Who said, “I can’t help but think about designing things and coming up with ways to make things better”? Thomas Edison? Nikola Tesla? No, Missouri Western student Justin Turner, who will graduate this fall with a biology degree, minors in business and entrepreneurship, and his own business that he started this year.
His friend, Michael Babbitt, who graduated this past spring with a degree in personnel psychology, says he is fascinated by people and enjoys creating and building. He is involved in two entrepreneurial initiatives.
Welcome to the world of Turner and Babbitt, entrepreneurial Griffons who have two inventions, three current businesses, one past business, and a wealth of enthusiasm and initiative between them.
Turner, from St. Joseph, recently developed the technology to produce high resolution photos from a microscope slide, and he sells large, spectacular canvas prints of epithelial tissue, glandular tissue, mammalian skin and more. He is currently applying for a patent for his technique.
On the day I interviewed him about his business, Elegant Epithelium, Turner had sold a canvas print to a customer in Japan, his first global sale. (In case you’re wondering, epithelium is the cellular covering of internal and external surfaces of the body, including the lining of vessels and other small cavities, according to an online medical dictionary.)
Turner’s innate talent for invention and design is not new.
When he was a sophomore, a lab in his genetics class inspired him to improve on a design he had found online. He designed a superior adapter and manufactured the components to build it with a 3-D printer; the new device enabled students to take photos of slides with their smart phones. Dr. Todd Eckdahl, professor of biology and department chair, purchased 12 of the adapters for students.
Turner earned early admission into medical school thanks to agreements that Missouri Western has in place, but after one semester, he decided to return to Missouri Western and add business and entrepreneurship to his education. His return to Missouri Western brought him in contact with Babbitt.
Babbitt, a native of Kansas City, Missouri, is the owner of Black Swan Social, which helps businesses with digital marketing and advertising; and founder and co-owner of CheckMeOut.Business, which creates videos for businesses.
“Everyone is competing for everyone else’s attention, and little things can make a big impact,” he says. “We bring companies up to the 21st century.”
And the company’s name? Babbitt says he was intrigued by the story of the black swan when he heard the term used by author Chris Voss. No one in Europe ever believed a black swan existed until Dutch explorers saw them in Australia in the late 1600s.
“Black swans were the ‘unknown unknowns,’ and I think social media is like that,” Babbitt said. “Unearthing facts can be a game-changer, and that’s motivating to me.”
Babbitt played baseball for two years at North Central Missouri College in Trenton before transferring to Missouri Western. He played two years as a Griffon and called his four years on collegiate baseball teams the “best time of his life.”
The entrepreneurs both say they appreciate the support they received from Annette Weeks ’87, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship. They also gained a lot of information when they attended workshops on campus as part of the center’s Entrepreneurship Week this past spring.
Turner said he attended a panel that featured three successful alumni entrepreneurs – Brent Porlier ’82, Wayne Chatham ’90 and Zack Workman ’74 – and he was inspired by their message. Babbitt appreciated the opportunity to hear Missouri Western benefactor and entrepreneur Steve Craig speak to students and answer their questions.
“The whole week was filled with amazing information through and through,” Babbitt said. “It was a full-on boot camp of business.”
As one entrepreneur has already graduated and the other is close to finishing his degree, both say they plan to continue developing and expanding their businesses.
“I learned from playing baseball that you need to stay on your path no matter what, and that failures are just a part of it,” Babbitt said. “I look up to people who tell me to not be afraid to make mistakes.”