Calling All Tech Entrepreneurs: StartUp St. Louis Wants to Stop the Brain Drain

Categories: Bidness, Tech
brain_drain.jpg
Wait! Don't go! Here's why...
You've heard the stories. St. Louis is losing its most creative and entrepreneurial people to the likes of Chicago, New York and Austin. If only we were more like Silicon Valley -- the argument goes -- perhaps local boy Jack Dorsey would've founded Twitter in his hometown of St. Louis and not the Bay Area.

But how to stop the brain drain? Judy Sindecuse, a self-described "serial entrepreneur" and founder of the venture capital company Capital Innovators, thinks she has a possible solution. It's called StartUp St. Louis, a tech-company accelerator she's helping to start this fall that aims to launch 40 IT companies in St. Louis within the next four years.

"We've found that there are fantastic companies here that were dying on the vine because they'd taken the business as far as it could go before hitting a funding wall," Sindecuse tells Daily RFT. "We want to put that to an end to that by introducing these entrepreneurs to potential investors, while at the same time helping them get their business to the next level."

StartUp St. Louis is currently looking for five tech firms to participate in the first round of its program beginning in September. Each company will receive $50,000 in seed money and free office space for twelve weeks inside the Railway Exchange Building (the former Famous-Barr headquarters). During those twelve weeks of "bootcamp," StartUp St. Louis will provide the entrepreneurs with free technical, research, legal and accounting expertise from area mentors.

What's the catch? As noted, Capital Investors is a venture capital firm. It hopes StartUp St. Louis will allow it to invest early on in the next "big thing" in the tech biz.

"I'm managing a fund that needs to make money for its investors, and many of my investors are entrepreneurs themselves who have a real interest in helping others start a business," says Sindecuse, who's teamed up with the RCGA, the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis, the St. Louis Economic Development Corporation and the IT Entrepreneur Network (ITEN) of St. Louis in launching the program.

The ideal candidate for StartUp St. Louis will have a working prototype of his or her business (be it social media, software, hardware, etc.) even if it's not particularly effective at this time. That said, Sindecuse is encouraging any tech entrepreneur to apply for the program no matter how far along they are with their company. The one stipulation is that you have to be committed full-time to the endeavor and able to attend the twelve-week course.

Those interested in applying can do so at capitalinnovators.com. The deadline for applications for the inaugural session of StartUp St. Louis (beginning September 12) is July 15. A new round of five entrepreneurs will begin once that first session is complete.

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KittyLitterKing
KittyLitterKing

I served on a task force assembled by Focus St. Louis is 2000 regarding the economic growth, and the consensus was the brain drain was a huge problem.  And nothing really happened.  

I'm not a believer in this "pie in the sky"/next Silicon Valley model.  A better question is why aren't any significant new businesses developing in STL?  It's a matter of scale; how about 1-2 breakout businesses before we magically create hundreds of high-tech, high-skilled jobs?

huangbrong
huangbrong

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dylanized
dylanized

I'm a programmer and aspiring entrepreneur, currently building a team around an exciting new idea - and we are very excited about Capital Innovators. It's great to see folks stepping up to the plate and really driving change in our city.

St. Louis is home to me, but I spent some time working in San Francisco. Yeah there's a lot of opportunities out there, but nothing compares to good ole fashioned sweat equity - and St. Louis is a cheap place to go heads-down and build a product. The internet connects us to mentors and talent worldwide, plus San Fran is only a flight away; if an idea is good enough it doesn't matter where it starts.

The biggest thing holding back St. Louis is our own expectations :) Hopefully StartUp St. Louis can help change that part!

Our application is called Apex and its on the way - follow our journey at http://apex.io :)

Augustyniak
Augustyniak

Saint Louis will keep dying on the vine until it figures out a way to reverse the racial, social and cultural polarization; the hollowing out of so many formerly Saint Louis-based firms; the low educational attainment of the metropolitan region as a whole compared to other nearby cities like Chicago; the lack of vision by the social elites who want the benefits of living in a New York but have attitudes more akin to Savannah; and the drag of the anti-investment right-wingers outside the Saint Louis region, who could care less if the city sank into the Mississippi.  It's a tall order, but St. Louisans with vision can overcome it.

J. Brad Hicks
J. Brad Hicks

And once they outgrow that seed capital, which locally-headquartered national bank will finance their next expansion? And once they outgrow that, which locally-headquartered investment firm will underwrite their bonds?

Look, I'm born and bred here, and have roots I can't escape. (And I've tried.) I hope the city survives and thrives. But St. Louis has strikes against it that are not going to be easily overcome, if they can be at all. The subject of how to grow a tech hub has been studied to death, and you need all of the following: top-notch education, plenty of empty office space, pleasant 3-season (or more) weather, at-least regional (and ideally global) banking and investment infrastructure, a powerful congressional delegation channeling in federal subsidies, and an entertainment and social environment that 20-something grad students love so much that once they finish their degrees, they never want to live anywhere else. If you can't check off all of those boxes, you're not going to be a major tech hub.

And by my most optimistic estimate, we can meet maybe half of them. We have Wash U (to whatever extent "the Harvard of the midwest" is still a major science and technology school, if it still is), but we also have one of the lowest college graduation rates of any city in the US, so it takes some optimism to say yes, we have that. We do have Joe Edwards' projects and the Cherokee Street scene, although I'm not certain how many Wash U grad students are having so much fun in either of those places that they won't want to leave them for some place ever better when they graduate. And the gods know, we have plenty of empty office space.

On the other hand, we have two of the lowest-ranking Senators, and our Congressional delegation chairs none of the really important funding committees, so we're not going to get the kind of federally subsidized research and development that (say) Boston or San Fran or Austin got; in a poorer state largely controlled by rural Republicans, state funding for university research isn't exactly going fill in that gap, now, is it? The last national (or even regional) bank headquarters went away years ago, and the last national investment firm was sold to an out-of-town firm since then. And nobody moves to St. Louis for our cool, comfortable summers OR our mild, pleasant winters.

Do not gamble your future on St. Louis becoming the next center of global scientific and technical innovation.

TimC
TimC

I couldn't agree more and this is in part why I decided to leave St Louis: http://www.stltoday.com/busine...

I was born and raised here and I would love to see this city thrive; however, a mature, robust ecosystem is needed to support startups.  Unfortunately, development of this kind of ecosystem cannot be forced, and it appears that the road ahead is quite long and uncertain. Too often entrepreneurs such as myself have to decide between (1) facing a longer and riskier launch due to our desire to stay in St Louis and  (2) favoring our dreams over our loyalties and leaving for greener pastures.  It really is unfortunate.

That being said; I greatly respect the efforts that are being made and I really do hope they pay dividends.

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