Missouri Venture Forum
by Travis Sheridan
"St. Louis is the best kept secret in the country." I've made that statement nearly 100 times since I moved here from California in January 2012. My fiancée and I moved to St. Louis from California because of the healthy economy and the vibrant entrepreneurial culture. Below is the story that just has to be told.
St. Louis came up on my radar during the summer of 2011 when I was working for a water, energy and ag-tech incubator in California. I was looking for best practices to incorporate into my organization and the bioscience sector of St. Louis kept surfacing. There were a lot of parallels between the two communities and the focused approach to entrepreneurship. To take a closer look, and to meet my future in-laws, my fiancée and I booked a trip to St. Louis in November 2011.
Prior to the visit, I set up meetings with a number of people in the entrepreneurial space. I met with leadership from the Center for Emerging Technology, Biogenerator, Nidus Partners and the St. Louis County Economic Council. I toured the Cortex, BRDG Park, and saw the building that was to become the Helix Center. I drove around the city, walked through neighborhoods, ate amazing food and took plenty of notes. My mission was simple: identify the elements of a successful entrepreneurial ecosystem and take them back to California to implement.
What impressed me most was the consistency in message, mission and passion. The talk of collaboration was reinforced with each person I met. On the plane back home, I told my fiancée that if she ever wanted to move from California, I'd jump at the chance to live in St. Louis. It wasn't the cost of living that was most impressive; it was the economic health of the St. Louis region. My fiancée is a librarian and St. Louis invests in libraries. I also noticed that St. Louis invests in entrepreneurship.
The existence of Arch Grants, which was just set to launch when we were digging into St. Louis deeper, showed me that leaders were about action. I knew this was a place I wanted to be. People are often shocked to learn that I chose St. Louis over California. It really was an easy choice. All the elements are here. The environment is so strong that my fiancée and I both quit well-paying jobs to move to St. Louis without a job in place when we arrived.
That is the strength of this ecosystem and community. For us it was better to be unemployed in a thriving community than employed in a struggling community. I realize that St. Louis is far from perfect. I didn't want to move to a perfect community. That would be boring. I chose to move to a community where people were pushing the same boulder up the same hill in the same direction.
This is a community where talent, technology and capital are innovation inputs and infrastructure is in place to help ventures grow. Now we just need others to discover this amazing region.