The New STL: Innovators 2015 | Part II

St. Louis is reinventing itself as a city of innovation. Meet the bold minds that are helping us get there.

 

 

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CITY PROGRESS: Nancy Rice | Executive Director, Better Together

In 1876, St. Louis City separated from the county, leaving behind an administrative gap currently filled by 115 local governments. According to Better Together‘s research, these municipalities cost taxpayers more than $2 billion annually to fund.

Through community participation and six commissioned studies to be completed this year, it’s Better Together’s job to explore how the region might be streamlined‰ÛÓand it’s Nancy Rice’s role to lead the charge. “I’ve always thought that people here are smart, and I want to give these smart people the information they need to do the right things,” says Rice.

With projects on public finance, economic development and public heath wrapped up (all data is available on the website), the organization now is looking at public safety, focusing on areas such as the courts (completed), fire protection (upcoming) and police forces (in progress‰ÛÓBetter Together had initiated the project a few months before Ferguson). Its question: If St. Louis were reinvented, what would the police force be like?

Better Together brought in the Police Executive Research Forum to help, and currently, 200 meetings with stakeholders and the public are underway to ask the same question. A summary report is slated for early spring.

“We have this running start on information that can be used for reform,” Rice says. “My vision is when the national press asks what has happened after Ferguson, we answer that St. Louis reformed what it needed to reform to bring peace and equal opportunities for prosperity to all its residents.”

Next up: studies examining parks and recreation, as well as a look into general administration. ‰ÛÒ KA

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BIOTECH: Tom Cohen | CEO, NanoporeDx

After successful years as a toy inventor, Betsy Fore was no stranger to thinking both creatively and critically. But there was one problem stumping her: Her dog, Whisky, was gaining weight and nothing could make it come off. “I could track my health with a Fitbit or Jawbone, but there was nothing for my dog,” she says. Fore decided it was time for a pet project: WonderWoof‘s prototype, which incorporates a product for dogs (a location-tracking, collar affixed bow tie) and an app for owners to analyze the data. With his steps monitored and measured by Fore, Whisky lost weight. An Arch Grant encouraged her to set up shop in St. Louis, and her teams in London, Hong Kong and here are working around the clock to begin shipping pre ordered bow ties next month before they hit stores this fall.‰ÛÒ KA

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TECH: Jim McKelvey | Co-founder, Square, LaunchCode | Founder, SixThirty

You can’t stop Jim McKelvey. When we last spoke, his mobile payments company, Square (started with Twitter founder Jack Dorsey), was continuing to skyrocket. He had also just inducted four companies into SixThirty, his financial tech accelerator: DAVO Technologies, My Money Butler, New Constructs and PFITR (Public Funds Investment Tracking and Reporting).

LaunchCode, his other venture that aims to partner potential talent with training for careers in technology, is also experiencing success. It started when he noticed gaps in the local startup landscape: St. Louis needed more financial tech startups and more engineers who weren’t just trained, but trained right.

LaunchCode recently opened a Miami operation and is seeking to expand the program to a national level in the coming years. Stay tuned for further announcements in early 2015. ‰ÛÒ CR

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TECH: Betsy Fore | Founder & CEO, WonderWoof (Wondermento)

After successful years as a toy inventor, Betsy Fore was no stranger to thinking both creatively and critically. But there was one problem stumping her: Her dog, Whisky, was gaining weight and nothing could make it come off. “I could track my health with a Fitbit or Jawbone, but there was nothing for my dog,” she says. Fore decided it was time for a pet project: WonderWoof‘s prototype, which incorporates a product for dogs (a location-tracking, collar affixed bow tie) and an app for owners to analyze the data. With his steps monitored and measured by Fore, Whisky lost weight. An Arch Grant encouraged her to set up shop in St. Louis, and her teams in London, Hong Kong and here are working around the clock to begin shipping pre ordered bow ties next month before they hit stores this fall.‰ÛÒ KA

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SPACES: T-REx

We live in an age of ideas, and it’s T-REX’s culture of experimenting with the unconsidered that’s the reason for its success. Located in the historical Lammert Building on Washington Avenue, T-REX currently houses 101 startups, thanks to a fifth-floor expansion that has increased the co-working and mentorship space’s ability to support companies. But there’s something unique about its space that encourages not just entrepreneurship but true innovation for its resident companies, which include Capital Innovators, Dabble and even a branch of Anheuser-Busch.

Consider this: “What if you sat in meetings and no one was an idea-killer; no one thought you were crazy to think something that hadn’t been done could be done, no one held you back?” asks Executive Director Patricia Hagen. “That is what it is like to be part of this community.” It’s a concept that’s clearly backed by St. Louis. On T-REX’s board are representatives from Downtown STL, Inc., the St. Louis Regional Chamber, the St. Louis Regional Economic Development Partnership and the St. Louis Development Corporation, all of whom provided funding to help establish the think tank.

The members who form T-REX’s unique community, Hagen says, are the reason why this culture stands out. With their “open spirits, great humor, true grit and magnificent humor,” the vibe they create is “grassroots and organic, while at the same time highly business-focused.”

“People are genuine here, and there is great heart and soul and courage to the place and its people,” Hagen continues. It shows: Alumni of T-Rex include Code Red, Juristat and Techli. Now, with the fifth-floor expansion complete, providing coworking areas, a cafÌ©, a break room and an events space for the shindigs the center hosts, it won’t be long before the next best idea emerges. ‰ÛÒ KA

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BIOTECH: Amos Danielli | Founder & CEO, MagBiosense

Thanks to serendipitous connections, an openness to learn from others and persistent hard work over the course of a decade, Amos Danielli honed his idea for rapid detection of biomarkers at very low concentrations and eventually discovered a specific use for his technology: Speeding up the time it takes to diagnose (or rule out) heart attacks.

Along the way, he earned a Ph.D. from Tel Aviv University and secured a US patent. With rapid and highly sensitive detection of the protein troponin I via a blood test done in the ER, the technology makes a lifesaving difference. MagBiosense is the Israeli entrepreneur’s third company (the others were in optical communication and solar energy), and his multinational efforts include development of a second generation of his test in Israel and a clinical trial with Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

Now, he’s thinking of other ways to apply it: evaluation of traumatic brain injury, detecting viruses or bringing a point-of-care medical device to underserved populations around the world. ‰ÛÒ AD

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ENGINEERING: Steve Young | Founder, Synek

When Steve Young invented the Synek draft system four years ago, big-time local investors put him on ice. Never a man to give up, Young Kickstarted the project, raising nearly $650,000 from small-batch brewers and aficionados during the online campaign.

His invention: A flexible, eight-pint cartridge that customers can take to a brewery to fill at the bar, giving enthusiasts the option to up their growler game at any of the 1,200 breweries that have signed up (so far, that is‰ÛÓthey’re looking to expand to bars as soon as leglislation allows).

Once home, the beer aficionado hooks the cartridge into Synek’s at-home countertop draft system with adjustable temperature and pressure settings for optimum pours. Although a growler loses its freshness once it’s opened, the Synek system ensures from-the-tap beer for around 30 days.

The liners have been mass-produced and are now being placed in the hands of brewers to test with their equipment. In April, Young plans to host a launch party at a St. Louis brewery to introduce the system to the public, followed by breweries across the nation. “The idea is to direct our supporters into the brewery to pick up their dispensers and beer, and the brewers can welcome in their customers,” Young says. Win-win. ‰ÛÒ CR

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TECH: Cortex Innovation Community

Nestled within the Central West End and Forest Park Southeast neighborhoods, St. Louis’ startup district is garnering a presence in town. And as a center of innovation and creative energy, there’s always something new going on. Within a block of each other are five innovation hubs: BioGenerator, Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC@4240, an expansion of its original location in Cambridge, MA), Venture CafÌ©, the Center for Emerging Technologies (which is being rebranded as CIC’s partner building, CIC@CET), and the forthcoming TechShop facility, slated to open in 2016.

The big idea with the district that is poised to take St. Louis to the next level of innovation success is that startups thrive when they’re around other entrepreneurs. Densely populated districts such as Cortex organically allow for an exchange of ideas and “collisions,” opportunities where innovators can run into each other to share ideas and resources. Cortex President and CEO Dennis Lower argues that these opportunities, driven by the district’s open-space architecture and open-minded culture, are what attracts the growing list of clients to the think tank. BioGenerator, a nonprofit, works to draw tech companies to town, while TechShop will function as a “maker space” with shared equipment that’s hard for burgeoning startups to afford on their own (think 3-D printers, injection molders and laser cutters). The Venture CafÌ© gathers Cortex members weekly at the CIC to exchange ideas and problem-solve.

The CIC is built around a particularly open design that creates a setting where “the energy in the offices spills into the common spaces in a way that is unique in St. Louis and hard to find anywhere,” Lower says. “It is an exciting place to be.”

That spirit has drawn more than 600 companies, both small (CTY, which created an app that digitally analyzes physical spaces for environmental data) and large (NestlÌ© Purina’s Emerging Growth division). With five additional development projects to be announced this year, the district has a bright future ahead as a neighborhood where entrepreneurs can live, work and play. Plans for mixed-development use are in the works, with residential and commercial buildings, green space and a MetroLink station approved for construction by 2017. ‰ÛÒ KA

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CITY PROGRESS: Walter Metcalfe | Foundation Board Chairman, CityArchRiver 2015

Instead of a single “Eureka!” moment, Walter Metcalfe has a long, steady history as an innovator. To him, innovating on the $380 million Gateway Arch and riverfront project means learning from the best ideas around‰ÛÓlike Citygarden and Forest Park‰ÛÓthen using science and technology to figure out what else might work. Examples? Metcalfe highlights CityArchRiver’s 35,000-gallon stormwater recapture cistern under the “park over the highway” as well as liquid biological soil amendments replacing chemicals and fertilizers. He also loves that the trees to be planted on the grounds this spring are wintering in spent grain compost from Anheuser-Busch breweries.

As a member of the project’s Design and Construction Oversight Board, Metcalfe knows all the past and present challenges‰ÛÓbut he describes the unprecedented collaboration of more than a dozen agencies like the National
Park Service, City of St. Louis, Missouri Department of Transportation and the Great Rivers Greenway District as yet another innovation, one that will last after this project celebrates its completion next fall. ‰ÛÒ AD

 

Photo credit: Wesley Law (portraits); headshots courtesy of subjects

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