A May event held by CoxHealth spurred creation of MSU's Innovation Accelerator. (Photo courtesy Efactory)

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Zora Mulligan had seen the idea work before, when she was Missouri Commissioner of Higher Education. 

“We did events with some similarities in state government,” said Mulligan, now executive vice president for Missouri State University. “It was really rewarding to see the way people wanted to solve problems … I love the idea of asking people closest to challenges come up with solutions.”

The university will host its inaugural Innovation Accelerator Oct. 27 at the Efactory, where 50 students, faculty and staff members will highlight pressing problems, issues or concerns, then develop strategies for addressing them. 

All of the participants will make short pitches, where a group of judges will identify the most promising projects likely to be implemented and choose about five or six finalists. Those finalists will develop their ideas with business coaches and make “Shark Tank”-style presentations. 

Mulligan said the finalists will also have access to Missouri State University personnel for getting questions answered, as well as business coaches.

“They will work on developing those with business coaches who have information on how to develop a really good plan,” Mulligan said. “Some will serve as resources, so if they have questions about what an idea means from a human resources perspective, for instance. At the end of the day they should have a really good first draft.” 

This photo shows final presentations for CoxHealth’s Innovation Accelerator in May. The event inspired MSU’s event, set for Friday. (Photo courtesy Efactory)

Judges are looking for ideas that will save money, improve student success or upgrade the university. The panel of judges includes MSU President Clif Smart, Provost John Jasinski and Teresa Coyan, chief of staff and vice president of public relations for CoxHealth.

While this is the university’s first event, it’s not Efactory’s first time hosting this kind of rodeo. Nikki Donnelson, director of marketing and communications, said that  CoxHealth has held similar events to build its own network, and that Mulligan was a champion for one focused on Missouri State. 

“These show that there are leaders at every level of an organization,” Donnelson said. “Having the opportunity to bring these ideas to life and see what bubbles to the top empowers people. They see there is change that doesn’t have to go through layers of red tape.”

While one team will be crowned as an official winner, Mulligan said the event has the potential to be filled with winning ideas. It comes at a transformational time for a university that already relies on innovation, she said, referencing an academic realignment plan the university is undergoing. 

Ultimately, event organizers hope to get more people within the university community talking with each other. 

“A lot is about getting to develop relationships with people we may not interact with on a daily basis about the challenges we face,” Mulligan said. 

Joe Hadsall

Joe Hadsall is the education reporter for the Springfield Daily Citizen. Hadsall has more than two decades of experience reporting in the Ozarks with the Joplin Globe, Christian County Headliner News and 417 Magazine. Contact him at (417) 837-3671 or jhadsall@sgfcitizen.org. More by Joe Hadsall