The St. Louis Post Dispatch provided me a forum in July 2013 to express my view on the growing St. Louis Innovation/entrepreneurship movement. Here is the text of the Op-ed piece.
Here’s an experiment to keep you amused the next time you’re at Busch Stadium watching the Cardinals, or standing in line for that concrete at Ted Drewes.
Reach out to the person sitting or standing next to you — make sure it’s a total stranger — and ask, “Hey, how about that innovative start-up movement we’re seeing in St. Louis?” If the response is a quizzical look, similar to the dog looking into the Victrola in those old RCA Victor advertisements, then you’ve proven my point: the Great St. Louis Innovative Start-up Story is The Greatest Story Not Yet Told, at least not to the widespread audience that needs to hear it.
The just-released Regional Entrepreneurship Initiative report acknowledged the need to better tell the St. Louis innovation story, noting, “A strong, professionally run marketing and communications program should focus on entrepreneurs, ecosystem members, and funders of the ecosystem.”
That’s a terrific start. We’ll need more.
The St. Louis Innovative Entrepreneurship Movement represents the best chance in years to rebrand our community. We have the opportunity to reposition ourselves as a destination hub for creative innovators. The blossoming St. Louis start-up movement provides a solid opportunity to become a city less defined by heat and humidity, and more as a sizzling hotbed of innovation.
To get there, we’ll need to reach beyond the obvious audiences.
Reaching “entrepreneurs, ecosystem members and funders” is good, but we’ll have achieved true success when a widespread audience of St. Louisans knows this story. When you reach out to that random person in the example above and he replies, “Oh yeah, St. Louis is a great start-up community, and I know companies like Lockerdome, Trakbill and Aisle 411 are doing exciting things,” then we’ll have moved closer to the goal.
More consistent news coverage can help. Occasional coverage on local broadcast news stations and in the Post-Dispatch is terrific, but regular, consistent mainstream media reporting on the movement would be better. KMOX Radio is bringing local entrepreneurs on the air every Tuesday morning to discuss their start-ups. Why couldn’t local TV newsrooms do the same in their evening newscasts? At least one local station devotes resources to regular reports on education issues. Couldn’t a station devote the same level of resources to a journalist concentrating on local innovative entrepreneurship? Many St. Louis start-ups were conceived by young innovators. A regular series highlighting their accomplishments would not only be interesting programming, it would attract the 25-54 age group that television stations so covet.
Any campaign to increase awareness of the local innovation movement should include the education community. Our region’s universities are beginning to see that, and we are seeing signs that more college graduates are considering staying in St. Louis after they earn their degrees. But how about entrepreneurship classes in all junior high and high schools in the area, including those that could lend diversity to the movement? Couldn’t we better link the growing movement to the successful FIRST Robotics program held in St. Louis each year?
Local elected leaders should be part of the mix. The innovative start-up ecosystem is complex. We need to reach out to elected leaders and inform them, to guarantee they fully grasp the story, and to ensure they become ambassadors of this movement.
How about community organizations? Our nonprofit, InnoVox STL, has launched a program to link local start-ups to the well-established St. Louis arts community, giving each more exposure into the terrific work being done by the other. The new “Friends of Arch Grants” program, linking start-ups to other forms of nonfinancial support, also will help. We need more collaboration like that.
We also must immerse the creative start-up story into the consciousness of big local corporations, because they’ll benefit from this movement, as it helps create a smarter workforce from which they can hire, and helps provide them a more robust potential supplier base.
Just as the Gateway Arch redefined our community’s skyline some 50 years ago, the blossoming St. Louis innovative entrepreneurship movement represents a terrific opportunity for us to boost our image, and regain our swagger.
To do that we’ll need to reach beyond the traditional suspects. Let’s saturate St. Louis with the innovative entrepreneurship story. Let’s talk about our new business model in a way that’s not “business as usual.”
If you have thoughts or comments about the above, please contact me at email@example.com