Business class will take on a whole new meaning when Southwest Airlines begins its first non-stop service from St. Louis to San Francisco on Tuesday.
The CEOs of 21 St. Louis-based startups will be aboard the inaugural flight where a few of them will give their elevator pitches at 30,000 feet.
"Southwest Airlines was kind enough to allow us to do kind of a dog-and-pony show and let them go through a practice pitch," said Aaron Perlut with Accelerate St. Louis, an organization working to connect startups with investment. "Other people on the flight will vote on which technology they would potentially use by pushing their call button."
While the pitch session in the clouds is mostly just for fun, the two-day trip is serious business. The St. Louis Regional Chamber and Washington University bought the airline tickets for the group. The goal is to help St. Louis startups tap into the Bay Area’s booming startup and investment scene.
"That can only help our startup ecosystem," Perlut said.
Once in San Francisco, the startup leaders will be focused on holding individual meetings with potential investors. However, on Wednesday evening Washington University will host a sort of introductory dinner for alumni and the St. Louis entrepreneurs.
"They have an amazing network of alumni in the Bay Area that are involved in successful startups," Perlut said. "What they’re doing is bringing together some of our successful startups here with their alumni who are involved in the startup scene there."
Currently, Lambert-St. Louis International Airport has only one daily non-stop flight to San Francisco on United Airlines. Perlut said adding the Southwest Flight makes a difference to St. Louis’ growing entrepreneurial network.
"It’s a huge deal, because if you talk to a lot of the business community in St. Louis there is this lamenting of how few direct flight there are between St. Louis and other major markets," he said. "So, the more we can add the better it is for our commerce here and the better it reflects on our business community."
St. Louis may be taking off on that front. United Airlines will add another direct flight to San Francisco later in September. Last week news broke that Lambert Airport officials are working with British Airways in efforts to get non-stop service to London.
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