Frequently Asked Questions

Who should apply?

a1ST50K is looking for innovative technologies, products, or services, driven by scalable business models with regional, national or international impact. We seek to attract entrepreneurs who are already located in Southeast Missouri OR are willing to relocate here. Basing your business in Southeast Missouri is a prerequisite for receiving a grant. Our network of entrepreneurs, partners and business leaders are investing their time and resources in making our startup scene even stronger. 1ST50K Startup Competition is an industry-agnostic competition. Our focus is on supporting businesses that are innovative and scalable, regardless of the industry.

How does it work?

Teams submit their applications to the 1ST50K f6s page. Applications must be completed fully and teams must agree to locate to Southeast Missouri for at least one year if selected as a grant recipient to be eligible. Eligible applications are entered into a round where the initial reviewing is completed by three to five of our judges. The pool is narrowed for Zoom video call interviews and from there down to a group that is selected by our competition committee to be invited to Pitch Day in late July. The committee bases their decisions on the innovation of the product, technology, or service; product-market fit; the scalability of the business model; the total impact; qualities and coach ability of the team; well-understood and defined problem; and 1ST50K impact. The pitches are slide deck presentations to a group of 10-15 individuals, closed to the public. Each applicant will have 30 minutes in total – 10 minute pitch and 20 minutes of Q&A. The committee deliberates, completes their due diligence, and awardees are typically announced within two weeks. Applicants not selected as awardees from one round may use the feedback they have received to reapply for the next.

Does 1ST50K request equity for the award?

No equity stake is taken in the companies receiving our grants. Recipients may have the opportunity for additional or follow-on investments through one of our partners, Traverse Ventures, or other strategic investors that provide debt and equity funding options.

If I am selected for a 1ST50K award, what will I need to agree to?

1ST50K Recipients have four primary obligations to which they must agree in order to receive the business development services and grant:

  • Locate or relocate the business, with significant operations or headquarters, to Southeast Missouri, for at least one year, beginning at date expressed in the program agreement.
  • Commit at least one full-time founder to Southeast Missouri for the year-long incubation.
  • Provide 1ST50K with data regarding jobs created, revenue generated, and follow-on capital attracted. We collect this information quarterly as long as the business is in operation, regardless if it remains in Southeast Missouri.
  • Dedicate one day (approximately 10 hours) of service to 1ST50K per quarter, during the year-long incubation, in advancement of the 1ST50K mission.

When does the competition take place?

Applications are accepted from April to May. June is used for review, phone interviews, and Pitch Day selections. Pitch Day is late July.

Who makes award selections?

The competition committee is made up of hand-selected entrepreneurs, high-level executives, and investors from our region.

How many finalists are there? How many awards will be granted?

The number of finalists in the past has been from 5-12 depending on the quality of the pool. The number of awards granted is up to the recommendation of the competition committee.

How will I know if I made it to the next step? Will I be notified if I do not advance?

All completed submissions receive notification of their outcome and feedback. Those chosen to proceed to the next step receive specific instructions for that next step via email provided int he application.

What is Pitch Day?

A Pitch Day is when finalists in the 1ST50K Startup Competition are invited to Cape Girardeau, Missouri to pitch their business for final consideration. During these days, finalists have the opportunity to meet with our esteemed group of venture capital and angel investment professionals on the competition committee, and network with previous 1ST50K winners.

Is the Pitch Day presentation required to be in person?

Yes, in-person representation by at least one member of the founding team is required in order to be considered for a grant. 1ST50K requires applicants to visit Cape Girardeau for Pitch Day to meet our competition committee, other candidates, and get to know the area.

Is Pitch Day open to the public?

No, this component is not open to the public. Your audience may be comprised of judges, 1ST50K competition committee, and limited individuals present at the request of 1ST50K. You may invite additional team members to your specific session but you are not allowed to observe other startups’ sessions.

How will 1ST50K protect the materials submitted in the competition?

1ST50K limits access to applicants’ submitted information to its staff, due diligence team, judges, and competition committee. In addition, reasonable steps are taken to limit access to these documents. The judges and competition of 1ST50K Startup Competition are seasoned professionals accustomed to dealing with confidential materials on a regular basis. However, there is no confidentiality obligation by any recipient of the documents submitted for the competition for information contained therein. We ask that you not share in your application any information you feel to be highly confidential in nature.

What kind of startups may apply?

For-profit startups from every industry are invited to apply. Particular attention is given to the scalability (growth) of the ventures. Startups should demonstrate a plan to reach regional, national or international impact. Additionally, we like to see some progress against the concept (e.g.; a prototype, minimum viable product, customer discovery, etc.). Startups planning to scale and remain in the Southeast Missouri are encouraged to apply.

How do you define a startup?

We do not place a limit on the length of time your startup has operated or how much outside funding you have received prior to applying. We define a startup as an organized effort to validate a sustainable business model. We award non-equity startup grants to businesses still in their early stages where the business development and support services, and grants up to $50,000 make a significant impact.

What industries or markets does 1ST50K focus on?

1ST50K does not have specific tracks, markets, or industries we focus on. We anticipate supporting companies represented in Information Technology, Hardware Technology, Consumer Products, Manufacturing, Fashion, Retail Innovations, Medical Devices, Bio-Technology, Ag-Tech, Clean-Tech, and Social Ventures.

What criteria does 1ST50K use to decide which companies receive the grants?

The Committee bases their decisions on the innovation of the product, technology, or service; product-market fit; the scalability of the business model; the total impact; qualities and coach ability of the team; well-understood and defined problem; and 1ST50K impact.

Is there a minimum or maximum allowable team size?

There needs to be at least one founder able and willing to work full-time on the startup in Southeast Missouri for one year. Weekly office hours are mandatory at the beginning of the program. There is no limit on team size, though winning teams of any size will receive $50,000.

May nonprofits apply?

No, 1ST50K will not consider applications submitted by nonprofits, although social ventures with double bottom lines are encouraged to apply.

Does my age matter?

All recipients must be at least 18 years of age.

Does it matter where I am from?

No. Whether you are from Missouri, another state in the U.S. or anywhere in the world, you are eligible to apply to the 1ST50K Startup Competition. All recipients must locate their business in Southeast Missouri for a period of at least one year, however.

I am not a U.S. Citizen. May I still apply?

We are not currently accepting applications for non-US citizens.

My business is not located in Southeast Missouri. May I still enter the competition?

Yes. If you are selected as a 1ST50K recipient, you are provided a reasonable amount of time to relocate to Southeast Missouri.

Will you fund competitive companies?

Although we would like to avoid this, we may fund companies that compete in some capacity. In this inevitability, we support each company equally.

Are multiple applications allowed per person?


May I submit someone else’s business idea?

Submissions must be your original idea or you must have written consent to submit an idea originally generated by another person. This must be disclosed in the application.

Must applicants disclose funding already received?

Yes, applicants are required to disclose all sources of funding already received and/or committed, when asked.

Is anyone eligible?

Only immediate family members (spouse, child, parent, sibling) of the competition committee and organizers are ineligible to apply for to the 1ST50K Startup Competition.

How is the grant award money distributed?

The $50,000 grant is distributed throughout a year-long program as follows: $20,000 of the startup capital is distributed at the beginning of the program, $10,000 is distributed at the end of each of the first two quarters, and $5,000 is distributed the final two quarters. Winners are required to provide basic reporting information to 1ST50K on an ongoing basis, so long as the business is in operation. This information helps us track how our businesses do in the long run. We do not ask for proprietary information or trade secrets.

How do you measure a startups’ progress?

We work with each startup individually to define specific metrics that measure their success based on the phase of the startup cycle they are currently in.

How can we get funding during and after our year with 1ST50K?

1ST50K does not want to be the sole source of funding and works hard to connect entrepreneurs with a strong network of investors, venture capital firms, private investors, and lenders in our region. $50,000 can only go so far. If you are at a fundraising stage, we will connect you through personal introductions, networking events, and programs.

Aside from money, are there additional benefits of being a 1ST50K recipient?

In addition to monetary awards, 1ST50K recipients receive:

  • Membership to Codefi, Cape’s coworking space and technology incubator. This can be considered your office space/location in Southeast Missouri. Codefi also offers private office space at discounted costs to 1ST50K awardees.
  • Access to venture capital and angel investment networks.
  • Professional and high-level business coaching and mentorship.
  • Personal introductions to strategic business leaders.
  • Social support and community integration services.
  • Significantly discounted technical services.
  • Inclusion as a part of a community of innovative entrepreneurs.

Do I receive space in an incubator?

Yes. 1ST50K recipients receive incubator space at Codefi, a coworking space and technology incubator in downtown Cape Girardeau. Codefi was founded by Dr. James Stapleton and a team of experienced entrepreneurs and technology developers. Dr. Stapleton is a certified lean startup coach and nationally recognized entrepreneurship educator. The Codefi team provides a variety of services to support 1ST50K recipients and is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the 1ST50K Startup Competition.

How do you ensure that a recipient does not skip town with the cash?

To ensure the funds are used for their intended purpose, we require you to sign a Program Agreement before formally becoming a 1ST50K recipient.

What happens if our company fails?

Not all startup companies succeed; we understand that. If your company fails during the year-long incubation period, you will forfeit any additional funds, but will not be required to “pay back” previously disbursed funds unless the Program Agreement has been breached. Simply failing does not constitute a breach of the Program Agreement. If your business does fail, you, as an entrepreneur, will be encouraged and supported to remain in Southeast Missouri to start a new venture, or to join an existing startup. Failure happens, and we believe that it is not something to turn away from.