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Startup Stakeholders Examine Key Challenges, Opportunities for St. Louis Community

04.20.2016

As Seen in BizTalk in the St. Louis Business JournalLeaders in the St. Louis startup community shared a wide range of insights on that community at the Venture Café Gathering recently. The group convened to provide their perspective on the inaugural Brown Smith Wallace St. Louis Startup Community Survey results. Cathy Goldsticker, startup practice leader and tax partner, moderated the panel, which included Mary Jo Gorman, Lead Managing Partner of Prosper Women Entrepreneurs; Ginger Imster, Executive Director of Arch Grants; Rick Ryan, General Partner of Cultivation Capital; John Coveyou, Founder and Chief Game Designer of Genius Games; and Clint Matthews, Founder of Start Right Foods. The panelists, who represented startup companies and the community that supports startups, discussed key concerns of startups before a standing-room only audience.

Survey respondents associated with startups ranked cash flow as the No. 1 challenge they faced in the last 12 months. They also predict cash flow will be the top challenge they face in the coming year. Imster said that startups may need to demonstrate that they are coachable to increase the opportunity for securing investment. “St. Louis is still relatively a small town. If you’re not taking advice from a funder, that will get around. Founders that build a reputation for not listening will find it difficult, if not impossible, to secure funding locally or outside the region.”

Survey respondents also indicated that employees were a challenge in the last 12 months and coming year. Gorman provided perspective on this result, saying that startups often make the wrong hires. “Startups need to hire people who can hit the ground running. Hires need to have experience in the startup’s industry—startups don’t have the luxury of time to allow employees to learn on the job.”

Matthews said that his company, Start Right Foods, just made its first full-time hire. “Timing is everything,” he said. “It’s critical to get the right person in the door at the right time. We believe you can train for skill, but hiring for cultural fit can be more of a challenge.”

Despite the challenges startups in St. Louis face, the survey respondents overwhelmingly (72 percent of startups and 80 percent of the support community) said that the St. Louis startup community is excellent or above average. The St. Louis startup ecosystem has a number of resources for startups, like shared working spaces, which help to minimize business overhead costs for fledgling startups. “Co-working spaces in St. Louis have been invaluable to (startups) for resources and ideas,” said Coveyou of Genius Games. “The support community also helps business entrepreneurs without a business background think strategically.”

Another survey result was that 58 percent of the respondents associated with a startup were raised in the St. Louis area. Panelists were asked whether they believed that made it more difficult for people from outside the region to fit in and make connections. The panelists strongly disagreed. “Our philosophy at Cultivation Capital is to never turn down a phone call,” said Ryan. “If we can’t help them, we’ll send them along to someone that might be able to.”

Everyone on the panel echoed Ryan’s sentiment about the ease of getting a meeting in St. Louis. “The St. Louis startup community is very open and helpful to people not from St. Louis — more so than other places,” said Gorman. “You just have to ask.”

Cathy B. Goldsticker, CPAIf you missed the presentation at the Venture Café Gathering, you can catch an encore presentation at OPO Startups, Wednesday, April 27, at 6 p.m., in St. Charles. You can register to attend here.

If you would like to discuss the results of the survey, or any other aspects of the St. Louis startup community, contact Cathy Goldsticker, Partner, Tax Services, at 314.983.1274 or cgoldsticker@bswllc.com.

STAY TUNED: Every other week our subject matter experts share thought leadership and strategic business advice on the St. Louis Business Journal business blog, BizTalk.

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