• #FillTheFunnel

    May 30, 2017

    At the St. Louis Regional Chamber, we are increasingly taking a “systems view” of innovation.  Our local ecosystem has matured to the point where it has a steady stream of startups entering the “top of the funnel,” or the ideation and initial product development stage.  Programs like Arch Grants as well as groups like Missouri Technology Corporation, Arch Angels, and our network of accelerators have done a tremendous job of stimulating entrepreneurship, so much that the region ranks at or near the top among peer cities when it comes to capital availability for early-stage startups. This is something worth celebrating.

    But the same systems analysis developed by Dane Stangler (former VP of Policy Research at the Kaufmann Foundation, now head of policy at Startup Genome) shows that we can’t afford to become complacent – we have a serious funding gap at the post-seed stage.  Companies starting in St. Louis are at risk of either dying on the vine or leaving for greener pastures when they get to the point of needing $250K-$500K in growth capital. This won’t serve our long-term interests if the next Square, Twitter, or Express Scripts is born here only to move to San Francisco or Boston as it achieves scale.

    Over the next several months, expect to see the Chamber and its ecosystem partners make some major moves to address this funding gap. But in some ways, this still represents a defensive maneuver.  To shift to an offensive mindset, St. Louis must go to the very roots of its innovation culture.

    The true “top of the funnel” begins long before ideation, business plan writing, and seed funding.  It begins in primary school.  This is where core habits of mind are formed, and where kids learn the basic skills and values that will stay with them for a lifetime.  Here, too, there is some good news.  Our public schools were recently recertified and there is a growing willingness to think strategically and experimentally about how primary schools prepare kids as the future workforce.  But Missouri is at risk of falling behind more forward-thinking competitors.

    Consider Arkansas, which recently mandated computer science and technology education throughout primary schools. In 10 to 15 years from now, Arkansas schoolchildren will enter higher education and the workforce with a significant advantage over kids who are not exposed to technology education.  These kids will not only create the great companies of the future, they will help those companies fill key jobs. Great ideas go nowhere if they aren’t married to a skilled workforce.

    Iowa is also making long-term investments in computer literacy for its children. Working with Code.org, Iowa is rolling out computer science education in primary, elementary, and high schools across the state.  Through a public-private partnership, Iowa has managed to leverage a minimal investment by taxpayers (just $250,000 for teacher professional development) into one of the most innovative education initiatives in the country. By the time these kids graduate, many will be ready to enter the workforce as developers or entrepreneurs. Iowa will win big by retaining its native talent and companies.

    If Missouri wants to go on the offense, it needs to start playing the long game. We must fill our funnel by investing in science and technology education at the primary school level. The Chamber’s Regional Education Commitment lays out a series of guiding principles and metrics designed to align regional stakeholders around long-term goals.  Few things would have a greater impact on our competitiveness, inclusiveness, and quality of life than ensuring every Missouri child is fluent in the language of innovation by the time they graduate high school.

  • Making St. Louis a Talent Hub with Accessible and Affordable Higher Education

    Feb 13, 2017

    The future of St. Louis depends on its talent—the human capital that serves as the true engine of our region’s economic development.  We know there isn’t a greater accomplishment than improving our region’s prosperity by investing in people and making sure that they have the skills and economic opportunity to realize their best selves.

    By 2025, nearly 60% of jobs in the United States will require a post-secondary degree.  St. Louis is lagging with only 40.9% of its adult population possessing an associate’s degree or higher.  Employers are competing for talent and people are seeking meaningful employment; however, the cost of post-secondary education is skyrocketing.

    Many students in our region seeking greater economic opportunity understand the value of a college education and are willing to bear the burden of student loans. At the same time, the staggering weight of these loans is among the most cited reasons why students drop out of college. It is clear that the current generation of college students are pursuing an education at a great financial risk.  This is an ugly truth we need to face with resolve.

    The reasons for high college costs are complex and multi-faceted. But there is an effort underway to improve higher education attainment and affordability in the region. A group of leaders from across our community came together last year to forge the St. Louis Regional Education Commitment, a document identifying clear paths to make St. Louis a top ten region for educational attainment by 2025.  This goal requires us to increase the number of people completing college degrees and choosing to live in the region by nearly 90,000 by 2025.  While ambitious, this goal is attainable. We cannot reach this goal if we do not tackle the issue of college affordability.

    In the next few months, the Chamber will convene business and higher education leaders to address the increasing cost of a college education. The presidents and chancellors of 18 regional colleges and universities are also working to build on the St. Louis Regional Education Commitment’s foundation and engage civic and business leaders in their efforts.

    This begins a series of blogs that will take an in-depth look into why college costs are rising, the existing efforts by higher education institutions and policy makers to curb these costs, and some solutions we can implement as a region.

    The simple truth is addressing higher education will take resolve from our entire community. We are looking for partners and champions who can help us think through potential solutions.  I invite anyone who is reading this to connect with me directly at glaposa@stlregionalchamber.com  or @glaposa on Twitter if you have ideas, recommendations, or questions as work on making college more affordable and accessible for all.