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Entrepreneur Group Works To Bring More Focus On Missouri Startups

NEXT Missouri President Ben Johnson said that nearly 4 in 5 new jobs in Missouri comes from startups like those that have taken up residents in St. Louis' Cortex district.
Cortex | Chris Cross

A new effort is designed to boost entrepreneurs and their companies in Missouri by emphasizing their role in job creation and economic development throughout the state.

NEXT Missouri is a coalition of 17 organizations that will start lobbying lawmakers to revamp policies and better support entrepreneurs who create jobs.

“Data shows more than 80% of the new jobs in Missouri — 45,000-plus a year — come from startups and come from entrepreneurs,” said NEXT Missouri President Ben Johnson. “But our public policy historically hasn't been focused on supporting startups and entrepreneurs.”

Johnson says the initiative is being launched as Missouri deals with its last-place ranking in the country in the number of startups that survive their first year.

Part of the strategy to raise the profile of entrepreneurs and the job creation impact of startups is seeking more money for the Missouri Technology Corporation. It’s a public-private partnership that has been funding startups and tech companies since 1994.

But its funding has taken a hit over the past few years. Former Gov. Eric Greitens and the Republican-led Legislature slashed funding. It's gone from roughly $18 million in 2015 to around $2 million in fiscal 2019.

Johnson is confident funding can be restored, but it will take time.

“We’ve had good discussions with policymakers at all levels who I think are beginning to understand the important role that MTC plays. We are also realistic of the challenges across the state and the many needs in the state,” he said.

But he thinks pumping money back into the corporation, along with examining an overall economic development strategy with more focus on entrepreneurs, will play a vital role in job and business creation throughout the state.

NEXT Missouri also aims to create a network of 50 organizations and 5,000 entrepreneurs in the next two years.

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Wayne is the morning newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.

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