MU senior Jessica Cui won first place in the REDI Entrepreneurial Summit's Idea Bounce Competition.
Columbia-based company Regional Economic Development Inc. holds the competition annually. Cui’s award-winning product concept was a new type of shoe that is able to change from a 3.5-inch heel to a half-inch.
After winning the top prize of $2,000 in the competition, Cui said MU helped her to foster innovation both inside and outside the classroom.
“I decided to enter the competition about a week before the competition,” Cui said. “It was posted by the director of the Entrepreneurship Alliance, Dr. Gregory Bier, and I thought it was a good opportunity to get my idea out there and possibly gain some funding for my business.”
Through her work as a student in the Robert J. Trulaske College of Business and as a member of the Entrepreneurship Alliance, Cui learned about business skills and the ability to develop a great pitch.
Cui said her winning idea came from her own daily observations.
“Whenever I'm doing something and I see someone complain about something, or I see a somewhat daily problem someone has to put up with, I try to think of ideas that could solve the problem,” Cui said.
Bier said Cui has created a marketable product for consumers.
“There is a real market for her product,” Bier said. “There is a well-defined market niche that is the focus of her product. Too often students indicate that 'everyone' is their market. That is never true. One of Jessica's keys to success is that she has been able to focus on a particular market segment. That is the first step to success."
Bier, who worked with Cui through the Entrepreneurship Alliance, said her win validates the experimental nature of the group.
“Jessica is well-polished,” Bier said. “She has a very refined pitch that quickly and concisely gets to the heart of what an audience needs to hear and understand about her pitch. Additionally, Jessica has a prototype. This tells the judges and audience that she is serious. She has investigated her idea and understands the product very well.”
Cui said she hopes her product is able to help women who have suffered from problems with heels.
“I see a lot of my female peers struggling with high heel shoes,” Cui said. “We generally carry around another pair of shoes, have to awkwardly change in front of the places we visit, and often carry around Band-Aids. I just figured there was surely something that could make our lives easier. That's when I decided I was going to fix the problem. I drew out some designs, and here I am today."
Cui said the idea for the heel came to her in a matter of seconds.
“The mechanics and design were the hardest part,” Cui said. “It took about a month to come up with the design. I am still in the tweaking process to make sure it works exactly as I would like it to, but everything should be finalized in the very near future.”
Although Cui is only in her third year of college, she is technically a senior and will graduate a semester early. After completing her undergraduate course work, Cui plans to stay at MU to earn a Master of Accountancy degree.
Cui said winning presented her with a great opportunity.
“I was very excited to have more funding for my business idea," she said. "The winning wasn't the best part though. After I gave my presentation, numerous people in the audience came up to me to tell me how great of an idea I had, and that was the best part, knowing that people would actually buy my product and think it is useful.”