Entrepreneurship & Innovation

The rate of new Startups achieving some meaningful success (like a capital round, SBIR Award, etc.) has been astounding in recent years.  The number of startup companies forming and raising enough capital to launch, either in an accelerator or incubator, has nearly doubled in the past two years.  New venture funds, accelerators and the Arch Grants program, as well as mentoring and Executive In Residence programs, have increased the likelihood of a continuing vibrant startup scene.

Startup Scene

St. Louis is suddenly being recognized as a hot newcomer in the world of high-tech entrepreneurs and information technology startups. Forbes, TechCrunch, The Wall Street Journal, and CNBC all praised the Gateway City’s start-up scene, adding to the growing buzz.

St. Louis is the fastest growing city in the country when it comes to technology jobs, with an  average tech salary of around $81,000. The growth has been going on for years, but it’s caught fire in the past two years for lots of reasons. 

There are now lots of incubators in St. Louis and lots of startups, as well as award-winning accelerators and mentor programs in both life sciences and IT. Several great universities are contributing translational research and thousands of grads into the mix.  St. Louis is beginning to attract outside money and talent, creating a virtuous cycle.

When two St. Louisans – Jim McKelvey and Jack Dorsey, who co-founded Twitter -- started Square, a smart phone credit card reader, they needed the workforce community of San Francisco to fill the jobs they were hiring for.  Now, though, with the engagement of successful serial entrepreneurs, new investment capital, and plenty of outside attention, things have changed. The talent pool in the community can now better support all the growth of the startups.

To get caught up, check out the STL Startup Social Roundup, a list created by the T-Rex community to put all the thinkers and doers in St. Louis’ startup scene in one place. By no means is it comprehensive -- it’s ever-evolving, and it will continue to be updated on a regular basis as new players come into the space. If you’re ready to start following, check out the list HERE or follow everyone in one click by checking out the Twitter list.

Capital Sources

There is a deepening bench of angel groups, venture firms, accelerators and now the Arch Grants (the biggest business plan competition in the world) in St. Louis. Whether in tech or life science, there is a rich vein of early-stage capital for the entrepreneur who knows how to mine it.  And for those who don’t, there are people who can facilitate and guide your company’s growth as you work hard to  succeed.  Use the links on the new Accelerate STL website to learn of all the funders.  And for a video tour of the seed stage scene, watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O46Ha553ik4.

Also, be sure to check out InvestMidwest this spring in St. Louis.  It is the oldest venture forum in the middle of the country.

Incubators & Flex Space

There are a number of co-working and incubator facilities in St. Louis.  For a complete list, go to http://www.acceleratestlouis.org/Resources and type in your incubator query.

Below are listed a few of the larger, tech-focused, not-for-profit incubators:

1.     Center for Emerging Technologies

CET, established in 1998, occupies 92,000 sq. ft. containing wet and dry labs, production space and small offices for early-stage entrepreneurial medical, bioscience and other advanced technology companies. CET is affiliated and located in the Cortex Innovation District in Midtown St. Louis.

2.     Innovative Technology Enterprises at University of Missouri - St. Louis

Features both wet and dry-lab facilities and a high-performance computing center (HPCC) staffed by on-site Ph.D. scientists, ITE supports innovation in a wide-variety of fields including IT and life sciences, providing the physical, mentoring, business development and computational resources required for startup companies to grow. They provide the expertise to help startups in a wide variety of technical fields, solve fundamental R&D and business development issues, including those that require sophisticated computational resources.

3.     Helix Center Biotech Incubator

Focused on bioscience, technology and plant and life sciences startups, Helix Center Biotech Incubator has the facilities, experience and connections to launch the next generation of successful, high-potential companies. You’ll find affordable wet labs, dry labs, office space and so much more – nurturing, mentoring, financing, and collaboration – at Helix Center Biotech Incubator. The owner and operator of Helix Center, St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, is the region’s top developer of successful new companies.

4.     Downtown T-REx

T-Rex,  a mix between a co-working space and technology incubator, is located in the heart of downtown St. Louis.  It is 100,000 sq/ft in the historic Railway Exchange Building, converted into a hub for the St. Louis startup scene — and now home to a growing community of entrepreneurs, developers, designers, mentors, venture capitalists, educators and more. Some like to call this place "startup city."


There are three accelerators operating in the St. Louis startup scene, one a life science not-for-profit (Biogenerator) and two, equity-backed IT accelerators: Capital Innovators and SixThirty.

  1. The St. Louis Biogenerator was recognized in mid-September with a national award by SSTI for its efforts at encouraging life sciences entrepreneurship. The 10-year-old Biogenerator provides advice, capital and lab space to early-stage life sciences companies. It has invested in 40 startups so far, some of which are housed in its Accelerator Labs space on Forest Park Avenue. The Biogenerator also has 13 entrepreneurs in residence, who have advised more than 100 companies.
  2. Two health-care entrepreneurs, two game developers and a student-marketing company make up the latest investment class for Capital Innovators, a technology accelerator fund in downtown St. Louis. The fund, which launched in 2011, invests $50,000 in each of its startup companies and puts them through a three-month mentoring and development program. It holds a Demo Day program each spring to showcase the companies for potential investors. Capital Innovators
  3. Since being unveiled in St. Louis in early August, the SixThirty financial technology accelerator has garnered much national attention as the financial and tech worlds are now paying close attention to the incubator. The program has been written up and broadcast on CNBC, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, newspapers, blogs, and TV stations around the globe. The idea behind SixThirty is simple:  St. Louis is an established financial services hub and an emerging entrepreneurial hotspot. SixThirty combines the resources of both these communities in a unique four-month accelerator program (+ $100k investment), which aims to show the startups the  community of St. Louis, help them grow to be successful, and hopefully relocate them permanently to St. Louis.

Entrepreneurial Events

Through a whole host of community organizations, St. Louis regularly hosts events like meetups for hackers and coders, Startup Weekends for idea people, or financing seminars for the long trek through capital formation for life science firms, and lots and lots of things in between. 

Check out events this fall like the http://downtowntrex.com/2013/09/save-the-date-third-annual-startup-weekend-st-louis/.

Startup Connection;  Startup Weekend.

For a complete list of goings on, go here http://www.acceleratestlouis.org/Calendar or here: http://downtowntrex.com/members/.

Support Organizations

There are over 150 resources to list, and new ones added every day. The universities, the not-for-profits, the investors, incubators, chambers, trade associations, professional service providers, Illinois and Missouri state governments…there are so many folks in St. Louis who want entrepreneurs to succeed that they spend  time, money and energy everyday to make sure of it. One of St. Louis’ strengths is the supportive community, helping to keep burn rates low and companies moving forward. Check out the list

Or reach out directly to the Chamber with your request, by contacting Jason Hall, VP of Entrepreneurship & Innovation. If we can’t help you, we’ll try to connect you with someone who can. 

First Customer Program

The St. Louis Regional Chamber has made a fundamental commitment to connect the region’s startup and established business communities. To do so, the Chamber has established a platform to identify some of the most pressing needs of the St. Louis area’s big businesses and match them with the most promising market-ready products and creative solutions teams from the  startup community. For startups, we call this The First Customer Program. For the larger corporate community, we call it the Backyard Innovation Program.  

In addition, to expand and empower the St. Louis corporate innovation pipeline, several channels have been developed to help identify innovation here in our own backyard. 

  • Expression of Intent
  • Platform Adoption
  • Innovation Road Map
  • Open Innovation Challenge
  • Industry Cluster Accelerator

These programs are designed to specifically address big-company challenges with innovative entrepreneurial solutions.  They are flexible programs accommodating (confidential) internal strategies, processes and workflows. 

Reach out directly to the Regional Chamber with your inquiry.   We think we can connect you with the right first customer, or an innovative solution to your business problem.  Email Jason Hall, VP of Entrepreneurship & Innovation.