St. Louis Region

How Missouri Fares as an Entrepreneurial Powerhouse

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The US Chamber of Commerce posted a report last month on how the states were doing in promoting enterprise. Entitled Enterprising States: Policies That Produce (get the report here), the report rated states on 33 attributes the Chamber felt were essential to economic (and entrepreneurial) growth in areas such as Economic Performance, Exports & International Trade, Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Taxes & Regulation, Talent Pipeline and Infrastructure.

Missourians are probably curious how we did. Of 33 measures, Missouri scores in the top 10% (i.e. the top 5 states) on none. We had 2 measures (Entrepreneurial Activity and Higher Education Degree Output) that were in the top 20% (a.k.a the top 10 states) and 10 more measures in the top half of states. The chamber gave top 10 state lists in the six areas mentioned above, and Missouri did not have one mention on any of the lists. On the list of “The Next Boom States,” Missouri did not get mentioned.

As a state that prides itself on low taxes and being a haven for business,  state leaders and a host of politicians would probably expect the Show-me State to fare well, but in comparison to other states on those Taxes & Regulation measures, Missouri’s performance is anemic. There are six measures (Business Closure, Tax Environment for Mature Firms, Tax Environment for New Firms, State business tax climate index, Small Business Survival Index, and State Cost of Living Index). Missouri is in the bottom half of states on the first three, and ranked between 11 and 25 for the last three. And this is one of the categories where our state’s performance is strongest, along with the Talent Pipeline.

In the report’s narrative on our state, the Chamber applauds Missouri’s efforts to improve the economic climate and mentions advances in training and promoting manufacturing and exporting. It is gratifying to see the state getting recognition for making strides, but reports like this, which are really compendia of already existing surveys, bring into sharp relief the need for the state legislature to do more to help promote efforts to grow our economy. Some of these, like an angel tax credit, higher education supports, funding for economic development, or supports for improved Internet access, are relatively inexpensive, and provide relatively fast paybacks in improved business and job results. Improving the tax climate in ways that groups like the Tax Foundation recommend would help, but also require more legislative energy and pose bigger challenges in making sure the state has enough revenue to meet its own obligations.

Missouri’s entrepreneurs did their part, starting businesses at the 6th highest rate in the nation in 2011, despite the less-than-ideal conditions in the overall economy and (as the Chamber’s report indicated) the state. It would be a great time for our legislators to step up their own game.

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Finding a Programmer in St. Louis

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Today, so many businesses need programming help for apps, websites or the heavy-lifting back-end of their businesses. There are a ton of reputable IT businesses, but they are busy and their prices can be too high for start-ups. So people come to me looking for places to find programmers who will work for free, cheap or equity. I asked by some St. Louisans I depend on for entrepreneurship information and here were their suggestions:

Strange Loop conference (annual, entrance fee, buy it early)
StartLouis
STL Meetup groups for programmers
ITEN’s (www.itenstl.org) new Strategic Interest Group (SIG), in collaboration with the local chapter of the App Developers Alliance.
STL Hackathon
Craigslist has a listing for computer gigs.
You could post at the T-rex incubator
Look at the IT firms listed here – http://www.acceleratestlouis.org/Resources?search=1574.
Local colleges have departments like MIS,  computer engineering or computer sciences, you could post there.
Ask your own alma mater if they can refer you to someone on campus.

More generally you could try:
1 Million Cups at 9am every Wednesday morning at nineNetwork.
St. Louis version of Startup Digest (www.startupdigest.com) for  upcoming entrepreneurship events.
Also, just ask your facebook, linkedin or other social network friends.

Realize that these are not situations where you can sit back and wait for people to come to you. After all, you’re not paying big or a brand name gig for their resume. If you try the above, you need to be the one getting out and networking, passing out your business card (maybe with a sticker on the back describing your programming need), and working the room.

Billiken Angels Workshop: Pitching To and Planning for Angels

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Billiken Angels - The deals that make a differenmceEver wonder what DO angels want? Learn that and more at a free workshop being offered by the Billiken Angel Network, one of St. Louis’ two angel networks. The workshop is open to the public, but seating is limited and reservations are required.

The Billiken Angel Network at Saint Louis University will host a workshop for entrepreneurs seeking angel investment funding from 5:00-6:30 p.m. Monday, April 25, in room 173 at the University’s John Cook School of Business, 3674 Lindell Blvd. The event is free and open to the public, however seating is limited and reservations are required.

The workshop is designed for start-up entrepreneurs with a completed or in-process business plan and focuses on how to prepare the business plan and the “pitch” for presentation to angel investment groups and bankers. BAN staff members Jerome Katz and Andrew Fehlman will discuss:

* What angels look for in business plans.

* How to think about valuation and deals.

* The seven slides of the perfect business plan pitch.

The Billiken Angels Network is a St. Louis-based angel network and is dedicated to funding deals for people and firms with SLU DNA. You can learn more about the BAN at http://www.billikenangels.com.

To register for the workshop, contact Jeanne Rhodes at SLU’s Center for Entrepreneurship at (314) 977-3850 or by email at rhodesja@slu.edu.

Missouri – An MO State Alum’s view

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Frank Chimero is a visual artist (and MO state alum) who teaches at Portland State. He’s doing a series of visualizations of the states, and here is his take on Missouri. When I look at the person going through the shredder, I think it is an entrepreneur.
For entrepreneurs, Frank imagery is not far off the mark. MO spends about one-tenth on economic development of the next lowest surrounding state (and about 2.5% of what the biggest spender is doing, see http://www.entrepreneurship.bloch.umkc.edu/research/Capital%20Formation%20Paper%2012-4.pdf). We trail the nation in firms created and jobs created. In a big statewide meeting on economic development, the heavy-hitters of MO said capital formation was far behind where it should be (and as one of only three angel capital group creators in the state, let me tell you that their observation is accurate).
Seeing the great ideas our students have, but not having enough ways to get these funded or moving remind me that we still have a long way to go!

If you’ve gone international – brag to Uncle Sam!

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This came across my desk today. If you’ve been successful in international trade, consider sharing your story.

Rare Opportunity for Missouri Businesses to Make a Difference!

The US International Trade Commission is holding a public hearing in St. Louis on Wednesday, March 10, 2010 at the Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark, One South Broadway; St. Louis, MO 63102. The purpose of the hearing is to allow small to medium-sized businesses to give first hand testimony on their experiences in international trade. The hearing will focus on:

* identifying barriers to exporting noted by firms, and the strategies they use of overcome those barriers
* identifying the benefits to of increased export opportunities, including free trade agreements and other trading agreements;
* providing insight into the multinational operations of small and medium-sized businesses, including foreign affiliates of US firms, and indirect exports through sales to larger exporting firms

Information on the St. Louis hearing, including the procedure for requesting to testify, is available at the following link:

http://www.usitc.gov/press_room/field_hearing.htm

We urge all of you consider participating, and please encourage all of your clients, suppliers, and contacts to participate. The final USITC report goes to the US Trade Representative and the report becomes part of the Federal Register. This is a chance to make progress exporting for America!!!

A Thousand Points of Small Business Light? Well, Lets Start With Three

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It may be too early to hope for a “thousand points of light” for America’s small businesses, but I was asked recently if there was any good news out there, and here were three I could think of:

There is a bright spot for industries taking advantage of the downturn, for example real estate trusts buying up distressed commercial properties in hopes of the upturn. (The residential market has a similar operation going, but with less upside potential and more human capital involved.)

More students are deciding to start their own businesses rather than fight the rising tide of a horrible job market. Unemployment in the 18-24 age group is over 16% (http://michael-e.com/2009/08/unemployment-hardest-on-18-to-24-year-olds/).

We also seem to be seeing a surge in part-time self-employment, with a lot of small-scale home-based businesses, a lot of selling on eBay, and other low-cost, low overhead efforts to help make ends meet. As the economy picks up, a lot of people will abandon these efforts for better-paying employment, but the skills of working for yourself, and the emotional payoffs of it, mean that we are likely to see a long-term growth in self-employment after the post-recession dip.

Three’s not a thousand, but it is a start. I’d love to hear about more.

afternoon and evening

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