Back in September, we were accepted into a new St. Louis-based fintech accelerator called SixThirty as part of the inaugural class. We moved our entire team (and I brought my wife and daughter along) to the Midwest and jumped into the experience head-first. We met some amazing new friends, raised money, pivoted the company, won a hackathon, got sucked into a polar vortex, built out an awesome new St. Louis-based engineering team, and made it out (mostly) unscathed before returning to our home city.
During my time there, I was amazed at all that St. Louis has to offer, especially for early-stage companies like Upside. Here’s what we found:
St. Louis is a *giant* financial services hub. Did you know that Edward Jones, Scottrade and Wells Fargo Advisors are all headquartered in St. Louis? We didn’t either. Bank of America and MasterCard also have major offices there, and numerous family offices and advisory firms call St. Louis home. As a financial technology startup, we were able to meet with people in the industry who really understood our product and provided valuable feedback in a way we wouldn’t have been able to get elsewhere, or as quickly. This is what helped catalyze Upside’s shift to our enterprise strategy.
We saved some cash! With rents exploding in San Francisco (last time I checked, the average rent for a two-bedroom was around $4,000), it was eye-opening to see what you can get for your money in St. Louis. We could literally rent an updated two-bedroom apartment around the corner from our offices for $1,200 a month, even on a short-term lease. Back home, $1,200 a month would barely get you a walk-in closet! After crunching a few numbers, we found that the cost of two apartments, furniture, kitchen essentials, etc., plus semi-regular plane tickets back to San Francisco for the entire team wasn’t much more than two founders commuting weekly.
Investments are catalyzing growth by seeding funds into local startups. In addition to accelerators such as SixThirty and Capital Innovators, venture firms like Cultivation Capital and angel groups like Arch Angels are funding the next generation of startups coming out of St. Louis and the Midwest as a whole. Arch Grants is also a huge part of this sea change by running a global startup competition and giving winners $50,000 grants—that’s non-dilutive capital, folks!—to companies that are either based in St. Louis or willing to relocate.
There’s this thing called T-REX, and it’s awesome. T-REX is part coworking space, part community “town square”—and it is a galvanizing force for entrepreneurial good in the city. Startups of all shapes and sizes can rent desks or office space (for insanely low prices, I might add) and participate in the rapidly-growing technology scene. T-REX was where Startup Weekend St. Louis was held, and there is always something afoot in the building, from the 86 companies that are a part of T-REX today.
The startup ecosystem here is pretty tight-knit and roots for the community as a whole. LockerDome, Lumate, TopOPPs, RoverTown, Juristat, Sparo Labs, TrackBill, Aisle411, Bonfyre, PushUp, FoodEssentials, Tunespeak, Hatchbuck, Need/Want, Rookies, Answers and Pixel Press (and let me know any that I’ve missed!) are just some of the companies in the burgeoning St. Louis startup scene. What’s more amazing (to us, at least) is how much excitement and energy there is around entrepreneurship in St. Louis. We were in the city for only four months but we’re lucky to be able to count many of the founders and early employees as friends! Everyone is so friendly and accommodating that you can’t help but want everyone to succeed beyond their wildest dreams.
LaunchCode. Started by Square co-founder Jim McKelvey and a number of movers and shakers in the St. Louis startup scene, LaunchCode seeks to connect aspiring coders with opportunities to work at technology companies through a process of apprenticeship. LaunchCode candidates are placed into technology companies and given an apprenticeship-style on-boarding and development process, which can lead to a full-time job at the company if everything works out. Our Director of Engineering is a key volunteer and we are are also a participating company; we have two LaunchCode placements at Upside and both have quickly become critical contributing members on our engineering team. We swear by LaunchCode and highly recommend it.
When you’re not building or hustling, there’s still tons to do. For those brief moments you’re not actually working, you’ll have a lot of options to consider. The award-winning St. Louis Zoo, Botanical Gardens, the recently renovated Library, Grant’s Farm and City Museum (with its rooftop bar) are just some of the many fantastic attractions the city has to offer. Best of all, many of them have free admission! My wife actually did a series of posts on family-friendly locations in St. Louis, including restaurants, events, museums, parks and other attractions. If you’re not into any of the above, there is an amazing range of restaurants, lounges, bars and coffee shops all waiting for you to check them out.
We were a bit nervous making the move initially, but it was a game-changing decision that altered the trajectory of our company (for the better). St. Louis is a wonderful, thriving city, perfect for startups, with amazing resources at its disposal. Others have also been lauding the virtues of moving there and we were honored to call it home, if at least for a short time.