When a city invests in its entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs will invest in the city.
The launch of Innovation Hall in the Cortex Innovation District represents a new phase for the St. Louis startup community.
The Innovation Hall, which will include a lounge, a free and open drop-in workspace, a new concept restaurant and cafe, and reserved event and meeting space, is emblematic of the relationship between cities and entrepreneurs.
In less than 10 years, a community of innovators and entrepreneurs has paved the way for the St. Louis tech scene to become a nationally and internationally recognized tech hub.
By 2010, the formation of a movement — what we now know as the St. Louis Startup Community — was in full swing. In the early days, it was a challenge to find and recruit talent to stay in St. Louis: The city was too fragmented, entrepreneurs struggled to find their feet and build a personal network.
Today, the talent pipeline is accelerating from both local and outside sources as the city’s thriving startup scene continues to compound.
“Since moving, I found two of the best technical team members I’ve ever had. It’s clear something is forming and there’s a lot of potential here,” said Jeff Volaski, founder and CEO of StatRoute and a recent transplant from Denver. “You can tell people are committed.”
Thanks to organizations like Arch Grants and a high density of startup accelerators, St. Louis is bringing in newcomers like Jeff at a faster rate than ever before.
In fact, 16 percent of St. Louis startups report having moved from another U.S. city — a number twice the average for U.S. ecosystems.
In 2017, St. Louis was ranked the fastest growing city for startup activity among the nation’s top 40 metro areas.
St. Louis was also ranked in the top 10 cities with the highest rate of new tech jobs in 2015-16, outpacing even New York.
Clever Real Estate is a year-old real estate tech company that grew out of Cortex, moved into a larger office at T-REX, and now employs a full-time sales and development team in downtown St. Louis.
The leadership team includes a pair of 24-year-old entrepreneurs who have personally invested in over 26 apartments and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore properties in St. Louis city.
“Real estate is fundamental: It’s where we work and live. We’re empowering the next generation in St. Louis to shape that,” said Luke Babich, CSO for Clever Real Estate.
In addition to the 250 companies and 4,200 jobs currently housed in the Cortex Innovation Community, near-term plans include a new hotel, a $44 million renovated printing plant, and a new building at 4220 Duncan Ave. Nearby is the City Foundry, a $187 Million planned adaptive reuse of urban industrial land into creative 21st-century food, commerce and entertainment concepts.
When fully implemented, the Cortex master plan projects $2.3 billion of construction, over 4.5 million square feet of mixed-use development.
Districts like Cortex are a marathon, not a sprint. Innovation Hall signifies how St. Louis is coming together to achieve greater success, and that when key actors come together with a mutually aligned vision, the opportunity becomes endless.
Trevor Tune is director of operations at Capital Innovators.