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How The Onion Hit On an Interesting Truth About Entrepreneurship in St. Louis

Categories: Bidness
The funniest jokes, we submit, expose uneasy truths. Behold this gem from the venerable spoof paper, The Onion, that went up on Friday:

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At first, you think they're skewering St. Louis as some kind of entrepreneurial backwater. But that's not why WE laughed.

As it happens, St. Louis is not an entrepreneurial backwater anymore. In fact, the Kauffman Foundation has ranked Missouri sixth nationwide this year for its rate of residents who create businesses (and St. Louis hosted a lot of that growth).

What probably sparked the Onion's joke (and we swear an Onion writer lives here) is the  press coverage of the St. Louis' current attempt to lure start-ups to town.

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First, there's Arch Grants -- the business incubator non-profit that recently held a competition and awarded 15 burgeoning companies a grant worth $50,000 each last spring for anchoring their operations downtown.

Then there's Capital Innovators, a tech accelerator that gives the same amount of cash to promising firms in return for a 5-10 percent sliver of ownership.

Here's the funny part: The suggestion that these focused efforts initiatives could ever come out of City Hall.

Everybody in St. Louis wants new businesses, so the pols and pundits argue endlessly about TIFs and tax credits, as if public incentives are the clincher.

Meanwhile, four private businessmen -- attorney Jerry Schlichter, developer Robert Guller, Zack Boyers of US Bancorp, and Joe Schlafly of Stifel Nicolaus -- decide they're tired of watching smart kids leave town. 

So they go around raising funds and drum up $750,000 -- yes, partly from the city and the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis, but mostly from rich individuals and large companies like Advantage Capital Partners, Emerson, Husch Blackwell, Peabody Energy, Polsinelli Shughart, Thompson Coburn, and US Bank.

Then they launch Arch Grants, and in about two years, they bring 15 fresh and promising companies downtown.

Boom.

Makes you laugh, thinking a politician standing at a podium could pull that off -- especially in a city as fractious as ours.

And that's an uneasy truth. Because if our city's public policy is key to entrepreneurship, then all we have to do is get the right people in office to bring it about. However, if city government policy is but a tiny detail in an economy ruled by powerful people and powerful forces beyond our control, maybe we're all wasting our breath arguing about stuff like tax credits.


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21 comments
jbradhicks
jbradhicks

For tech companies, $50k per company is a sad little grant. That won't even cover their repeated air fare to and from a city that still has bank and investment firm and VC headquarters, the minute they need any real funding.

 

How to make a city a tech hub is something that has been studied to death. You need four things. St. Louis has maybe one and a half of them. You need a first-rate scientific graduate school, which Washington University almost still is. You need plenty of cheap office space nearby, which we have in spades. You need a local culture for college students and grad students that is so diversity-friendly and so fun that young scientific and technical elites who've experienced it cannot imagine ever living elsewhere, which the religious fundamentalists who run our politics will never allow. And you need major banking and finance infrastructure, so that the tech entrepreneurs that make any progress at all can locally secure 2nd and 3rd round funding, and we lost the last remaining dribble of that years ago.

 

Anybody whose plan for bringing jobs back to St. Louis is to attempt to duplicate the success of Palo Alto or Austin or Seattle or Cambridge here is just plain deluding themselves.

innov8ion
innov8ion

I don't get it, @dylanized. Attracting entrepreneurs takes coordination and incentives. Didn't you tweet about Startup Chile or similar?

dylanized
dylanized

The Onion was spot on and hilarious!  In the meantime, STL grassroots is on the grind.

 

For #STL entrepreneurial/startup folks, we invite you to join us at our monthly meetup group - StartLouis. We gather once a month at the T-REx to learn from successful St. Louis CEO's and learn more about lean startup principles. Join us:

 

http://meetup.com/startlouis

 

Next month we are hosting Alexis Ohanian (founder of Reddit.com) on his Internet2012 Tour!

electroponix
electroponix

@NP_DailyRFT @MayorSlay @dylanized It is on spot. I worked in CIN. Everyone was afraid of their jobs. No one cooperated.

stldesktop
stldesktop

@NP_DailyRFT @MayorSlay Whatever makes you feel better. Ppl don't regularly get shot in the face Mountainview CA. $50k grants = laughable

Nicholas Phillips
Nicholas Phillips

Thanks -- and by the way, which one from last year? I think I missed it.

Eric Christensen
Eric Christensen

Great point made on this topic, but as far as the Onion goes this one was lacking in humor. Last year's piece they did on STL was much more clever.

dylanized
dylanized

@innov8ion It would be great to have some entrepreneurial coordination and incentives coming from #STL City Hall. They just want free press

NP_DailyRFT
NP_DailyRFT

@stldesktop They moved here, didn't they?

NP_DailyRFT
NP_DailyRFT

 @KittyLitterKing I assume you saw that Bill McClellan has come up with an ingenious solution to repair the public trust on that one: "Elizabeth Robb and Robert Archibald should buy the property on Delmar from the museum."

 

http://tinyurl.com/957v3nn

innov8ion
innov8ion

If more than 123 people in the world laugh, I'll be impressed. Don't see how this resonates w/ normal folks, imho. @dylanized

stldesktop
stldesktop

@NP_DailyRFT Lots of ppl move here. Some for family, jobs, bankruptcy, running from the law. You're refering to Cap Innovators or who?

dylanized
dylanized

@innov8ion More specific: new biz licensing needs to change, city needs a CTO and a blog, would be nice 2 see mayor at more than press confs

dylanized
dylanized

@innov8ion In general: mayor should lead the way, realize tech community is strategic city priority, work to modernize laws and systems

innov8ion
innov8ion

What level of involvement do you perceive, @dylanized? What do you think is reasonable?

dylanized
dylanized

@innov8ion I agree that city leadership needs to be tightly involved; sure wish ours was!

innov8ion
innov8ion

Widespread incentives take partnership and while a mayor may not be the focal point, is involved. #strawman @dylanized

dylanized
dylanized

@innov8ion TheOnion and the RFT are making different (but related) points. TheOnion is making fun of #STL, the RFT is calling out city hall

stldesktop
stldesktop

@NP_DailyRFT $50k is pathetic by any standard and "Commited"? Sure. When investors lose more than they gain or can write off, what then?

NP_DailyRFT
NP_DailyRFT

@stldesktop Arch Grants. Sure, $50k is pocket change in Silicon Valley. But now we have 15 firms committed to staying here. I'll take it.

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