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UMSL Student Entrepreneurs Take Their Business Concepts To Next Level

UMSL student Letisha Wexstten (at left) won $15,000 two weeks ago in a campus competition for her business concept that aims to help people with disabilities find employment. Alex Zvibleman (second from left) won $10,000 for his coffee-shop concept, and B
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Four years ago, Letisha Wexstten was searching for a job – and baffled by how hard it was to find one.

“I really didn’t understand why I was going to all these interviews and then being completely shut out,” Wexstten, who is a graphic-design student at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “I figured that it was because of my disability … I don’t have arms, and so I think the employers were kind of skeptical about hiring someone without arms not knowing exactly what my skill set was.”

She started a YouTube channel at that time to help demonstrate her many skills and capabilities. Then, just a few months ago, she started to expand the idea in a big way, coming up with a full business concept for HireMe, an online platform to help people with disabilities level the playing field when it comes to finding employment.

Wexstten was recently named the first-place winner of UMSL’s Entrepreneur Quest Student Accelerator competition, earning a $15,000 prize and garnering interest from investors.

“They said, ‘We’re companies that do hire people with disabilities, and we want to, but we’re having a hard time finding them. There’s no one place to do that,’” Wexstten explained. “And I’m like, ‘Well, great, let’s work together and make it happen so that it’ll not only make it easier for you but for the people who are wanting to get hired.’”

Alex Zvibleman, who won a $10,000 second place in the contest, told producer Evie Hemphill that his concept for a now-in-development coffee shop along Natural Bridge Road in north St. Louis County is focused on providing space for “interaction, socialization and collaboration” as well as coffee.

“Because we’re largely a commuter campus, students are quickly leaving campus and not really slowing down,” the business major said. “So the solution was to find some way to get them to slow down.”

While a variety of restaurants and other businesses and gathering places fill downtown Ferguson, Missouri, just a couple miles from campus, Zvibleman’s shop will be much closer to UMSL, along Natural Bridge Road.

Third-place winner Tim Bragg, who co-founded Singular Construction Automation alongside fellow student Bailee Warsing, said his team set out to address a key need within the construction industry.

“I see a lot of operations from the laborer side,” said Bragg, who is an engineering major. “I come from a background where everyone in my family has [been] in some blue-collar job – I’ve worked in blue-collar jobs myself – and I’ve seen a lot of the frustrations that those individuals deal with. A lot of the times bosses want you to get jobs done faster, keep the price at what it is, and there’s a lot of difficulty.”

The company’s first product will be an asphalt and concrete cleaning robot that Bragg said will help cut costs within the asphalt sealing industry and contribute to better road maintenance.

“I’ve always wanted to problem solve, and that’s kind of where I just came up with this idea,” he explained. “This was a major problem that I’ve seen a lot, and I feel like I have the ability to solve it.”

Wexstten, Zvibleman, Bragg and Warsing are all headed to Columbia, Missouri, on Friday to compete in the UM System-wide competition, where they’ll have a chance to win more cash prizes.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air producers Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan andJon Lewis give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.