If there is one thing I’ve gotten out of this time more than anything else it is that being a part of the efforts here in St. Louis to strengthen our region puts you in a position to define what it is your life work will be as this is mostly uncharted territory. In most cases jobs define the person, a person who is an accountant does accounting, but here most peoples jobs reflect who they are, what they value and the role they would like to play in this ecosystem. Obviously they have people to answer to and tasks they have to complete but it is well balanced with self-started projects. That’s pretty much exactly how I work. It’s typically really hard for me to work for others, serving the needs for someone as a living doesn’t interest me, but here I think the people who show promise are given the tools to make their vision a part of the partnerships mission. I’ve always thought that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, I still do, but I also realize that working for others can also be rewarding. It was also great to spend m time working on something that I really cared about. I’m not saying I’ve made my life choice but I can see myself dedicating my life to making St. Louis a better place to “Live, Work and Play”
I’ve come to realize I think board meetings are kind of silly. I mean people just speak in a way they never would just because. Why would you ever say “And so it is moved to forgo a roll call as quorum has not yet been reached” why not just say “lets not take roll because we know we don’t have enough people to vote yet.”
As far as my work goes at the partnership, I’ve been communicating with community partners who have also been working on resource maps for a specific industry. I’ve also met quite a few people from or have business in New York which is exciting networking wise. Nothing really new to report I’m just finishing the projects I started before my time here is over.
This week I haven’t really worked much on the projects I’ve mentioned in other posts. I started my week as I mentioned at Arch Grants which is more of a startup atmosphere whereas the partnership is more corporate maybe even political environment. After returning to the partnership for the end of the week I’ve been out of the office for most of the day. On Wednesday Ginger and I went to the Gateway to Innovation Symposium at the convention center. Being there with Ginger made the experience really worth while because she’s probably one of the more popular people there and so I was introduced to a lot of cool people doing cool things, people who I wouldn’t get to meet otherwise. After G2I we went to a Brazen event at the Science Center. Brazen is a business development group dedicated to helping women entrepreneurs. I counted and I was 1 of 5 men in the room in a room of 200 but, the numbers are the other way around in the real world. Women are far less likely to get a loan from a bank and even less likely to receive venture funding at the same stages of growth as their male counterparts. Thursday I went to one of the STLVW incubators, Helix Center, to help with a tour for a group of volunteers. This week has kind of exposed me to what it’s like to be like super duper busy.
I want to start this blog post by expressing how much I love what I’m doing and most importantly the connections I’m making. I just met a guy who works in New York and essentially does the the same the thing as the partnership except they actually take equity. It’s crazy because I was just talking with a teacher about how moving to New York might affect the connections that I’m making. Every one I work with during my time at the partnership has made it very clear that they are willing to help me in and provide opportunities which is awesome. I will say I’ve gotten past the stage of where getting new assignments is exciting not to say I’m getting bored. As I was explaining my progress on putting together “why St. Louis” information(I mentioned before this info on all the resources STL has in preparation for Amsterdam) to Ginger we both kind of realized that something like that can be used by the entire St. Louis Start-up community along with an entrepreneurs road map similar to https://www.itenstl.org/wpcontent/uploads/2017/03/ITEN_2016_Pathway.pdf except more comprehensive, offer industry specific resources and provide information for companies at different stages of development. I’ve also been continuing my work with anchor tenants and that’s almost finished. This week I’ve actually not been at the partnership as the I&E team is in San Francisco at a conference. I’m spending the next to day at Arch Grants, one of the largest SBDC(Small Business Development Corporation) in St. Louis. Here I have been working on updating their client database as well as their donor database. TL;DR: It’s been real.
I’m actually starting to feel a little swamped by all the projects I’m working on. The difference between working here and school is that all of the deadlines are kind of natural and it’s not like someone will say “finish this by Friday” instead it’s like, there is a project that will require information about these five companies, and there is meeting about said project Friday, and so that information needs to be ready before then. I’ve found that in situations like these no one will tell you to have that information prepared by Friday, they tell me because I’m an intern, its your job to know. I do enjoy seeing how everything is connected in such a systematic way not just within the partnership but throughout St. Louis. Just like with a robot or any complex system. When on component isn’t functioning properly it sets off a chain reaction the same thing applies to the economic activity in the St. Louis region, everything that people are working on here has an impact somewhere else. It’s not like you don’t see the fruits of your labor if I want to know how my work is affecting change I can watch the local news. I think people work harder when they see their work pay off, that’s why people enjoy teaching so much(Teachers feel free to confirm or deny this in the comments) but that’s a book not a blog post. This week I’ve been mostly focused on the anchor tenant search. For all 5 STLVW incubators I’ve made a list of companies who could potentially serve as anchors this list has been sent around to the I&E team and a few other people. They gave me suggestions for some more potential anchors. In the case of Helix the newest incubator the partnership has already decided that it would like to work with a particular company and that is all I’m allowed to say on that topic. With the other four though, my job is to look at the ” Best Practices Report” I put together which describes the different roles anchors play, and determine how each prospective might fit into the program as an anchor. For example and SBDC(Small Business Development Corporation) can offer support to the other companies in the incubator and those services can justify them receiving subsidized rent. Other anchors would serve as a way to sure up revenue so that we can serve smaller more volatile clients with a greater deal of confidence knowing there is still a revenue stream. My other project, the one I started today, is doing prep work for the I&E teams trip to Amsterdam, too bad I don’t get to go. The team is taking a trip to the Next Web Summit in Amsterdam. It’s massive start-up summit were investors and other groups like the partnership look for clients. To prepare for this the team needs the most up-to-date information about St. Louis and and it’s economic advantages it offers start-ups. This is a good example of not being given a deadline. I know that Ginger has a meeting the CEO Thursday afternoon(thank you shared calendar) and she always meets with me on Thursdays so I will need to have some of this done by then.
Three weeks in and my fear of getting bored of being at the same place the whole time has been proven merit-less. Part of the reason I think I’m not getting bored is the fact that I feel like I’m doing work that I actually enjoy and I’ve worked so hard on it that at this point I feel obligated to finish. This week was a shorter than my typical week as I was on a college visit for part of it. However, I was able to get some work done mostly on anchor tenants and a semi-emergency project I’m working on now. So now that partnership has committed to the idea of working with anchors it is now time to start finding potential anchors. My job is to look at each STLVW location, determine what type of company would best serve as an anchor based on industry, resources and location. The next step will be determining what advantages the partnership can leverage to make partnering with them a win for both parties. I mentioned earlier there was an emergency project, it is essentially an issue of disorganization. The partnership has to keep track of all of its investments for a host of reasons the main being legal obligations. I honestly believe that the partnerships government affiliation is such a hindrance it probably helps a whole lot more at higher levels of the company though. Anyway, the files for several investments have been lost and so I’m going through the account folders to at least try and find the money that went out, I know the company names so its a matter of putting dollar amounts to names. From there I will likely be setting up digital version of all of this information. I haven’t gotten to work on the inclusion and diversity initiatives as much this week but I’m pretty sure in the next I&E meeting were going to be discussing working with the Hispanic Regional Chamber which is exciting.
In my last post I mentioned that I had an exciting Friday coming up that I would be able to dedicate a blog entry to. I did have an exciting Friday, however, because the partnership is part government agency certain things are confidential. On Friday I sat in on my first think tank for a project I will be helping with. Prior to the meeting I was asked to sign an NDA(Non-Disclosure Agreement) meaning I am not allowed by law to discuss the meeting in any detail. I can share some of what I’ve learned so far and I really like the whole list approach (@Natasha) so I’ll give it a shot.
1. It’s really important to never leave a meeting without fully understanding what it is you’re being asked to do. I’ve seen the frustration in my boss’s face when people come back to get clarity on something they discussed in the meeting. So now when I leave meetings I write down what my task is and I run it back to the person. This was really helpful for one of my projects because I didn’t start on it immediately following the meeting in fact I wont start on it until Monday and I would’ve forgotten had I not written it down, and the point person is really busy and I wouldn’t be able to ask again.
2. When it comes to explaining something to a superior it is super important to be clear and concise. This is not to conserve time. The reason is that the more you talk and explain, their confidence in your understanding goes down. Einstein said “If you cannot explain it simply, you don’t understand it well” . This I unfortunately learned the hard way, but that is the beauty of this project.
3. Local politics are super exciting. This could just be a result of my proximity to local leader like Mike McMillan and Steve Stenger, but I really do enjoy observing how the partnership engages with local leaders. As of right now the partnership is preparing to work with the new St. Louis mayor Lyda Krewson.
4. I didn’t know how severe the racial disparity was in the business sector in St. Louis and how many factors there are that affect this issue. One of the factors being financial stability and what is called poverty of access. In order for an entrepreneur to be successful she has to be able to think ahead, weeks, months, years ahead. For many minorities this is simply not a viable way of thinking simply because the short term is far more pressing. This concept is at the core of microeconomics, how singular actors, in this case minorities, allocate scarce resources, in this case money (To be clear money is considered scarce regardless if the actor rich or poor because there is a limited supply).There are other factors that contribute to the racial disparity, of course, education being a big one. It just seems like some of the issues require an understanding of what it takes to be an entrepreneur and understanding the issues people of marginalized groups face. I am truly fascinated by the work being done on that issue and I’m really looking to learn more about this.
I was also thinking maybe instead of presenting this broad overview of my project,what if I presented on one smaller piece of research I worked on and explained my findings. Let me know what you guys think of this idea in the comments. My reason for wanting to do it this way is that I think it will get boring talking about my experience at one place the whole time.
Although today is Thursday, I will still call this my mid-week update simply because tomorrow is supposed to be really exciting and I will dedicate a single post to that day. This week overall has been as informative and exciting as the last. What has changed is my comfort here and my independence. I’m really glad that I elected to spend my entire project here because I feel I’m able to take on more fulfilling, long-term tasks all while becoming more familiar with the work of the partnership. At the moment it is clear that STLVW is a huge priority for the partnership and they want to make it the best it can be. In doing that, anchor tenants have become a big part of the conversation. Anchor tenants are often larger companies in the same industry as the smaller companies in the incubator, however, the STLVW incubators are not organized by industry, with the exception of Helix, which is bio/ag tech. Part of what I’ve been working on is categorizing all clients outside of Helix by industry. To be clear the goal at the moment is not re-locating them it’s just to see what the lay of the land is, someone freaked out about that the other day. What I’m finding is that outside of Ag/Biotech many of the small businesses are in business to business services such as, finance, accounting and legal services, advanced manufacturing and edTech. In an I&E meeting Tuesday the team pointed out that communication with the local chambers of commerce needs to be better and so I am making a spreadsheet of all of them. A chamber of commerce is an organization that protects the business interest, the benevolent ones at least, of a certain community. There over 30 chambers of commerce in the St. Louis metropolitan area and the partnership hopes to work with many of them in the future. I’ve also been preparing the I&E team for upcoming global conferences on AgTech, EdTech, and FinTech. My job first is to find the dates, prices and all the details. Then it gets really interesting. My next task was finding out what startups would be going and selecting the startups that the partnership would be most interested in working with based on industry, size, and location. Right now I’m doing this for TheNextWeb conference in Amsterdam and I have about 12 potential companies. One is like Duolingo, a fun language learning app, for science called Humbot(Download it its pretty cool). I’ve really enjoyed my project so far. By the way one of the projects I completed has become kind of popular as it was much needed.
In just one week I’ve learned quite a bit especially through hands-on experiences at the partnership. In addition to projects I mentioned earlier, I’ve also began researching past clients of STLVW and compiling a database of all past clients. In doing this I’ve learned what details can cause companies to fail after leaving the
incubator these include, uncontrolled growth, poor market appeal and a weak round of funding It is inevitable that most startups will fail and even in a the best markets, meaning least competive, the majority will fail, but if there was no risk involved there would be less reward. The partnership being partly government agency is heavily affected by local, state and national politics and so it is the job of the leadership to stay informed on such matters. In my I&E meeting we were discussing the possibility of the CDA (community development agency) having its funding cut by a new federal budget, this would greatly affect the partnership as a portion of the I&E budget comes from there. What has been most enjoyable is that a lot of what I get to do has less to do with monotonous work but I actually get to do tasks that involve critical thinking and require a vast knowledge of the St. Louis metropolitan area, and most importantly I feel like th work the partnership does meaningful fulfilling work. Another area I will be researching is inclusion and diversity. As of now the start up community is majority white and male, disproportionately so. The partnership would like St. Louis to change that. The one thing I love most about working at the partnership is the broad impact it has. It is not a charity trying to help the poor, nor is it an investment group trying to get rich an make their clients rich. Its primary goal is boost St.Louis’s economy both city and county.
After two days at SLEPD I’ve learned a lot, seen a lot and done a lot. My first day I toured the Innovation and Entrepreneurship offices at the partnership in Clayton and met everyone who I’ll be working with over the next six weeks. After meeting with everyone I was given the weekly updates from this year and selected the ongoing projects that I would like to work on these include, STLVentureWorks, Helix Fund and initiatives for Inclusion and diversity. After this, I began doing research for STLVW. Like many incubators STLVW relies on many small startups to rent out their co-working spaces for typically up to 4 years. Some incubators however, rely on one much larger company to serve as an anchor tenant to ensure a steady flow of income. This allows them to better serve the smaller ones. The partnership is looking to do this in some of the STLVW locations. I researched how similar incubators use anchor tenants and potential anchors for STLVW.
Then I spent time reading the Master Plan for 39 North, a planned business district that will be dedicated to the AgTech(Agricultural Technology) industry for which
St. Louis is one of the largest markets. Yes were still on day one. In the afternoon I went to Cortex Innovation Community where my project sponsor was a featured panelist for the Mastercard Diversity and Inclusion series that was focused on developing strategies to provide access to historically underrepresented groups in the start-up community and providing financial services to those groups
left to right(Dennis Lower, CEO Cortex, Ray Boshara, Federal Reserve Bank, Atul Kamra SIXThirty Accelerator, Radha Gopalan, Washington University , Virginia Imster, SLEDP)
Today was spent mostly in meetings. It started with an I&E meeting which was mostly dedicated to preparing for the upcoming board meeting but we also talked about what other members of the team can have me do during my time here. Later I sat in on a partnership board meeting which was really interesting as much of the discussion was about the future of the partnership with a new mayor and new president.
I typically only read about politics for fun but it was cool to see it being discussed and how it affects the partnership in a meaningful way. I spent the rest of my day doing more research this time it was about finding commercial kitchens for startup caterers or food service companies. I’ve been compiling a list of potential churches, community centers and schools who might be willing to rent out their kitchen. I will be formally presenting my findings regarding anchor tenants to the I&E team and I have a meeting to discuss the restaurants tomorrow.