Every so often you will find yourself entering a room, and it feels perhaps smaller than it should. Someone about whom you know little is sitting across the table, and though they are just a man—grey/white hair, light eyes and casual business attire—they command an air of knowledge, experience, and authority. The man in this case was Pete Peters, Chairman of the Board at Gateway Venture Mentoring Service. I sat down with Pete at the CIC co-working space in St. Louis’ Central West End to talk about his experience, his tenure at GVMS, and hopefully learn about the mentoring process.
“So tell me a little bit about you before I tell you about myself,” he says. Pete wants to know who this kid is who is interviewing him. I explain I write fiction in a graduate writing program at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. “So you’re writing a little fiction here?” he says again, laughing. Good, he’s funny.
I have little chance to begin asking questions before Pete is questioning me, putting me in touch with others in the St. Louis area. This seems like par for the course with Pete. Immediately he comes off as helpful, but not only that. He is genuinely interested. And further, he has the experience to follow through with that interest. He asks me how long I envision this interview taking. I expected maybe thirty minutes. “Oh, that’s no problem.”
Who is Pete? Where has he been? It seems like everywhere. He’s been in St. Louis nearly forty years, but jokes that he’s still “a new kid on the block.” After earning his PhD from the University of Wisconsin, he ran a protein chemistry lab in Calgary while teaching genetics. Later, he moved to Houston and taught biochemistry to medical students at Baylor. Pete later was recruited by the Arizona biotech company, Vega, eventually running quality control operations on pharmaceuticals being developed by Genentech. Later, he moved to St. Louis to work with Sigma for seven years, then to Bethesda, Maryland to be an administrator at the National Institute of Health. Finally, in the early 90s, Pete received an offer back in St. Louis to work with pharmaceutical consulting firm Mattson Jack where he spent 15 years.
Pete explained all this to me in one near non-stop stream of personal history. Here is a man who crossed the United States multiple times, held a variety of roles in several scientific enterprises, and now sits at a table recounting it, seemingly as if it were yesterday. He became acquainted with Ken Harrington at the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and eventually, over the course of a year, formed the foundation for what would become GVMS.
“I was going to ask, what is it about St. Louis that makes you want to stick around for so long. But now it sounds like it was circumstance,” I say.
“No, I like St. Louis. It’s a Midwestern city, people are easier to work with. More honest. Less litigious. People are friendly. I enjoy the Midwest.”
Over the remainder of the conversation, he describes for me with enthusiasm the numerous ventures he has mentored in the past. He describes how he likes to work with his hands. Not everything has to be biotechnology. Pete’s history working as a consultant, developing connections in the community, defines his ability to critique business models for his mentees. I check my watch, and we’ve long passed the thirty-minute mark, the hour mark, and he’s fondly recounting past ventures. He lists success after success.
“So that’s your approach then. It’s not to tell people what they need to do to make their venture work, rather to facilitate changes that they need to make,” I ask.
“You raise a good point,” he replies. “A good mentoring program in my mind presents different ideas with different approaches to the mentee. That person should select what they’re comfortable with… It’s a fun process.”
By the end of the conversation, I feel as if I have been mentored. Pete’s enthusiasm for the project is in no way diminished, he is not tired from his long history. Quite the contrary, he is energized, excited even, and it is obvious that his tenure as Chairman at GVMS, but mostly as mentor, is just beginning.
To learn more, visit GVMS at http://gvms.ite-stl.org/wordpress/
Kevin Gleich is a graduate student in the University of Missouri – St. Louis’ Master of Fine Arts writing program. He produces content and manages communications for Innovative Technology Enterprises.
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