St. Louis has long been known as the Gateway to the West with its gleaming arch dedicated to the explorers who pushed the boundaries of the American frontier. Today, many claim St. Louis has earned a new reputation as a hub for innovation. It’s a distinction Judy Sindecuse of Capital Innovators shared at last year’s Innovation Symposium hosted by Maritz. I blogged about that conference too, posing the question: Is St. Louis the Next Silicon Valley?
This week, at the third annual Innovation Symposium, inspiring leaders and entrepreneurs shared insights and their own examples of how they innovate. Fast Company founder Bill Taylor declared that in an era of hyper-competition and non-stop disruption, being average isn’t an option any more. In his twenty years with the magazine interacting with successful companies he’s seen what separates the winners from the losers. “Your brand is your culture”, according to Taylor, ‘Successful companies genuinely care.” Call it a passion or a clear point of view. “One way or another (successful companies) are communicating with great intensity—this is who we are, this is what we do.”
Jeremy Gutsche of Trendhunter.com has made a living out of exploiting chaos. His boundless energy on stage helped stir the audience’s curiosity and excitement about the role of disruption in innovation. While his website showcases top trends around the world, his presentation featured an arsenal of stories and advice about seizing opportunities–how a NASA engineer perfected the science of origami and applied the learnings to real world problems or how his own father proved hard work and an overlooked opportunity can lead to the next big idea. Like a farmer tends to his field, Gutsche suggests, successful companies often repeat whatever led to last year’s harvest. That’s a big mistake. Instead—pitch the farmer’s behavior and adopt the instincts of a hunter. Be insatiable, curious and willing to destroy.
Entrepreneurs like Jeremy Idleman from dabble showcased their big ideas in the Innovation Village at the symposium. Never heard of dabble? It’s one of a number of start-ups in what’s known as T-Rex, an incubator in downtown St. Louis that is looking to partner with Maritz to provide gift cards for classes as part of our reward collection. According to Jeremy, “We live in a world where you can monetize your car with uber, monetize your house with airbnb and now you can monetize your passion with dabble.” Dabble allows users to teach a class or take a class, face-to-face in your community. Want to learn to brew kombucha, or perhaps you can share your knowledge of knitting or salsa dancing.
The founders of a year-old app called Cast believe St. Louis is a popular hub for start-ups for three key reasons—access to early stage funding, a variety of accelerators (programs sponsored by investors to mentor start-ups) and corporate partnership opportunities—local businesses open to helping with beta testing or even funding. They’re capitalizing on a growing trend for businesses to better understand their customers. Cast is a polling app that allows a company, for example, a professional sports team to ask specific questions. Cast CFO Joe Pimmel says both the St. Louis Blues and Rams are incorporating the Cast app into their own app to communicate with fans. Cast is in St. Louis not only because the founders are from the area but they’re also recipients of an Arch Grant which according to Forbes is helping transform St. Louis into America’s next start-up city. Just consider Cortex, an innovation hub and technology district in downtown St. Louis that according to its website has generated 2,500 technology-related jobs since its inception in 2002.
When Dennis Hummel, the president of Maritz, kicked off the symposium, he said, “Consider this event the beginning of a new journey.” The purpose being to inspire and challenge us—maybe even disrupt our patterns of thought. At Maritz, that means solutions like RewardSphere and design thinking inspired by The Maritz Institute. What is your company or community doing to inspire innovation? I’d enjoy hearing about it in the comments below.