The Next 12 Months: Startup Influencers Say Opportunity is Knocking for St. Louis
Last month we shared that early results from our St. Louis community startup survey revealed that securing capital is a challenge for many startups. This month, we asked influencers in the St. Louis startup ecosystem what they believe are the region’s greatest opportunities in the coming 12 months. Their responses ranged from perspectives on the vibe of the community, leveraging local talent and keeping them here, to community promotion and tapping into the network of small business owners already operating here.
Barnabas Helmy, CEO and Co-Founder of SmashToast, says that the St. Louis startup community provides the energy founders and entrepreneurs desperately need to keep going. “Entrepreneurs have a finite amount of fuel in the tank and being able to pace themselves for the marathon that is the startup life is incredibly difficult.” Helmy credits programs like Arch Grants and Venture Café with providing the support entrepreneurs need to persevere. “By helping entrepreneurs on their path to market, it creates success stories that inevitably attract other startups looking for the same result.”
Mark F. Mueller, an attorney, two-time Arch Grants recipient, Co-Founder of HIPAAtrek, and St. Louis native says that the region, which has never been a magnet for young professionals in recent decades, is starting to attract them. “The people I grew up with were always looking to get out of St. Louis. That’s starting to change. Startups have made St. Louis hot and trendy.”
If the energy and buzz surrounding St. Louis’ growing startup scene is helping to attract startups and young professionals, what is the community doing to retain them? Stephen Linderman, President of IDEA Labs, a student-led biotechnology incubator founded at Washington University, hopes his organization can help. “[IDEA Labs] makes medical entrepreneurship attainable for students throughout the region and enables professionals in the community to work with these exciting new companies. Perhaps most importantly, the new companies IDEA Labs develops in the St. Louis community are drawing and keeping top talent here in St. Louis after graduation.”
Some say that there are other underutilized resources, like people, in the St. Louis community. “Retention of local talent—all ages and demographics—including local grads as well as more mature folks starting a second or third career as an entrepreneur is an opportunity for the startup community to seize,” says Ginger Imster, Executive Director of Arch Grants.
Michele Rutledge, Executive Director of Gateway Venture Mentoring Service, says the Midwest is beginning to overcome a perception problem of its own making. “Midwesterners have—to their own detriment—been so self-deprecating about the local talent and resources that the coasts have mistaken that humility for backwardness,” she says. “Opportunity lies in the promotion of the core values and strengths that are expressed in the tangible development of brick and mortar like CIC, T-REX, STLVentureWorks, and many others, and filling those spaces…with smart, bright, talented people.”
Beyond local talent, Mueller believes that the St. Louis startup community has a lot to gain by engaging the original startups—small businesses. “The network of smaller business owners, the mom and pops, are virtually untapped. People that aren’t familiar with Cortex and T-REX need to be brought into the fold,” he says. “We should consider accessing school networks, churches, and other non-traditional networks currently unassociated with the St. Louis startup community to broaden the focus beyond Downtown St. Louis.”
Tell us what you think about the St. Louis startup community. Take our survey. We’ll share the results early next year.
Click here to learn more about Brown Smith Wallace Startup Services. If you would like to discuss accounting and business strategies for your startup, please contact Cathy Goldsticker at 314.983.1274 or firstname.lastname@example.org.