With a strong startup community, funding and a growing number of resources and incubators, this city has massive tech hub potential.
By Jake Guidry (Contributing Writer, Women 2.0)
The narrative of this city is a familiar one. It’s a story that’s been retread hundreds of times about Rust Belt cities: Detroit, Mich. Cleveland, Ohio. Gary, Ind. And St. Louis, Mo.
But St. Louis is changing — fast. Once manufacturing hubs dependent on the swaths of jobs the industry created, cities like St. Louis have been forced to reimagine themselves after the economic turmoil of the aughts caused businesses to significantly downsize, relocate or fold altogether. Arguably the most significant change to St. Louis industry since then has been its tech startup boom.
There are no shortage of resources available to startup entrepreneurs in St. Louis. But you might be wondering how it got to that point in the first place. Generally speaking, St. Louis is affordable and supportive of its startup community. Juney Ham, co-founder of Upside, recently said, “The biggest thing I appreciated about St. Louis was how everybody in the community roots for each other. It’s not competitive. It’s St. Louis against the world.”
The $50,000 Carrot
While affordability and welcoming arms are great jumping-off points for startups, that’s not enough to bring more tech startups to the city.
One major player in growing the tech community in St. Louis has been Arch Grants, a business development corporation started in 2012. The company provides “no-strings” funding to promising startups through its Business Plan Competition, with the only requirement being that the companies stay in St. Louis for a minimum of one year.
In 2014, Arch Grants provided 20 startups each with $50,000 in industries ranging from logistics to wearable tech to gift boxes. But perhaps most important is that the involvement doesn’t stop after the check is written. Arch Grants not only provides startups with network resources and free legal services, but also discounted housing and office space. Additionally, each startup has the opportunity to secure a second round of funding of up to $100,000.
Winning a spot for Arch Grants funding and support may be a tall task, but they aren’t the only ones helping startups get off the ground. SixThirty also provides funding with the caveat that startups operate in St. Louis. But SixThirty focuses exclusively on the financial sector.
Each year the accelerator provides fintech startups with $100,000 in funding and connects them with top financial services companies around the country. Startup teams also receive training, mentoring and valuable networking opportunities. SixThirty leverages St. Louis’ status as a large financial services hub to attract startups and ultimately help them succeed. (Our partner MasterCard, who is helping us launch City Meetup in St. Louis on August 7, is headquartered here.)
The Individuals Driving Change
While Arch Grants and SixThirty have been as big a catalyst as any in St. Louis’ startup scene, individuals champion the city through their entrepreneurial spirit as well. One such individual leading the startup charge is Aaron Perlut, a St. Louis transplant with a growing list of endeavors attached to his name.
Perlut co-founded digital marketing and PR agency Elasticity with Brian Cross, as well as crowdfunding platform Rally St. Louis, which sprang from a Forbes article in which Perlut proudly affirms that “St. Louis Doesn’t Suck.” And in just a few weeks the Startup VooDoo day-long conference will bring together startup entrepreneurs in St. Louis. The conference was started by Perlut and Techli founder Edward Domain.
Amidst all the buzz in St. Louis’ startup scene, one of the biggest factors is a wild card in the form of the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC), which is set to open this fall. Last October, CIC inked a 15-year deal in a 30,000 square foot space in the Cortex district, a self-described “innovation community” located near St. Louis’ Forest Park. The company, which has since expanded its investment at Cortex to over 110,000 square feet, started in Massachusetts in 1999 and has housed and incubated over 1,400 companies including startups and tech giants such as Facebook and Amazon. Setting up shop in St. Louis will undoubtedly change the startup landscape in the city, but only time will reveal to what extent its impact is felt.
St. Louis is taking the necessary steps to build and nurture its startup community. In some ways, it was inevitable; The city needed to attract new business and revitalize its economy. They’ve done this through a strong community, funding and a glut of resources and incubators. St. Louis has a long way to go, but for a city at the edge of the Show Me State, they’re making quite the impression.