We are continuing our three-part series leading up to the 33rd annual International Conference on Business Incubation (ICBI33) with this month’s theme, ‘Collaborate.’ ICBI33 will feature several peer-led sessions in line with this theme, including Community Building and Partnerships to Strengthen an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem, Creating a Culture of Innovation Within an Entrepreneurship Center, Bringing a Scalable Mentoring Program to Life, and more.
St. Louis Economic Development Partnership (STL Partnership) – an InBIA, Soft Landings-designated member and a strong ecosystem builder at the forefront of eco-friendly AgTech efforts in Missouri – consistently reflects the theme of collaboration. We spoke with Ginger Imster, Senior Vice President of Strategic Projects, to learn more about STL Partnership’s work towards building their ecosystem through collaboration and find out takeaway strategies for other entrepreneurship centers looking to make meaningful, innovative connections within their own communities.
St. Louis, Missouri experienced a spurt of growth in entrepreneurial activity starting in 2011, when investors launched initiatives in the region such as Capital Innovators, Monsanto Growth Ventures, and Arch Grants. Imster explained that this surge towards innovation led to the formation of STL Partnership. “The St. Louis Economic Development Partnership is a public-private entity formed in 2013 to help advance any number of business retention, expansion, and fiscal creation activities through the lens of inclusion and equity,” she explained.
This accredited economic development organization has a wealth of inclusive initiatives and programmatic partners that it continually activates to support the St. Louis ecosystem. Some of these initiatives and partners include the Helix Center Biotech Incubator, which is co-located with the Bio-Research & Development Growth Park and the Donald Danforth Plant Sciences Center; the World Trade Center St. Louis, a highly ranked regional division that supports global competitiveness; Yield Lab, a series A accelerator and 2018 winner of the Agfunder Innovation Awards; the 39 North initiative to promote an AgTech innovation district; and the St. Louis Mosaic Project, a regional initiative towards supporting immigrant innovation.
Imster gave advice for intentionally creating innovative partnerships to spur regional economic development. “I think of it as people, place, and purpose,” says Imster. “So, how do those buckets line up, and do you have adequate resources in all three in order to support the growing of whatever it is that you want to grow?”
Imster considers the following when thinking about community-based collaboration:
- People: “It’s not just the management team overseeing the organization,” says Imster. “How are you building connections with the actual clients and the people you most want to serve and support?” Direct communication is vital to the success of not just your clients, but to the organizations with which you are seeking to build meaningful relationships. Imster shared that the Helix Center has found great success by dedicating a team to ensure responsiveness and support.
- Place: Imster shares here that it is imperative that the facility adjusts according to market demands. The infrastructure has to be able to both accommodate clients and keep updated on current technology and research. This remains true of city infrastructure when thinking about attracting large companies and foreign interest for investment purposes as well as thinking about talent retention. A successful entrepreneurship center will have graduate companies who choose to co-locate in the same community and activate those partnerships.
- Purpose: “It has taken us time since the Helix Center opened to figure out how and who has the same sense of purpose in the building,” said Imster. “Once 39 North was announced, companies started to realize ‘Oh, this has become a district for ag-related businesses. Maybe I don’t fit here the way I did when it first opened.’ And that attrition is helping as specialization begins to happen in a community where you have multiple innovation spaces. They start to form their own culture and their own specializations. They start to really demonstrate how multiple hubs can function in the same region in a complementary and not competitive way.” A shared sense of purpose creates a community of collaboration that attracts and retains talent.
Finally, Imster said, “The market work is so important to really understand. Where we might perceive value as managers may not be where users want value. So being able to verify and validate where resources are being spent is where resources need to be spent in order to support the kind of business creation, growth, and retention that the market wants to sustain.”
At ICBI33, STL Partnership and World Trade Center St. Louis will be leading the session Community Partnerships for Success in Foreign Direct Investment, which will show conference attendees how to map their ecosystem’s organizational assets and collectivizing resources, pinpoint the needs of foreign-owned firms, leverage community-based events to attract foreign interest, and more. Attendees will also learn more about how St. Louis organizations successfully collaborated as a Soft Landings site for the La Idea and ENRICH programs. Register here for ICBI33 to gain valuable insights from this panel and many others on a range of relevant industry topics.