can reserve these spaces.
Encouraging female leaders: Support, assist and serve women
Rosie is an advocate and mentorship network for women. It launched in November 2016 after Oxendine said she and Anderson were hearing the same things from many women: “‘I feel like I’m doing all the right things, but I’m having trouble getting plugged in. Something isn’t clicking.’ Or, ‘I’m interested in serving on a board or considering running for office, but I am having trouble finding assistance surrounding those topics.’”
They also heard that some people had trouble finding women to serve on boards or speak at panels.
Lastly, Anderson noticed there were only a few female company founders at the efactory.
They made a plan: Create a network that boosted representation of women in business and leadership.
J. Kendall Seal, ’04 alumnus and MSU Board of Governors member, is a vice president and general counsel for a Kansas City-based group called the Women’s Foundation. The Women’s Foundation was looking to expand into southwest Missouri. It was good timing that Rosie was then in the planning stages.
Anderson and Oxendine worked with the Missouri State University Foundation to apply for a grant through the Women’s Foundation. Rosie was awarded the grant, which allowed the group to get started.
Now, Rosie is off grant funding. It is a self-sustaining efactory program with more than 1,000 members. There’s even a spin-off, Brosie, for male advocates.
What Rosie offers
- Free and open membership.
- Services related to starting and growing a business.
- Training and information about how to serve on a board.
An updated list of local board openings are available on the Rosie website.
- Quarterly programs, including panels with women who hold elected offices, and social get-togethers.
Anderson said the goal of Rosie is not to just talk, but to create meaningful change.
Since Rosie started, about 40 women from the group have been placed on boards.
Rosie also launched an equal-pay pledge that has been signed by more than 100 employers.
Oxendine has a referral system for women who come to Rosie looking for opportunities.
“We love being an entry point and a place for women to connect,” Oxendine said.
“Then, we figure out how we can best serve them.”
Businesses that have graduated from the efactory
A growing number of businesses have started at the efactory, then moved to their own spaces. Others have merged with, or been acquired by, outside companies. Many have Missouri State ties — the company founder may be a graduate, or employees may be alumni.
Jump-starting emerging companies: Accelerator helps the next big things
Once upon a time, it was hard for technology startups to find investments or clients in Springfield. “They were leaving to go to other communities to participate in accelerator programs or raise capital,” Anderson said. “We didn’t want that to happen. So, we raised $750,000 in seed capital.”
How the accelerator works
- Company founders from around the nation can apply. Four to 10 businesses are chosen for each year’s cohort.
- Founders take part in an intense three-month business development program during the summer. Established professionals serve as mentors and give advice to accelerator participants.
- Companies receive $30,000 each in startup capital — in addition to other perks such as office space — in exchange for 8% equity of their business.
- Participants end their accelerator experience by pitching their businesses at an efactory event called Demo Day. This puts them in front of potential partners, mentors and investors.
- Participants are required to have an active presence in the state of Missouri for one year after the program ends.
So far, more than 17 companies have graduated from the efactory’s accelerator program.
Of the portfolio companies, 41% have minority founders, and 41% have female founders.
Strengthening established companies: Innovation isn’t limited to startups
Think if you have an established business, the efactory has nothing for you? Think again.
Corporate innovation is one of the newer focus areas for the efactory.
Anderson had been getting this message from some large Springfield businesses: “A lot of the challenges that startups are facing, we’re going through, too. Can you work with us to figure out how we can change our innovation culture?”
They now hold an annual innovation accelerator with a local health system.
Efactory staff also started a group called the Springfield Entrepreneurial and Innovation Network. This group works in conjunction with the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce.
“It serves larger, established companies that are interested in innovation,” Anderson said.