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Entrepreneurial Ace Touts St. Louis Startups

Revolution LLC

A high-profile entrepreneur is calling on the community to do more to support St. Louis-area startups.

"We just need to tell that story. That’s not to say that Silicon Valley won’t continue to be great and New York City isn’t great and Boston isn’t great, but St. Louis is great too," said A-O-L Co-Founder Steve Case during a stop on Friday at Washington University.

"There should be some degree of skepticism when people are talking about new ideas, but give entrepreneurs the benefit of the doubt."

Case's visit to the St. Louis campus was part of the "Rise of the Rest" tour, designed to highlight entrepreneurs and startups in the Midwest.

It featured a pitch competition, with these 10 startups vying for a $100,000 investment:

  • SYNEK: The company has developed a home draft beer system (which won the competition.)
  • Material Mix:  It makes industrial trash a commodity through  an open exchange platform.
  • myEDmatch: The company has a system described as online dating for teaching jobs.
  • BetaVersity: It brings physical and virtual learning-by-doing to students.
  • Eateria : A marketing tool for the restaurant industry.
  • Need/Want: It specializes in consumer products that solve problems.
  • MeterGenius: A system to help lower electricity usage.
  • Tunespeak: The startup is a loyalty platform for musicians.
  • Better Weekdays: The company focuses on job matching based on compatibility and culture fit.
  • Dabble: An online marketplace for classes.

"A lot of great things are happening in St. Louis, I want to be clear on that. There's a lot of momentum, but it's time to build on that momentum and take St. Louis to the next step," said Case.
The technology entrepreneur is now the chief executive officer of Revolution LLC, a Washington, D.C. investment firm that looks to partner with startups, with a focus outside Silicon Valley.

Revolution was handling the bus tour that brought Case to Washington University.

The whole idea behind the "Rise of the Rest" is to visit great American cities in the middle of the country and learn more about what they are doing.

Case says there is a pretty clear roadmap for building companies and startup communities. It includes attracting talent, access to capital, easing business regulations and driving collaboration.

Culture is also vital.

"There are communities, including many in the Midwest, that are kind of risk-averse. They hear a startup idea and instantly go to why it will fail as opposed to thinking about why it will succeed."

He says the Midwest is primed to be a leader in the next wave of startups, which could focus on areas including  agriculture, healthcare, education and energy. The skill set and partnership environment of the Midwest can be vital in re-inventing "fundamental aspects of our lives," said Case.

"If you want to re-invent or revolutionize agriculture, understanding how farmers think and work is going to be important. So why wouldn't those innovations be in places like St. Louis as opposed to Manhattan or San Francisco."

Case also believes a new generation can build on the entrepreneurial success of St. Louis, which includes Enterprise and Build-a-Bear.

That next startup poised for bigger things could be SYNEK.

Credit Andy Stoll
Steve Case presents a $100,000 check to SYNEK, the "Rise of the Rest" pitch competition winners in St. Louis.

The beer technology company won the St. Louis "Rise of the Rest" startup competition and the much-coveted investment from one of the country's most successful entrepreneurs.

Wayne Pratt is the Broadcast Operations Manager and former morning newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.