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UM System invests in venture capital fund to inspire entrepreneurship in alumni, students

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

NOTE: Scale VC is now Redbud VC

Roger McKinneyColumbia Daily Tribune

Citing the benefit for students and alumni, the University of Missouri System has invested $1 million in Scale VC, a new venture capital fund in Columbia.

A UM System news release states the new partnership will leverage the Griggs Innovators Nexus in the MU Student Center in a collaboration that will establish a business accelerator supporting early-stage, growth-driven companies.

Scale VC raised $5 million for its fund, including the anchor investments from the University of Missouri System and Columbia-based Shelter Insurance and other investments from 33 limited partners.

The spend from the general pool required only administrative approval and didn't require action by the UM System Board of Curators, said spokesman Uriah Orland.

“This is an opportunity for the university to foster economic development and create more jobs across Missouri and the Midwest,” Michael Williams, chairman of the UM Board of Curators, said in a news release. “The partnership exposes our students to the expertise and connections of highly successful business partners and advisers, and it allows us to invest in their entrepreneurial careers after graduation.”

In the fall semester, students at the four UM System campuses can take advantage of the business accelerator, sponsored by Scale VC and EquipmentShare, to push the startup of young, innovative companies.

“This investment and partnership build upon our efforts to turn the UM System and our state into an innovation destination — a place where big thinkers can start and grow their transformational ideas,” said Mun Choi, president of the UM System and MU chancellor. “I am proud that our universities are helping build the next generation of high-growth companies in Missouri.”

Businesses including EquipmentShare, Zapier, Veterans United Home Loans and StoryUp Studios, all founded by MU alumni, are invested in Scale VC. Nine startups founded by alumni are working with Scale VC. The fund was founded in 2021 by mid-Missouri entrepreneurs and business leaders with a goal of cultivating the habits, skills and networks needed to develop successful companies. “We are on a mission to empower founders to build generational wealth from the middle of the country, random suburbs or even existing innovation hubs,” said Brett Calhoun, Scale VC managing director and partner in the news release. “Successful founders are everywhere — and that includes right here in the heart of the country. Missouri is overlooked for business investment too often, Calhoun said.

"The Midwest or flyover states are generally overlooked when it comes to headlines, which is partly because founders in flyover locations are not used to telling their stories," Calhoun said in the release. "In reality, the Midwest is flourishing with many humble world-class operators building massive companies who want to support other founders. We are on a mission to empower founders to build generational wealth from the middle of the country, random suburbs, or even existing innovation hubs. We've seen this first-hand — founders can come from all walks of life." In addition to involvement in the accelerator, EquipmentShare founders Willy and Jabbok Schlacks also are on the board of Scale VC. They want to continue to build on the momentum they started with EquipmentShare, said spokeswoman Amy Susan.

"EquipmentShare is proud to be a supporter of this initiative in the accelerator and just to continue helping provide that infrastructure that other big thinkers need to grow their ideas," Susan said. "We know that this is a three-year commitment, but that can be extended. We hope it is. But overall, we really want these young folks to know that a business can start and grow from right here in the heart of the country and we're really really excited to be a part of that."

As board members, the EquipmentShare founders can provide critical feedback and insight to aspiring entrepreneurs, Susan said.

"They're passing that knowledge and experience on others looking to do similar things, so we're really proud to be doing that right here in our hometown," she said. Columbia-based Shelter Insurance said it also is involved in the venture capital fund.

"This partnership is an investment in more than our regional economy," said Amanda Martin, director of innovation at Shelter Insurance, in a news release. "It demonstrates our belief that our Midwest values don't just coexist with innovation — they drive it. We are proud to work with Scale and our fellow investors to build the next generation of companies creating economic growth in the communities we love."

Roger McKinney is the Tribune's education reporter. You can reach him at or 573-815-1719. He's on Twitter at @rmckinney9.


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