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How Entrepreneurial 'Boomerangs' And Transplants Are Finding Their Way In St. Louis

Jessica Ciccone, at left, and Samantha Rudolph joined Monday's program.
St. Louis Public Radio & Babyation

Since Jessica Ciccone moved back to her hometown of St. Louis in 2012 after years living in Boston, she’s found a niche connecting local professionals with business resources and service activities — and with each other.

Those passions all come together in the nonprofit she helped to form a couple of years ago, St. Louis Startup Ambassadors, for which she now serves as board vice president. The organization helps transplants find their way in what can be an insular town — although St. Louis natives and “boomerangs” like herself, who’ve moved back after years away, are also welcome.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske talked with Ciccone and with Samantha Rudolph, the founder of Babyation, a company Rudolph describes as “unapologetically for moms."

They shared their insights on starting businesses based in St. Louis and their experiences as professionals in a place recently named No. 1 among U.S. cities for its number of female entrepreneurs. The conversation also included comments from Anthony Bartlett, who runs St. Louis Transplants, and Pravina Pindoria, co-founder of Tallyfy, as well as listeners.

Ciccone said that St. Louis “can feel a little foreign,” even for someone like herself coming back to the Gateway City after a number of years away. The St. Louis Startup Ambassadors seek to fill in the gaps for newcomers.

“In our group we kind of focus on a three-pronged approach to guiding people into St. Louis and making those connections not only to each other but to the city,” she said, “through educational opportunities, through social activities and service.”

Bartlett noted that “something like 69% or 70% of [St. Louis is] made up of people who are from here,” in contrast to a city like Denver or Austin or New York where entrepreneurial transplants frequently end up in environments with a lot of people like themselves.

“They're going to be [with] fellow transplants” in those other cities, Bartlett explained. “So the social piece of integrating into St. Louis is a very big difference that they notice right away.

When Rudolph first returned to St. Louis after many years away to compete for an Arch Grant, her eyes were opened to her hometown in a whole new way — but it did take some time and some helpful guides along the way.

“To see downtown St. Louis and to see T-REX and to see this whole other side of the city that I thought I knew,” Rudolph said, “I needed an ambassador, and I spent 18 years of my life here.”

Pravina Pindoria, who moved from London to St. Louis after winning an Arch Grant in 2014, said she wishes a group like the Startup Ambassadors had been in place at that time.

“When Amit and I, my husband who is also my co-founder, first arrived here, we didn’t know anything about the best places to live, or to eat, or about health insurance … we were connected with a few people that were trying to form something like this to help people from outside of the U.S. settle in,” Pindoria said. “And yeah, that kind of support was really helpful ... I think [it’s] awesome for transplants from other states and from abroad as well.”

Related Event
What: St. Louis Startup Ambassadors’ Second Annual BBQ Bash
When: 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019
Where: Turkish Pavilion in Tower Grove Park (2824 Tower Grove Ave., St. Louis MO 63110)
Note: Tickets are required for this event.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Alexis Moore. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.