‘A BIG FISH IN A MEDIUM-SIZED POND’
Holekamp says the advantage of Washington University and St. Louis is what he calls being a “big fish in a medium-sized pond.”
That is, “St. Louis is big enough to matter,” Holekamp continues. “It’s big enough to have resources, to have networks, to have capital, to build entrepreneurship communities. But it’s small enough that you can access it. And in St. Louis, all you need to do to make a connection with anyone in this town is say, I’m a WashU student.
“As a medium-sized city, our universities are a bigger deal. They have more stature as community leaders than if WashU was plopped in the middle of New York City.”
A ‘HUNGER’ AMONG ENTREPRENEURS AND THE COMMUNITY
Luscri at the Skandalaris Center sees it the same way.
“When you make noise here, people hear it,” he says. “There’s an advantage to being in this place in the country. It’s a large metropolitan area, but when we do things around entrepreneurship, it’s seen and observed, people get excited about it and rally behind it.”
A “hunger” within the city will keep the entrepreneurial culture thriving, Luscri believes.
“There is this need and understanding that entrepreneurship is so important for the area,” Luscri maintains. “The thing about this university and the St. Louis community is we’re both pretty hungry. We want to be more. We want to grow. We want to go and do incredible things. And historically, St. Louis has been a very important city in the United States. And Washington University is a historically prestigious university. But both of us know there is so much more we can do.”
A NEW GENERATION OF STUDENTS
Webber at Cortex is watching that play-out right in front of his eyes.
“Whether Cortex turns out to be very good or transformative for St. Louis depends on our ability to continue to grow at something like the pace we’ve been growing at,” Weber believes. “And it depends, I think, over the long-run on a few of these companies that we’ve incubated turning out to be a huge deal.
“If you tell the story of Silicon Valley, there’s a Stanford story. And there’s a Stanford Research Park story. But without HP, it’s a different story. There’s no Seattle story without Microsoft. It’s early and we have many companies that are doing very well, but we haven’t had anybody explode yet.”
Look to the 20- and 30-somethings for that potential unicorn.
“I grew up in an era where my parents won the Great War against a genocidal maniac who had taken over Europe,” Webber continues. “People came home and they won the Civil Rights battle — or they thought they won the Civil Rights battle — and made a bunch of progress. And there was this enormous confidence in my generation.
“Today we’re in an era where there’s much greater distrust in all institutions and all sorts of institutional efforts. My students want to start things. Lots of kids whose parents would’ve gone to law school now start companies. It’s a very entrepreneurial era. If you don’t have a vibrant entrepreneurial program, you don’t get lots of really good students these days. It’s how they express themselves.”