Startup community in St. Louis is ‘collaborative’ and ‘connected’ | St. Louis Public Radio

Startup community in St. Louis is ‘collaborative’ and ‘connected’

Nov 14, 2016

If you’ve heard St. Louis referred to as hub for entrepreneurship and want to find out more for yourself, this is a good week to do it.

St. Louis is hosting two major events for Global Entrepreneurship Week. On Tuesday, Nov. 15, the STL Export Accelerator will take place at Saint Louis University’s John Cook School of Business from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m.

On Wednesday, Nov. 16, local entrepreneurs will earn their startup pitching stripes at an event that will put them in front of the area’s entrepreneurs, investors and other members of the startup community. The event is called Startup Connection and will be held from 5:00 – 9:00 p.m. in Washington University’s Knight Hall.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, we heard from two women who are organizing the events and a previous startup competition winner:

  • Phyllis Ellison, Director of Entrepreneur Services and Institutional/Corporate Partnerships, Cortex
  • Christine Karslake, Vice President of St. Louis Economic Development Partnership’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  • Tom Cohen, co-founder and CEO of Nanapore Diagnostics. The company is a previous winner of Startup Challenge, the startup competition within the Startup Connection, and was an Arch Grants recipient.

Karslake reiterated the sentiment that St. Louis is an excellent city for people interested in starting their own business.

“When we have people that look at us from outside of our region…they say that we’re very collaborative and very connected to one another,” she said. “And it’s not as much of a cutthroat but very Midwestern kind of culture.”

St. Louis is not immune to the challenges of diversity presented to entrepreneurs across the country, though. A criticism frequently leveled at the startup community nationally is that it is largely dominated by white men.

“In St. Louis we are very, very cognizant that we need to increase the diversity that’s here," said Ellison.

The competitions being held this week are working to reverse that trend by offering prize categories specifically for women, immigrants, veterans and other minority groups.

Cohen’s company, Nanopore Diagnostics, is working on developing a portable platform for detecting bacteria. He imagines the device’s uses to range from checking food health in grocery stores to assisting doctors in making the most accurate prescriptions for their patients.

Cohen spent over a year competing in various competitions and pitching his idea to investors before becoming an Arch Grants recipient.

“It was definitely an iterative process where we learned a lot from failure and were able to finally gather support needed to step out on our own,” he said.

At Wednesday’s Startup Connection event, Cohen expects to address questions about how to secure mentors, find initial funding, build a team, secure space to do work and make use of local legal and accounting resources.

Cohen, who earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of California-San Diego, sees St. Louis as a city with unique opportunities for entrepreneurs.

“The opportunity to get going, especially as a young entrepreneur, is really something here that doesn’t exist in San Diego,” he said.

Ellison agreed, explaining that the investor community in St. Louis is growing. She was quick to mention, however, that the pool of investor resources is still scarce, requiring companies to put a great deal of time and attention into crafting their pitches.

Despite the myth of what Karslake calls the “22-year-old whiz kid,” she explains that most entrepreneurs actually choose to start their own business much later in life.

“Most people that start businesses are mid-career, say early to mid-30s up until their mid-50s, because they have the experience in their industry,” Karslake said. “They know their industry well. They see where the problems are that can be addressed, and they see opportunities that no one else is going after.”

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.