STL transplant Travis Sheridan is “mad” about his new cityand does everything possible to promote and fuel its growth.
Travis Sheridan gestures toward the 1960s plastic Sears-catalog television that is chock full of alcohol and offers us a drink. This is after a group of us have conquered the gauntlet of keypad-locked doors, stairways and lobbies to finally make it into his cozy Majestic Stove loft. If bourbon or scotch is not your poison, you can choose from the wine selection in the repurposed library card catalog—a Dewey Decimal system of fermented grape juice.
Tonight is the second night in many months of boozestorming, which Sheridan, Assistant Vice President of Innovation & Entrepreneurship for the St. Louis County Economic Council, describes as “drinking outside the box.” It is a kind of brainstorming exercise that harkens back to the days of Don Draper—a bunch of guys sip scotch and talk about tough issues, from personal to local and even global. Sheridan employs a formal format to the discussion: what’s known about the problem, possible solutions and what the future would look like. Everything is documented, including the beverages consumed. Sheridan tends to be a stickler for making sure everything can be quantified and replicated.
On this night, about a dozen entrepreneurs, artists and executives gather around the Pinterest inspired table that Sheridan constructed from pine planks and a table-leg kit. Nearly everything in his loft has rust on it somewhere—and with the rust come the stories. His extensive Pez dispenser collection is mounted on a wall above a row of theater-salvaged seats. Nearby stands a 12-foot-tall metal “T,” which Sheridan removed from a demolition site several years ago in Fresno, CA. He moved to town from the coast just a year ago with his St. Louis-native fiancé Gina Becker, a librarian.
“Everything in here is a reflection of me and Gina,” says Sheridan, who worked in an incubator for ag-tech entrepreneurs in Fresno. “You have the books, library themes, the unique pieces of artwork and letters. And everything has been given a new purpose. That’s what I do.”
Sheridan is indeed creating new purpose—for both himself and for the city he has come to love. Much like the items in his loft, Sheridan doesn’t see a used, hollow place when he looks at St. Louis. Instead, he describes St. Louis as one of the most vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems in the country. This view was his reason to move here from California, a place more commonly associated with entrepreneurial friendliness. His reasoning goes beyond some blind kind of patriotism.
“People often cite the economics of the Midwest as being cheap. I look at the Midwest and see that my time and money can go a lot further here,” says Sheridan, who predicts that the notoriety and success of the St. Louis region will be on par with Chicago within five years. “That’s not about the Midwest being cheap. It’s about the Midwest being a place where things can be maximized.”
It’s impossible for Sheridan to make these observations and remain a casual observer. In addition to boozestorming, he is also working with a partner to create OverFundIt, an online crowdfunding platform for “doers;” reboundSTL, a program to draw young and talented people back to St. Louis; and the St. Louis Startup Challenge, a business plan competition from the St. Louis County Economic Council. Threading all of this activity together is an intense earnestness for infusing innovation and creativity into situations or efforts that directly impact people.
“Most things I get involved with, launch, lead or dream up start with a causal relationship or a clear problem people frequently try to fix,” Sheridan explains. “I’ve noticed that really cool stuff happens when the environment is right. This is one reason why I make note of what people were drinking during boozestorming. It’s like I try to identify the perfect recipe for success. This has served me well in my career. One look at my loft and you can see that creating an environment is very important to me.”
Photo credit: Attilio DAgostino