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Economy & Business

Cortex To Host Second STL Startup Week, Bringing Entrepreneurs Together Virtually

1106_provided_Cortex_Phyllis Ellison
Cortex
Phyllis Ellison, who organized STL Startup Week, hopes to connect entrepreneurs with local resources like funding, which she says are more important than ever amid so much economic uncertainty.

The Cortex Innovation Community kicks off its second STL Startup Week on Monday.

It will host more than 60 free virtual sessions throughout the week, bringing together entrepreneurs, investors and researchers to talk about how to start and grow local businesses.

Phyllis Ellison, Cortex vice president of partnerships and program development, is organizing STL Startup Week. She said the resources it offers are especially important now, during an uncertain economy triggered by the pandemic.

“Some people start a business out of need,” she said. “And so we want to be there to help them and to let them know that there are resources here — mentoring programs, coaching, and support and education that can help them get their business off the ground and answer some of the questions that may be keeping them stuck at this moment.”

It might sound counterintuitive, but Ellison said that when the economy is down and unemployment rates are up, more people start new businesses.

Ellison said it’s Cortex’s job, through events like STL Startup Week, to make sure entrepreneurs are aware of the roughly 75 local support organizations that can help them find funding and expand their businesses.

Those connections are important for entrepreneurs who are new to the area, like Lauren Covell. She works for Neocova Corp., a year-old financial tech company that supports community banks.

“I recently moved to St. Louis from New York City and am looking to expand my local start up network,” she said in an email, about why she plans to attend the conference.

All workshops and panels are free, but attendees must register online by the day of the event.

Ellison said she expects fewer attendees than last year's event, which drew about 5,000 people.

Topics will include women in entrepreneurship, as well as industry-specific tracks for people interested in geospatial or tech companies.

LaShana Lewis, director of St. louis Equity in Entrepreneurship Collective, will speak on several panels, including one focused on equity in the financial tech industry. She previously worked at Mastercard, which has its operations headquarters in the St. Louis area.

Lewis hopes to change the way businesspeople think about diversity, equity and inclusion. As a Black woman and entrepreneur, she said she’s had the door slammed in her face too many times when fighting for opportunities.

“When we don’t look at any of the systemic oppression, we’re just conflating the issue that people are having a problem getting to these resources and capital due to sheer apathy. And that is not the issue at all,” she said.

Lewis hopes attendees of STL Startup Week come with an open mind, ready to ask questions and dive into work solving these big issues.

“Don’t assume anything going in,” she said.

You can find more information about STL Startup Week and register for events here.

Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan

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