I still vividly remember the day that Eric pulled me aside and told me he had this idea. I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s pretty cool.’
In the Mizzou Football program, Head Coach Barry Odom and his staff have a philosophy to prepare each and every student-athlete for the next 40 years of their life. Making academics as much of a priority as football, Coach Odom’s staff is mentoring and molding young men to be successful in all walks of life.
That brings us to former Mizzou wide receiver Eric Laurent. A former high school quarterback-turned-wide receiver, one of Laurent’s shining moments in a Mizzou uniform came during his senior season in a game at LSU. He threw a 21-yard touchdown strike to a wide-open Drew Lock on a trick play to get Mizzou on the scoreboard.
Fast-forward to that summer, away from the football field: Laurent was dealing with one of the real life problems that often plagues college students all across the country. While between apartment leases in Columbia, Laurent was facing the conundrum of where to store all his worldly possessions, so he used the same creativity seen on that play at LSU to hatch a business model. Drawing from his experiences learned while enrolled in the Trulaske College of Business, Roo Storage was born.
“I still vividly remember the day that Eric pulled me aside and told me he had this idea,” his teammate and now business partner Jake Hurrell said. “I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s pretty cool.’”
Laurent’s idea was simple.
“A lot of college students experience this; they move out at the end of July and can’t move in until August 15, so there is that 15-day gap where you need to find somewhere to put your stuff,” Laurent said.
Just like that, Mizzou Football teammates Laurent and Hurrell, while working on a class project in the business school, became business partners. Out of that everyday problem came Roo.
On the surface, Roo Storage may seem like just your ordinary storage company, offering a place to store your excess stuff. In reality, it is so much more from that.
Laurent and Hurrell put a modern spin on an age-old problem, approaching the storage industry exactly how you would expect an up-and-coming businessman to do so; by relating it to their current generation.
In a time where the youth in today’s society are more likely to log onto AIRBNB.com than Marriott.com when heading out of town on vacation, Laurent and Hurrell took that same approach with the storage industry.
“It’s essentially an online platform that connects those with extra space in their house with those in need of storage,” Laurent said. “So whether that space is an unfinished basement, a bedroom or a garage, they can utilize that space and offer it to someone in need of storage.”
“It’s a play off the word Kangaroo,” Hurrell said. “Which is nature’s version of our business. Utilizing an asset to store something – the Kangaroo’s pouch.”
It was a modern approach to a decades-old problem. The two worked together to build an entire business model, drawing upon their experiences in the Trulaske College of Business and with Mizzou Football. Just months later, an idea hatched for a college project wound up paying huge dividends.
Laurent and Hurrell landed themselves in a local SharkTank competition through the Missouri Innovation Center’s Accelerator Fund.
“We were maybe expecting 100 people or so, family and friends,” Laurent said. “But the whole place was packed.”
As it turns out, the place was packed to see Laurent, Hurell and Roo Storage. Everyone in the competition was so impressed with their business that what followed was a cash infusion of $25,000, helping the duo launch their company. The two former teammates won the entire competition and were now business partners with complete funding to get their business off the ground.
“That was a monumental moment for our business,” Hurrell said. “Being broke college kids, starting a business, that really helped catapult us to make Roo a reality.”
Now with $25,000 and support from many in the Mizzou community, it was time to make Eric and Jake’s business model into an actual business. Their first order of business: hiring a brand manager. Enter Mizzou Soccer standout goalkeeper Kristen Rivers. Now a graduate student pursuing her Master of Business Administration, Rivers has been alongside Laurent and Hurrell from the beginning, laying some of the groundwork for managing the company’s presence across all of the necessary channels.
“There has been a lot of research put into it. There are a lot of learning experiences and there is a lot of communication, meetings and classes at the same time,” Rivers said. “It’s been really cool to get to that final stage where we have a tangible product.”
The three have been working at the MU Life Sciences Business Incubator on South Providence Road in Columbia, just down the street from the Mizzou Athletic Training Complex where the three formed their friendship. The groundwork has been completely laid and the company is in full swing. It has its own website and a full presence on social media. You can follow Roo Storage on Twitter or on Instagram.
Through the entire process of starting their own business, the trio of #MizzouMade athletes have their experiences at Mizzou, both through athletics and on campus, to draw upon when handling the ups and downs of owning and running your own business.
“We grew so much through athletics that it’s really hard to say that we aren’t bringing those characteristics here,” Laurent said. “One of the biggest ones I would say is being able to handle adversity.”
Something that athletics encouraged was getting involved in your community in other ways, not necessarily attached to your sport.
While the company is off to a fast and exciting start, the trio have remained humble and are continuing to look at ways to keep the company in the forefront of consumers’ minds. Rivers, who is in charge of disseminating the brand, draws upon her experiences with Mizzou Soccer to help her through this process.
“I think one thing that I learned through my experiences as an athlete that helped me in business is to constantly remind myself to keep learning,” Rivers said. “You have to put yourself out there a lot and be confident in yourself and enjoy the chances you have to share your life and work with other people.”
Mizzou Athletics, through the MizzouMade Academic program, preaches giving back to your community during your time as a student-athlete. The three wanted to make sure that their business got started in the same community that gave them so much support during their playing days.
“Something that athletics encouraged was getting involved in your community in other ways, not necessarily attached to your sport,” Rivers said.
Hurrell agrees: “Columbia is a special place. With Roo down the line, when we are successful, it is undeniable that we will point back to this town and say ‘this is why.’”
The past year has certainly been eventful for Laurent, Hurrell and Rivers. The three friends have seen their college athletic careers come to a close, but their college experience was far from over. An idea that was born in a Mizzou class is now becoming a reality and hopefully a kickstart to what will be successful careers down the road.
“We were friends before we started the business, Laurent said. “So it’s been really cool to see how our friendship dynamic has been working. It’s been a really fun ride.”
For every Mizzou Football player who makes it to the NFL, pursuing their dream of playing the game they love professionally, there are exponentially more stories like this. More stories of athletics providing a platform for three students to collaborate, put their heads together and come up with something great.
“Eric, Kristen and I wouldn’t be here today without the Mizzou Athletic realm in general,” Hurrell said. What we learned and the value that has been instilled in us, it’s undeniable.”
As Roo Storage continues to grow, it is important to recognize that it all started at Mizzou and fans should celebrate what Laurent, Hurrell and Rivers have achieved. The three of them are truly #MizzouMade.
Columbia is a special place. With Roo down the line, when we are successful, it is undeniable that we will point back to this town and say, ‘This is why.’ Eric, Kristen and I wouldn’t be here today without the Mizzou Athletics realm in general. What we learned and the value that has been instilled in us, it’s undeniable.
What does it mean to be #MizzouMade? That moniker has been a staple for Mizzou student-athletes for years. It is often associated with athletes who have excelled at the highest levels of their respective sports, but the true meaning runs much deeper.
While there are certainly examples of former Tigers excelling in professional athletics, there is a much larger contingent of Mizzou student-athletes thriving in today’s fast-paced, competitive work environment. What each of those student-athletes learned at Mizzou has prepared them for life beyond sports.
The mission of Mizzou Athletics remains to prepare champions for life through a personal enhancement model that emphasizes academic and athletic excellence, social responsibility, career development and leadership in order to help each student athlete become a prepared professional in any field upon earning their degree.
#MizzouMade Monday aims to tell those stories of student athletes who are bringing those values and ideals of Mizzou into the real world every day.