2020 MBAs To Watch: Zach Cook, University of Missouri (Trulaske)

Zach Cook

University of Missouri, Trulaske College of Business

A charismatic connector interested in challenging the status quo through innovation and new ideas.”

Hometown: Columbia Missouri

Fun fact about yourself: I started and sold a lawn care company in high school.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Missouri, Bachelor of Science in Biology

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Before enrolling in the University of Missouri’s Crosby MBA program I had run four years for the track and cross country teams at the University of Missouri. I typically committed 30+ hours a week to practice in three different sports seasons (cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track, and 5 or so hours to captain duties and Student-Athlete Advisory Committee meetings. While I was competing I actively worked in a clinical research facility performing asthma and allergy clinical trials for Clinical Research of the Ozarks. I created an effective clinic and campus outreach campaigns to increase patient enrollment. Overall, I enjoyed the balance of work, school, and a job and realized that I could not be a bystander in any of them. Being busy is a passion of mine and as my career in sports progressed I knew that I truly fit in the business world!

Where did you intern during the summer of 2019? Nanova Biomaterials, Columbia Missouri

Where will you be working after graduation? I will be moving to New York to work full time on Vesta Technologies, my start-up company.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Selected as the University of Missouri Athletic Department’s Brad David Community Service Recipient for the South Eastern Conference.
  • Elected as Team Captain for the University of Missouri Cross Country and Track Teams to lead a 50+ manned team.
  • Represented Track and Field as a Student Athlete Advisory Committee Representative where we bridged the gap between athletics and campus.
  • Lead 5 different student-run teams (21 students in all) performing contracted work for Vesta Technologies. These teams included 5 mechanical engineering students from the University of Kentucky, 5 law school students, 2 graphics and design students, and 9 MBA students representing two teams at the University of Missouri.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? The University of Missouri runs a system-wide start-up pitch competition between the four campuses of UM Columbia, UM Rolla, UM Kansas City, and UM-St. Louis. I am a finalist for the University of Missouri Columbia cohort out of over 50+ applicants and will pitch for the opportunity to receive $30,000 in pre-seed funding this spring.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Over the course of my final year in the MBA program, I have been working full time on Vesta Technologies. For me, every day is a battle, but seeing my dream become a reality one step at a time has been an incredible experience. To be able to build a company while still taking 15 credits a semester has been tough. However, the opportunities it has brought me are intangible. There were lots of doubts and obstacles along the way that I have had to tackle. Watching my peers pursue a corporate future while I invested in my own risk-filled venture was a hard pill to swallow some days. However, throughout this process, I reassured myself that I was learning how to scale and operate a real-life business from the ground up and that was invaluable.

I’ve been selected to represent the University at national summits (Forbes 30 Under 30). Building teams to accomplish what I can’t has been humbling and thrilling over the last several months and I am proud of what our students have produced to keep pushing the company further and further into reality. Lastly, this company has pushed me more than any class ever has and it continues to help me develop into a better leader and listener. The concepts I learn in the MBA go straight into business plans and pitch decks that have won awards and nominations and for that, I am grateful for the University of Missouri’s interest and resources!

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite MBA professor would be Tonya Wolf. After many years of successfully tackling the consulting world, Tonya returned to the Trulaske College of Business to give back some of the knowledge she had acquired. I believe Tonya genuinely sees potential in all of her students and isn’t afraid to sell out for her individual ambitions and goals. Understanding the difference between theory and application is something that MBA’s value and when a professor can truly speak to real-world experience and applicable skills students tend to get the most value. Tonya will be a great mentor to more students like me over the years and we will all be furthered in our careers from her guidance and knowledge.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? The University of Missouri invented the annual tradition of Homecoming. Every year, alumni from all over the world come home to celebrate and give back to their alma mater! I grew up watching the parades and football games kick off with love and excitement. The MBA puts on a huge tailgate in and outside the business school and the students have the opportunity to mix it up with previous graduates. This year I was able to talk with previous deans and business owners about their stories which came with a lot of laughs. Learning about the transition from academics to business life is something I always strive to perk up and listen to. Connecting with alumni is a valuable practice that I think can be some of the most valuable experiences coming out of school!

Why did you choose this business school? Columbia has been a home to me for my whole life, and I have had the tremendous opportunity to attend and represent the University of Missouri both athletically and in the community! While finishing my final year on the Track and Field Team, I was able to be accepted as a straight through into the MBA program as I had already finished my Bachelor’s degree the previous year. I always get asked why I stuck around Columbia instead of following opportunities at other Universities. First, there is something to be said for representing the home town and giving back to the community that raised you. But most of all, the connections and opportunities you build over the course of a lifetime in one location is an intangible resource that I leverage on a daily basis.

I wanted to attend the Crosby MBA program because I knew that I wanted to work for the University’s Business Accelerator, Missouri Innovation Center, as a graduate student.  When I interviewed it became apparent that this would be the perfect place for me. As a serial entrepreneur, what better place could there be than learning and working with high growth startups at a nationally ranked research institution like Mizzou?

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? As an applicant or incoming student, I would suggest researching the emphasis area you are interested in and being proactive to get connected as soon as you walk in the door the first day of classes. The Crosby MBA program is a fast-paced 57-credit hour, 2-year program and if you don’t have a plan to hit the ground running you will wake up 6 months later still trying to figure out which way is up. You’ll hear classmates and peers complain in every single school around the country that the program isn’t doing enough for them. I could not emphasize enough that the program and resources at the university are a platform for you to make your own ambitions a reality. The Crosby MBA program has a powerful alumni base and motivated staff that will help accelerate student endeavors from new clubs to exciting startups. Take advantage of the network and put the leg work in to make your experience what you want it to be.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The myth in the Crosby MBA program is that it is not as prestigious as Ivy Leagues and that we don’t have as many top tier companies accepting applicants from our program. This was not the case as I have witnessed peers get offers at companies like Microsoft, Boeing, and NASA. The Crosby MBA has pleasantly surprised me with their ability to adapt to students’ needs and allocate resources to push their students into the right circles and events. After starting my business, the program has done an incredible job sending me to conferences, helping me out with supplemental funding, and giving me office space in the business accelerator!

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire my classmate Brett Calhoun for his commitment to the figure-it-out mindset. Brett has ambitions for working in a venture capital Firm one day and is aggressively seeking out opportunities to make it a reality. He balances working for several startup companies at the Business Accelerator, works for a consulting firm out of Kansas City, and is putting together a Midwest investment fund. Above all, Brett is willing to take the initiative to help out where needed and push his peers to a higher standard of excellence. When you have classmates who have similar ambitions and motivations, you begin to notice the level of commitment and output rise around you. MBA programs need more students like Brett Calhoun.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I grew up with parents that owned their own businesses and I always knew that was something I wanted to do. As business owners, they showed a lot of tenacity over the years with different ups-and-downs. Deciding to attend the MBA program was an easy decision for me because I want to own my own business one day and I knew that if my parents could do it with no college education, surely a Master’s in business would give me the tools to navigate the same challenges they did. 

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  • Start a multinational company and sell it before the age of 35.
  • Be able to have the resources to give back to my alma mater and create a scholarship for aspiring entrepreneurs in the business school.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I want to be remembered as the catalyst, the guy who made it happen!

Hobbies? I enjoy getting out and running trails still as it was a huge part of my life for so long! There’s nothing quite like the tired legs, burning lungs, and feeling of accomplishment after a morning run. You can also find me down at my farm hunting and fishing when I get an open weekend.

What made Zach such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?

“Zach Cook has been a valuable addition to the Crosby MBA Class of 2020. Zach’s unique ability to excel under pressure is astounding and his demonstrated success while performing as a student-athlete is a perfect example. Before he joined the MBA program, he had already succeeded as an Academic All-SEC student, Mizzou Dean’s List and the Track and Field Team Captain with over 80 hours as their Community Service Representative.

After being accepted into the Crosby MBA Program, Zach continued to excel and was awarded a Graduate Assistantship with the University of Missouri International Relations department where he managed multiple teams of interns in international trade data analysis and evaluated international market expansion for local and regional businesses. Furthermore, Zach is a graduate teaching assistant and facilitates in-class activities and discussions with over 50 undergraduate students and also works as a graduate assistant in the Missouri Innovation Center, Life Science Incubator. While there he assists in the development, funding, and launch of biotechnology startups.

Most notably, Zach founded Vesta Technologies and serves as CEO. The company consists of 4 teams including 5 engineers, 9 MBA candidates, and 5 law students. With Vesta, they lead a team of 5 undergraduate senior mechanical engineering students in a two-semester capstone project to build and prove a functioning prototype with a $3,000 budget. Other projects include the Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic and led 4 MBA students in establishing a viable 25-page business plan and investor presentation.

Zach was also selected as a Forbes 30 Under 30 Scholar and Finalist and received 1st place in the ShowMe Business Plan Competition.”

Ryan Murray, MPA
Interim Director of Graduate Studies
Director of Graduate Admissions
Graduate Programs Office
Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business
University of Missouri


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