Witnessing An Entrepreneurial Renaissance in St. Louis

If you’re not involved directly, you may not be aware of the startup renaissance happening right here in St. Louis. Those supporting it have been working to nurture this exploding ecosystem for years, some even decades. The parties involved are diverse and include government agencies, fortune 50 companies, nonprofit organizations, volunteer mentors, bold entrepreneurs, real estate developers, schools like SLU and Washington University, discerning investors and so many more.

With all the negative press that St. Louis often gets around things like racial divide, a fractured city/county, the departure of the Rams, corporate exits and the like, we should be celebrating the startup revolution happening in our city. This startup culture has the opportunity to change St. Louis’ trajectory.

My Experience at CIC

Over the past two years, I’ve had the opportunity to start and grow my business at CIC@CET (Cambridge Innovation Center at the Center for Emerging Technologies—it’s a mouthful, I know).  It’s located in what you might have heard described as the Cortex District, which is the area just east of the Central West End.

CIC provides an energizing environment for business owners, entrepreneurs and companies to start, grow and push their innovations forward, all while surrounded by like minded people. I’m proud to be a part of it. Since I located Modern Dollar here in 2015, I’ve seen monumental change. At that point, I had my pick of many empty offices—I believe there’s now a long waiting list to join. Don’t worry, CIC is busy adding more space to keep the momentum going.  

An Infectious, Growing Startup Culture

While the staff at CIC and the companies housed here are doing great work, it’s only a small part in the ecosystem that is driving this revolution. I’m also a member of the Missouri Venture Forum. Earlier this week, MVF presented the second annual Roadmap to Entrepreneurship Event. The daylong forum brought together business titans, professors, entrepreneurs, civic leaders, service providers and many others at Monsanto’s Danforth Center to stimulate conversation and provide actionable advice to move entrepreneurs forward. Connective and education rich events like this are happening all over our city. 

Travis Sheridan leads a panel discussion on "Putting Local Resources Together: Why St. Louis is a great city to start a company." He was joined by Ginger Imster, Phyllis Ellison, Brian Dixon, and Patricia Hagen, PhD.

Fleishman Hillard CEO, John Saunders kicked off the event with an inspiring keynote. I loved this quote when asked about how St. Louis can better tell its' story (in his endearing Irish accent): 

“St. Louisans have a humble nature that borders on lack of confidence. I meet people on the coasts that may be flashy, but don’t have much substance. People in St. Louis have the beef.”

Courtesy of Missouri Venture Forum

It’s great to see so many rallying around the idea of innovation and working toward the common goal of making St. Louis relevant again. We’re seeing companies from the traditional coastal hotbeds for startups, like Silicon Valley and New York, make St. Louis home. The ecosystem has grown so quickly, you need a map to truly comprehend the magnitude of what has happened in St. Louis. We’re now seeing the compound interest effect for startup activity that so many have worked hard to build to this point. 

Produced EQ StL

A Few of the Success Stories

Much progress has been made.  This isn't just a feel good local story. This movement is creating real economic impact in the area. Here are a few samples of recent success:

  • In May, Gainsight received $52M in new funding. The company was founded by St. Louisan Jim Eberlin and still maintains a significant presence in St. Louis, despite attracting investors from all over the country. The value of the company is expected to reach 'Unicorn Status'($1 Billion) by the next capital raise.
  • St. Louis moved up 10 spots to number 26 in the Kaufmann Foundation’s ranking of startup cities.
  • Research produced by the St. Louis Regional Chamber found that T-Rex (a downtown startup incubator) has generated more than $350M in annual economic output and accounted for creation of over 2,200 jobs.

Why It Matters

We boast great baseball, excellent food, attractive parks, underrated outdoor activities and we’re a well-kept national secret as a great place to raise a family. Those things, however, won’t be enough to keep us relevant. To keep progressing as a city, we’ll need thriving industry and career opportunities for our residents.

While we’ve seen corporate relocations devastate the area, this revolution of startups in St. Louis has the potential to attract (and retain) bright leaders that could transform our community. If we can keep intelligent, creative, and thoughtful people here, I believe we’ll see a myriad of benefits – greater career opportunity, improved schools, safer neighborhoods, better government, improved infrastructure, more activities and even ideas to attack the racial issues that divide of our city.

How YOu can support this

As we invest in this ecosystem, it will reward our city. I hope you’ll pay attention to this movement and where you can, help nurture it.

  • If you’re a business owner, look for a local company that might be able to help you solve a problem or provide you a service. Give a startup a chance to earn your business. As a newer business owner, I can tell you we’re often hungrier than incumbents to provide a better product or experience to earn your trust.
  • If you’re a consumer, seek out opportunities to give these companies a chance to earn your business. For example, if you’re a parent, check out Crossbar to help streamline kids sports scheduling. Looking for something to do this weekend? Check out Olio City to find activities.  There are literally hundreds of other businesses that deserve your attention.
  • Come to an event in the startup community to see what it’s all about.
  • Share the good news when you see it. When I scroll Facebook, it’s often littered with negative stories. Let’s share some of the positives happening in St. Louis.
  • You may even consider the opportunities to invest through groups like Cultivation Capital or St. Louis Arch Angels.

I hope you’ll join me in celebrating and supporting the thriving startup culture that’s growing in our own backyard. Cheers to our city.