• Venture Capital Investments Fuel Innovation in Greater St. Louis

    May 29, 2018

    Venture capital (VC) investment in the St. Louis area has maintained momentum in 2017, with over $334 million invested in a total of 48 local start-ups. Investments spanned many industries, from Bioscience research firm Adarza to software developers like Hatchbuck and investment research firm Prattle Analytics.  Individual companies have continued to attract higher investments than in previous years. In addition, seven startups received investments of over $10 million and 18 startups received investments of $1 million or more (1).

    These investors recognize strengths in the St. Louis region, with local companies developing potentially transformative technologies.  For example, Adarza Biosystems, a life science company specializing in diagnostic technology based on “multiplex protein detection”, received $17 million from local investment firm River Vest (2).  Medical startup CardiaLen, which is developing a device for treating atrial fibrillation, received $978,500 in angel investor funding (4).

     Venture capital also plays a vital role in St. Louis’ growing agricultural technology sector.  NewLeaf Symbiotics, an agricultural technology company, received investments of $30 million from Monsanto Growth Ventures and S2G Ventures. (5) S2G highlighted NewLeaf’s innovation as a key factor in his firm’s decision, saying the company was “driving the sustainability revolution” with its groundbreaking research.

    Another emerging leader in the agtech field, Benson Hill Biosystems, raised $25 million for developing CropOS, a platform which “integrates crop data and analytics” to “unlock the global genetic potential of plants” (6, 7).

    VC investments in 2017 illustrate the dynamic nature of the regional economy, where technological innovation intersects with entrepreneurial vision.  Venture capital is not only contributing to the regional economy; it is building the future industrial base of the region.

    Numerous investment opportunities make St. Louis an ideal location for launching and growing a startup. The region benefits from a range of venture capital firms with expertise about specific industries; from SixThirty, a seed fund that assists financial technology startups (8), to RiverVest Ventures, which identifies emerging leaders in the biosciences industry (10).

    Angel investors also play an important role in the growth of start-up firms. Of 48 start-ups that received venture capital funding in 2017, 18, or 37.5%, were funded by the St. Louis Arch Angels, a group of accredited investors in the region. Seven new start-ups were funded by the Arch-Angels and 19 received follow-up investments, with three companies receiving $1million or more.

    Opportunities such as the Startup Connection Venture Showcase, and InvestMidwest (www.investmidwestforum.com) give entrepreneurs the chance to secure early-stage investments (11). Over the last 17 years, InvestMidwest, an annual venture capital conference supported by the Regional Chamber, has raised over $1 billion for Midwestern companies.

    Just as importantly, St. Louis startups have increasingly drawn the attention of national investors. MediBeacon, a startup developing diagnostic devices, raised $11 million in funding from New York-based venture capital firm HC2 (12, 13). The region’s largest venture capital investment in 2016 was secured by Veran Medical Technologies, which received $31 million from Washington D.C.-based firm Oxford Finance (14). This funding enabled further development of the SPiN Thoracic Navigation System, a software designed to allow more efficient diagnoses of lung cancer (15).

    Between 2013 and 2016, companies in the St. Louis metro area raised over $1.3 billion in venture capital, or an average of $325 million per year. Startup companies raised these funds over almost 400 separate investments, with 2015 setting a record of 133 investments in 117 individual companies. The total value of those investments remained high, at $334 million, in 2017, although the number of investments decreased to 52. There has been a national trend towards fewer, more high-value investments over time. The St. Louis economy generally aligns with this national trend.

    As local companies fuel innovation, it’s no surprise that the St. Louis region is gaining national recognition by venture capital firms and industry leaders.

    Sources:

    (1) “St. Louis MSA Venture Capital Investments 2017” St. Louis Regional Chamber, May 11, 2018.

    (2) “About Us” Adarza Biosystems 2018.

    (3) “Adarza Biosystems Closes on $17 Million Series C Financing” Adarza Biosystems, Jan. 19, 2017.

    (4) “An Innovative solution in a world of ineffective stopgaps” Cardialen: Therapy, 2016.

     (5) “St. Louis Crop Science company raises $30 million” St. Louis Business Journal, Sept. 7, 2017.

    (6) “Press Release: Benson Hill Bisystems Closes $25M Series B Financing” Benson-Hill Biosystems, March 28, 2017.

    (7) “Benson Hill adds investors in $25 million financing round” St. Louis Business Journal: Technology, March 28, 2017.

    (8) “About SixThirty” SixThirty 2018.

    (9) “RiverVest leads $17 million investment in Adarza, brings on new President” St. Louis Business Journal: Technology, Jan. 19, 2017.

    (10) “60 startups that will pitch at Venture Showcase” St. Louis Business Journal: Technology Oct. 23, 2017.

    (11) “What is Startup Connection?” Startup Connection, 2015.

    (12) “New York firm invests another $10 million in MediBeacon” St. Louis Business Journal March 27, 2017.

    (13) “MediBeacon History” MediBeacon 2018.

    (14) “Veran raises $31 million from East Coast private equity firm” St. Louis Business Journal: Healthcare, Dec. 27, 2016.

    (15) “How it works” and “Benefits”, Veran Medical Technologies 2018.

     

  • Missouri Innovation Fund Would Be a Game-Changer

    Mar 13, 2018
    Over the last decade, Missouri state has made tremendous progress as a hub for entrepreneurs. Both Kansas City and St. Louis are among the top mid-sized cities in the nation for startups according to third-party monitoring organizations like the Kauffman Foundation. Startup ecosystems in Missouri’s small towns and rural areas have earned national attention. At a time when Missouri’s brand image and reputation are under assault by large media organizations outside our state, our entrepreneurs are providing a powerful counter-narrative: that Missouri is a place where innovators can make a meaningful difference in their communities by creating jobs and wealth.

    Senate Bill 1037 would establish the basic legal framework for the eventual creation of a Missouri Innovation Fund, something that is essential if Missouri is to remain competitive in the national and international innovation economy.

    Our momentum is strong, but there is no guarantee that it will continue. Recent scale-backs in the Missouri Technology Corporation have cut funding for startups and the organizations that support them to critical levels. In today’s competitive talent marketplace, it is essential that Missouri continue to signal its commitment to entrepreneurship and innovation, or top talent will leave our state for more favorable environments. Even before the cuts to MTC, other states in the Midwest were already providing significantly more financial support to startups than Missouri.
    .
    As a former entrepreneur myself, I am a strong believer in the free markets. However, I also know that for early-stage ventures, the capital markets are highly inefficient. Private risk capital is concentrated in coastal enclaves. This draws entrepreneurial talent to those enclaves, creating a “virtuous cycle” of investment and innovation. In Missouri, we face the opposite situation: the possibility of a vicious cycle where limited access to capital forces our native talent to go elsewhere and make it unattractive for outside talent to relocate here.

    Creating a professionally managed, early-stage venture fund would give Missouri entrepreneurs a fighting chance to compete with their coastal counterparts. This bill does not allocate any money to such a fund, it merely establishes a framework for such a fund to be created. Therefore, there is little or no risk, only upside. S.B. 1037 is a modest but important first step towards making Missouri the top innovation hub between the coasts.