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NGA-Backed Geospatial Program Aims To Boost Startups In The Emerging Industry

Drawings by a joint venture between McCarthy Building Companies and HITT Contracting show an aerial view of the new western headquarters of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in north St. Louis.
Provided | McCarthy-HITT
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is connecting with geospatial startups through a new program that offers funding and mentorship. Construction continues of the NGA's new western headquarters in north St. Louis, pictured here in a rendering.

As the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency continues construction of its new headquarters in north St. Louis, it’s looking to boost the number of geospatial startups in the region.

The federal agency, along with state-operated Missouri Technology Corp., is launching a startup accelerator next March. Capital Innovators has experience managing venture funds and operating accelerators — programs that offer startups funding and mentorship. It will begin accepting applications for the program this month.

Up to eight companies will each receive a $100,000 grant and participate in a 13-week business development and mentoring program with NGA employees to help scale their businesses.

The NGA is backing this program because it recognizes that connecting with startups exploring new technology and ideas could help the agency expand its projects.

Brian Dixon, chief operating officer and managing director of Capital Innovators, said the program also aims to bring new companies to the area and grow local startups.

“For NGA, they’re going to have really unique new technologies that are going to help them advance their mission along with their customer needs,” he said. “And from the startup perspective, they’re going to have an unparalleled opportunity to not only engage with the government but receive education around selling into the government, how to manage pilot programs.”

Dixon said he’s looking for companies that fall into four technology areas: data management, advanced analytics and modeling, data integrity and security in artificial intelligence.

Accelerators like this one have become even more important during the pandemic and economic downturn, he said. During the middle of lockdowns in the spring, applications for other accelerators he helps manage increased by 44%.

“What we've noticed is that startups need to become more efficient with their capital, so they can make it stretch during the current environment,” Dixon said, adding that support is crucial.

This summer, a group of civic, geospatial and economic development leaders released a plan to build St. Louis into a global geospatial hub over the next decade. One big priority is to increase entrepreneurship and funding opportunities for startups.

Jason Hall is the chair of the Missouri Technology Corp. Board of Directors, and he helped craft the plan. He’s also the CEO of Greater St. Louis, which will merge five civic groups in January.

Hall said startups are a critical part of growing the emerging geospatial industry.

“We have a lot of jobs. A lot of those jobs are in applied geospatial, but where we need to ramp up to be globally competitive as an industry cluster is at the front end of innovation,” he said.

“That’s where the industry is pushing forward. That's where the new ideas are coming from.”

Plus, he said, larger companies benefit from close proximity to startups that are pushing the envelope on research and development. That includes the NGA.

The federal agency recently launched another technology accelerator — dubbed Moonshot Labs — within the T-Rex innovation center in downtown St. Louis. The agency sees these kinds of accelerators as a way of opening up to more collaboration with private industry and research.

Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan

Corinne is the economic development reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.