SafeTrek, a personal safety technology company, has closed $3.2 million in new funding from four venture capital firms. This latest seed round of financing marks one of St. Louis’ most high-profile venture rounds to date. SafeTrek plan to use the funds to add 10 more software engineers (mobile & full stack) before the end of
Estimated reading time: 2 minute(s)
St Louis Regional Chamber has created The Spirit of St. Louis Fund I to address strategic capital investment issues that could help successfully growing startups at a critical point in their journey to become enterprise scale companies.
Based on research and feedback from St. Louis area startups, the St Louis Regional Chamber discovered St. Louis suffers from a seed round funding gap known as the “valley of death.”
Despite creating a robust network of accelerator programs to boost early stage startups and making solid progress toward offering later rounds of financing available to mature companies heading to market, seed round funding is necessary to help promising startup companies invest in the jobs and infrastructure needed to take their businesses to the next level.
So, the St. Louis Regional Chamber, will open up $5 million in new seed capital for the region’s highest impact startups. The Spirit of St. Louis Fund I is part of the Chamber’s strategic efforts to create jobs and attract investment through entrepreneurship and innovation.
This is the Chamber’s first venture into seed round financing.
“St. Louis has received great press and recognition for becoming a global startup hub, especially in areas like financial technology and biosciences, “said Chamber Vice President of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Andrew Smith. “But to help startups create new jobs and become the next Express Scripts or Boeing, we need to support them at every stage of growth. This is what the Spirit of St. Louis Fund I and the Chamber aims to do.”
Since 2013, the Chamber has deployed over $1 million in capital funding to area funds and accelerators, which has turned into over 600 high-paying jobs and nearly $100 million in new capital investment for startup businesses.
Nationally recognized funds and accelerators SixThirty, 630 Cyber, Stadia Ventures, Prosper Women Entrepreneurs, the Yield Lab, and the St. Louis Fashion Fund are among the Chamber’s successful investment portfolio. The Spirit of St. Louis Fund I was created in partnership with Cultivation Capital, Twain Financial Partners and local banks.
August 23, 2017 (St. Louis) – AMM Communications LLC, a WBE-certified, St. Louis-based public relations, communications skills training and marketing firm, announced today that it has launched a new executive search division to help clients identify the best talent for their open management positions in sales, business development, marketing, finance, accounting, operations, and administration.
Ed Mayuga, a partner at AMM Communications, has nearly 20 years of executive recruitment experience, and he will manage the new division while overseeing the talent acquisition process.
“Since 2008, we’ve helped multiple clients place A-players within their organizations as part of a strategic marketing plan. The demand is there, and it has become increasing difficult to recruit and retain top talent as the US economy has improved,” said Mayuga.
Mayuga uses a proprietary and customized search process that has a successful retention rate of more than 90 percent for new hires after the first year. In addition, what sets the AMM Communications executive search process apart from other search firms, is that the talent acquisition is guaranteed. If for some reason the new hire is not a fit for the position, AMM Communications will reopen the search free-of-charge.
Founded in 2008, AMM Communications LLC, the St. Louis-based strategic marketing communications, public relations, and talent acquisition firm, provides media relations, business development, crisis communications, content marketing, internal communications, communications skills training, digital marketing, reputation management, social media consulting, and executive search services for businesses nationwide. AMM Communications is WBE certified, and has been voted one of the “Best PR Firms in St. Louis” by Small Business Monthly from 2010-2017. We want to help you … Drive your sales. Communicate better. Hire well. For more information, please visit, http://ammcommunications.com or call 314.485.9499.
Estimated reading time: 4 minute(s)
UMSL is transforming education’s role in entrepreneurship with UMSL Accelerate. EQ got a chance to sit down with one UMSL student who has embraced the entrepreneur mindset and, in less than 6 months, has already started developing an Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to prove his business case, thanks to the cross curricular programs available.
“Entrepreneurship is all about mindset,” says Yaniv Dudaie, a junior UMSL student enrolled in UMSL Accelerate’s certificate program. “One has a dream or a vision and they go out to get it.” And “getting it” Dudaie certainly is.
Daring To Dream
Dudaie’s ultimate goal has always been to own a hotel with a pizzeria attached on the coast of Amalfi in Southern Italy. When his family relocated to St. Louis from New Jersey he was going to be a sophomore in college. He knew from the beginning that he would need to learn how to grow and develop businesses first. Because he was seeking out an affordable school that also had a focus on business, he found UMSL, but he didn’t yet know about UMSL Accelerate or how much his decision would put him directly in line with his dream.
Great Things Happen When You Just Get Started
“I am always challenging myself to do better and be better,” Dudaie says, “so instead of just one major I chose a triple major in finance, logistics and international business, why not add an entrepreneurial certification as well.” He takes 20-22 credit hours a semester, has either been a TA or an intern every semester, is highly involved on campus through organizations and programs, and still manages to maintain high grades.
As a student highly involved in programs and activities around campus, Dudaie’s friend Alex Zvibleman, an entrepreneurial student invited Dudaie to speak in Chris Miller’s social entrepreneurial class answering the question “How Can Someone be a Positive Deviant on Campus?”
Miller’s class is one of several classes available for students looking to obtain their certification in entrepreneurship. Stemming from this opportunity and previously thinking about how active involvement on campus helps with student retention, Dudaie developed an idea to create his first business venture.
Dudaie’s venture has lead him to create an app called FAST which stands for Financial, Academic, Social, Together. The goal of FAST is to solve the retention problem in universities by driving students to afford an education, excelling in the classroom, and engaging socially on campus.
Dudaie’s idea only took form in March of this year and is expected to have a Minimal Viable Product with UMSL as a test school in the next few weeks. In roughly six months, one student’s idea will go from concept to viable business, all with the help of UMSL Accelerate.
From Nowhere to Somewhere
UMSL Accelerate’s EIR program allows students to meet with entrepreneurs on a regular basis to talk through ideas and challenges.
Before March, Dudaie had only peripherally heard of the UMSL Accelerate program because of his involvement in the International Business Career Conference where he met Ala Al-Lozi, UMSL Accelerate’s Assistant Director.
Upon hearing his promising business idea, Al-Lozi introduced him to the Entrepreneur in Residence Program (EIR). There he met Daniel Fogarty of LaunchCode, who showed him how to build a business case and focus on his main goals.
“I had the personal drive to find the next thing for me, but I didn’t know the next steps to take,” Dudaie explained. “Daniel really showed me the fundamental bricks I needed to build the business.”
From Nowhere to Somewhere
UMSL Accelerate is truly a cross-curricular program where any student on campus can benefit from what it offers.
UMSL Accelerate has an Entrepreneurial Club (EC), which Dudaie happened upon while continuing to work through the steps of creating FAST. The club was hosting an event for branding and marketing strategies, and seeing it in action, really cemented a sense of purpose.
Knowing he wanted to be more involved in entrepreneurship, Dudaie joined the club and quickly became a major proponent of the value of the community and getting more students to see the value in participating in entrepreneurial mindset activities, no matter their major. He’ll be Vice President of the EC this coming school year.
Onwards And Upwards
Dudaie’s drive is obvious, so of course his involvement doesn’t stop there.
When he learned about UMSL Accelerate’s Entrepreneurial Scholars & Interns Program (ESIP) he applied and was accepted. As part of ESIP, Dudaie receives a scholarship to take three to four entrepreneurial classes and $4000 for a summer internship with a startup or an entrepreneur with a new venture company.
ESIP Scholars also collaborate with the other recipients from the University of Missouri’s system to not only receive the fundamental aspects of entrepreneurship through classwork, but also the out-of-class, hands-on, and collaborative real-world education.
In addition to the aforementioned achievements, all of his previous experiences with the UMSL Accelerate program has helped Dudaie earn a place as a student intern for UMSL’s partnership with Ameren Accelerator. To earn a spot in this program, Dudaie had to complete a 4-minute interview which made him hone in on how to sell himself, showcasing the soft skills that will help him and his business succeed. In this partnership, Dudaie, along with other UMSL students will meet and learn from Ameren executives along with other entrepreneurs in energy startups.
That support network will also continue to build on the entrepreneurial lessons Dudaie will need to see his ultimate dream —that hotel pizzeria on the Southern coast of Italy— come true.
Maybe Yaniv Dudaie is an exception, but UMSL Accelerate really does have a model to help students take leaps and bounds just by utilizing the programs and classes available, and choosing to get involved.
40 South News reports that Richmond Heights is considering a plan to replace the building at Big Bend and Clayton with an urgent care facility.
The owner of one of the operating businesses in the occupied building is none to happy about it:
Jon Paul had several comments. He said he heard about the plan on Thursday last week.
“They’re taking away the nostalgic look of the town with all this building **** that they’re doing that looks like crap,” he said. “It’s a historical building and it could have been redone to where it would look phenomenal. The people who are doing it want to buy the building and tear it down and Richmond Heights is letting them do it. There’s nothing we can do.”
I couldn’t find any renderings or site plans on the Richmond Heights website. One has to go in person to Richmond Heights City Hall 8:30-5:00 M-F to see related documentation. Pretty pathetic transparency. I suppose such a small city just doesn’t have the capacity to inform citizens by putting such things online. Here is the meeting agenda for the Plan and Zoning Commission which will meet August 24th at 7 pm.
PUBLIC HEARING: PETITION 2017- 10: TAUC Properties LLC, Mark Harriman, Joe Godfrey, Dr. Matt Bruckel seeking Site Plan Review to permit the construction of an urgent care medical facility at 1005 S. Big Bend Blvd.
About Richard Bose
Great news? According to Zillow’s May 2017 Rental Market Overview, Skinker DeBaliviere has shown the largest increase of any St. Louis neighborhood in annual rents, a 12.9 percent gain. The only other neighborhoods where rents grew by more than 10 percent in the last year were Vandeventer (11.2 percent), and Tiffany (10.3). Notably, the increase in rents in our neighborhood was also higher than any town in the St. Louis Metro area, including towns in St. Charles County and Metro East in Illinois. People clearly want to live here, and we are on a roll. If you own rental properties in the neighborhood, this news might make you feel like breaking out the champagne. It also might give you some second thoughts about selling when you get those unsolicited letters from real estate operators asking to buy your home, as so many of us on my block seem to. If you own property in the neighborhood, then what’s not to like?
Well, even if you like and will benefit from higher rents, don’t count your chickens. At the current rate of increase, if sustained, rents in our neighborhood would double in only six years, a highly unlikely course of events. All the areas seeing the highest growth in rents right now are also parts of town with significant ongoing rehab projects and/or new construction. But be advised that other parts of town with building/rehabbing booms in the last 10-20 years, Downtown and Downtown West, saw 8.1 percent rent declines last year, now that the party is over. Just because growth is predicted, doesn’t mean it will come, and when everyone is convinced it will happen, watch out and hold onto your wallet. I collect rent on the duplex I own, and I have my reasons to think rents will rise some more, but let’s not get crazy here…
Plus, if like me you are benefiting from higher rents, realize that you may be in a pretty rarified group at this point. The fact is that although many of the small, duplex rental properties in our neighborhood were once owned by people who occupied them or lived nearby in the neighborhood, large operators such as Manor and Roberts Realty now rent out a large portion of the small multi-family buildings in the area. There aren’t too many of us small duplex owners left, and this increase in rents is often going to owners and investors who live outside the neighborhood. That’s a bit different than the larger (4-20 apartment) properties, which have been generally owned by bigger companies for a long time, with Washington University (in the form of Quadrangle Management and Parallel Properties) and Laurel Management (owned and operated by Mark Gorman, a lifelong neighborhood resident), currently playing an outsize role among the large residential buildings in the neighborhood that haven’t been converted to condominiums.
As shown by a recent open letter in The Times of Skinker DeBaliviere and quite a lot of buzz about the issue within the neighborhood and on the Nextdoor website, the next frontier for investors (for the moment) looks to be single family homes, often rented out to students in the form of (illegal if to more than three unrelated occupants) rooming houses. Professionals running their property like a business will likely charge the most profitable rent they can, but less scrupulous owners might do that even at the expense of following city zoning rules and regulations. Meanwhile, many “mom and pop,” owners, charging more or less the same rents to the same tenants, year after year, may start to wonder if they’re doing things the wrong way, as everyone else starts to bring in much more from their tenants. Some might wonder if maybe it’s time to sell to a bigger investor, and there is a line of people waiting to buy (at a discount, at least).
That’s all the more true when renovating a rental property to contemporary standards is much, much harder for an individual operator, between financing, dealing with contractors, deciphering the applicable rules and regulations, forgoing rent for an indefinite period, and potentially relocating from their personal home. It’s more expensive—in time, money, and inevitable mistakes—for small fry landlords to provide souped-up apartments to prospective tenants than for larger operators. And what did I say about not counting your chickens? Few of us would want renovating our house, and a tenant’s apartment to boot, to be a literal “bet the farm” decision. All-or-nothing renovation tax incentives play a major, if complicated, role in this story. In any event, small, law-abiding landlords, and in particular owner-occupants, may be turning into an endangered species based on simple economics.
Outside this limited group of rental owners, who don’t necessarily all benefit in the same way and in the same proportion, this recent increase in rents has some pretty mixed effects. If you rent, you’re more likely to see an increase in your monthly bills, stretching your budget and perhaps making your current home unaffordable. That’s pretty awful. If you own but like your neighbors who rent, you may soon be saying goodbye to several of them, as we recently have on my block. Because of the high student population, turnover in this neighborhood is generally high in the best of circumstances, making for a generally transient population in this neighborhood. With increasing rents, expect that to get worse. Higher rents are not unrelated to higher real estate prices over all, and many front yard conversations have been had, I am sure, over our recent increase in tax bills. For owners who are financially strapped, this breeds all the same problems that renters have with affordability, and potentially a need to move to cheaper housing. And guess what? Even duplex owners charging “below market” rents can fall into that category.
On the other hand, when rents (and home prices, for that matter) go up, the market for investments is likely to respond. No one with profit in mind is going to spend $100,000 to fix up a property with an expectation they will only get $1,000 more a year in rent. Not when certificates of deposit still have a positive interest rate, anyway. When the number is more like $10,000 more rent each year for your $100,000 investment, that changes. Walk through the neighborhood on any week day, and on practically every block you will see plenty of painters, tuckpointers, plumbers and carpenters hard at work. Those investments in an improved housing stock will soon be reflected in a shinier, “nicer”-looking neighborhood… and in even higher rents.
Anyone who has owned a house for long enough in this neighborhood should be aware that maintaining a 100 year-old brick home in good working order can sometimes involve some expensive repairs. Some big-ticket items, like tuck pointing and a new roof, can be deferred here and there to save some money, but the cost of waiting too long can be catastrophic. Other systems that have worked fine for 100 years (like the cast iron sewer pipes under my home that we just replaced), are now at the end of their natural life spans, and need expensive, wholesale replacement when that happens. Environmental issues, like lead and asbestos contamination, are a ticking time bomb in most if not all of the properties in this neighborhood, requiring substantial money and expertise to properly abate, and even more money to eliminate entirely.
If rents are too low, there’s simply no incentive to spend the large amounts of money sometimes required to keep an old home running properly, or at least an incentive to slowly let a home deteriorate, treating it merely like a “cash cow.” Investments like repairs and renovations happen far more often when there is a return on that investment. Absent that, and a neighborhood can easily fall into complete disrepair, as has happened to too many once-beautiful neighborhoods in this city. A certain amount of rent is needed if you want area homes to sustain a certain amount of habitability. Higher rents are at best a mixed blessing, but we may have to take the bad with the good.
So why are rents going up? Simply put, we live in a neighborhood where the demand for rental housing has gone up, while supply has not. Supply may have even decreased, since some places that once were rented are now owner-occupied condominiums instead. And with little developable land and stronger restrictions on development than most of the St. Louis area, don’t expect that to change. It’s hard to imagine a fall in rents here, like the Downtown West neighborhood in 2017, when there is little room for the neighborhood to become over-built, like Downtown West was in 2005, when it seems every warehouse became an apartment building at the same time. But why is demand increasing here? Well, it’s easier to speculate than to know, but some of this seems pretty obvious to me. Many good landlords in this neighborhood (Parallel, Laurel, and Quadrangle I know from firsthand experience, but I’m sure they’re not the only ones), have been putting a lot of money into making their apartments great places to live. It’s no surprise that an apartment with an in-unit laundry, updated kitchen and bathroom, and central air conditioning will have more tenants ready to pay more for it than it did when the laundry was a basement coin-op and the air conditioner was a window unit or a fan. But again, keeping up with contemporary standards in a 100 year-old building can be no simple task, and smaller owners face unique challenges in keeping things equally up-to-date.
This is also a great neighborhood, with amenities like restaurants and clubs on the Loop that are particularly attractive to young people, an outsize proportion of renters. Recent additions to our nearby commercial area include a grocery store, a concert hall with first-rate acts, an Italian bakery, an all-night diner, and numerous other restaurants. Again, it’s not surprising to me that a place where you can walk to the park, yoga, cafes, at least four music venues, and now even a grocery store is more popular with tenants than before some of those amenities existed. I’d guess that some of these changes take a while to filter into the perceptions of outsiders who might choose to rent here, but word is spreading.
Wider trends also come into play. Nationally, a higher proportion of people rent right now than did 10 years ago, and that change is most pronounced among younger age groups, who comprised most renters even before this change. And you need only look at data from the U.S. Census’ American Community Survey to know that Saint Louis City today, particularly among those ages 25-45, has substantially higher median income and education levels than it did 10 or even 3 years ago. Young renters with college degrees and money are either moving to the city or not moving away (also a national trend), with predictable effects on rent.
I also have my own pet theory about why rents have risen more here than other neighborhoods. It’s Washington University, its students, and the parents who often pay their rent. Wash U. subsidizes home purchases by its employees in our neighborhood, and recently raised their limit on downpayment assistance from 5 percent of the purchase price up to 120,000 dollars, to 170,000, or 8,500 dollars, forgivable over five years. This subsidy tends to put a distinct floor under the home prices in Skinker-DeBaliviere. For instance, when I sold my home in the Grove, with the same subsidy, it went for just shy of 170,000 to a Wash U. family. This subsidy to home prices probably has some effect on rents too. As mentioned, Wash U. has also funded major upgrades, at least indirectly, to our housing stock through Parallel and Quadrangle, which are owned by its endowment.
It also seems to me that Wash U. has substantially changed the perception among its students, intentionally or not, concerning which areas near campus are “good” and safe for them to rent, with our neighborhood a major beneficiary of this change in attitudes. I don’t know, for instance, if it has done the same for the Clayton-Demun neighborhood on the South side of campus, or for the many apartments buildings on Pershing and Forsyth to its West, but here on its North side Wash U. funds blue light security phones, mobile security patrols down our streets, and even free private transportation home for its students. I would expect that for many student-tenants, particularly from suburban areas, these factors may all come into play when convincing a parent to co-sign a lease in this neighborhood.
The fact of neighborhood security is of benefit to all of us who live in the neighborhood, as well as to Wash U. and its students; but the perception of neighborhood security among those outside the neighborhood is of most benefit to local landlords, and anyone selling a home and moving away. So if you’d like lower rent, and live in Skinker DeBaliviere, maybe start by telling everyone you can how you live in a free-fire zone! Otherwise, it seems to me that most of the factors driving higher rents in this neighborhood are unlikely to change too soon.
On Saturday (19th August) from 7pm, international art and tech event series, Art Hack Day, will display an art installation at Cortex that represents the results of a 48-hour marathon hackathon of 40 emerging artists from St. Louis and around the world. “St Louis is the new Berlin.” That was the opening gambit from Art
Estimated reading time: 1 minute(s)
Locally-grown company elevated, accelerated and incubated by BioGenerator, the investment arm of BioSTL, will be acquired by an east coast biopharmaceutical company.
The acquisition marks one of the most significant startup exits by a St. Louis bioscience company. What’s more, the new owner will retain 40 local scientists, and plans to create more jobs and build out a new state-of-the-art lab in St. Louis in 2018.
The financial terms of the deal provide for the St. Louis company to receive $20 million upfront, split equally as cash and stock and subject to customary adjustments.
The company’s shareholders are also eligible to receive up to $80 million in contingent payments upon the achievement of certain development, regulatory, and commercial milestones, as well as potential royalty payments on drug sales.
Investing in Startups to Re-invest in St Louis
BioGenerator, worked with the lead founder to form the company, build out labs, purchase instrumentation, develop a business plan, and raise capital to support the company’s research.
As a result of the acquisition, BioGenerator will see a return based on its $1.4 million investment in the bioscience startup, which will be reinvested into new St Louis companies and used to improve the STL innovation ecosystem.
Estimated reading time: 3 minute(s)
Yesterday, BioGenerator’s first co-working lab tenant, Confluence Life Sciences, got acquired by Aclaris Therapeutics, Inc at a valuation of $100MM.
On the acquisition, Confluence’s lead founder, Joe Monahan said in a press release, “We are thrilled to achieve this significant milestone… We built a team of proven drug hunters, successfully advanced multiple product candidates to the stage where they are appropriate to partner, and leveraged our profitable service business unit to achieve a financial exit.”
I got a chance to sit down with lead founder, Joe Monahan, and Evan Dick, Senior Vice President, Discovery Medicine at Aclaris, to discuss what the acquisition means for both companies.
What Got Bought? What Was Sold?
Their full name, Confluence Life Sciences, Inc, represents two distinct competencies within the company. One is drug discovery and the other is drug development.
Confluence’s lead program has successfully developed three different immune system inhibitors that show potential for therapeutic applications in dermatology. Simultaneously, Confluence Discovery Technologies, an internal subsidiary devoted to drug discovery, has made significant in-roads into immunotherapy research for cancer and other auto immune diseases.
Aclaris plans to use their core clinical and commercial development expertise to take those three immune system inhibitors (technically known as drug candidates) forward through clinical trials, such that they are viable for commercial use and meet FDA approval guidelines.
Of specific interest to St. Louisans, though, is that Aclaris also intends to maintain and evolve Confluence’s drug discovery competencies in the region. That means the Confluence Discovery Technologies team will act as a local independent subsidiary of Aclaris, that will continue to do drug discovery research on their own internal programs and contract research on external clients in biotech.
Finding the Balance
Under their official name, Aclaris Therapeutics, Inc, is a dermatologist-led biopharmaceutical company focused on developing and commercializing innovative and differentiated therapies for medical and aesthetic dermatology.
Their initial interest was in the aforementioned Confluence Life Sciences’ lead programs that saw the development of the three different immune system inhibitors which showed potential therapeutic applications for a range of dermatological conditions, such as psoriasis, atopic dermatitis (scaly or itchy skin, to the layman) and psoriatic and rheumatoid arthritis (inflammation of the joints).
However, further investigation into Confluence’s research and discovery program, left Aclaris impressed by the team of St. Louis scientists’ achievements in immunology, as a whole.
Betting On Local Biomedical Talent
Speaking with Aclaris’ Senior Vice President, Discovery Medicine, Evan Dick told me that initial discussions with Confluence was a case of agreeing an initial project to work on.
“We agreed a single license to have them develop a drug for us.’ And then, not unexpectedly, they did a great job! Then soon it was a case of, ‘well, while we’re here, what else have you got?’ So, after doing one license, it occurred to us that we could do five more. Which raised the question, why only do five more? If we already think we could do five, then in reality we can do a lot.”
So, Aclaris made it official.
“It comes down to confidence. Confluence is in the exact niche, that fits our exact needs. What we see is a group that is doing a great job, and we would have them not only to keep their infrastructure but also expand it, specifically around what we need.”
The Science Behind The Acquisition
Immunology is a relatively new field of biomedical research that has principally discovered that inflammation – namely the immune system attacking itself – is a common cause of a wide variety of medical conditions, ranging from the cosmetic to the severe and life-threatening.
Confluence’s drug discovery team has a substantially broader research remit than dermatology, having already made significant headway into immunological therapies for cancer and other auto-immune conditions, such as crohns disease.
To that end, while Confluence’s current lead drug development programs will be taken to market under the banner of the new owner, Aclaris see strong market opportunities to expand staffing on Confluence’s core drug discovery team in St. Louis.
“Confluence is at the forefront of innovation in the discovery and development of new compounds and new approaches to treating patients with severe and debilitating autoimmune diseases,” said Neal Walker, President and Chief Executive Officer of Aclaris in a press release.
“The Confluence acquisition enables Aclaris to immediately solidify its existing position in inflammatory / autoimmune skin disorders and expand into relevant adjacent therapeutic categories. We look forward to progressing the drug candidate CDD-450, as well as Confluence’s soft JAK and ITK inhibitor programs to identify drugs to treat inflammatory skin diseases.”
That Aclaris confirmed the potential to use the St. Louis base to expand into, “relevant adjacent therapeutic categories,” signals a refreshing confidence in a common sense strategy (at least, for immunologists) to growing a bio-medical talent power-house in the region.
Estimated reading time: 3 minute(s)
TechShop is celebrating their first anniversary since opening a maker space in St Louis. One hundred local ‘makers’ will showcase their creations from the Summer of Making program on Saturday, August 26th, from 4pm-8pm.
The very first co-working meets maker space concept in Menlo Park, California, happens to be where the prototype for Square was first built. It seems like the payments company founder, Jim McKelvey decided to bring TechShop with him, on returning to the midwest. The St. Louis branch of TechShop opened less than a year after Square announced that they would be putting roots down in Cortex.
It if it was from a certain fondness that led to that recommendation, I can see why. TechShop instantly engages the other side of your brain.
I visited TechShop for the first time yesterday and my mind has been whirring with zany possibilities ever since. It reminded me of being back in school, where my favorite classes were wood-working and metalwork. All of which is to say that the 18,000 square foot space is like a playground for very big kids, who want to break stuff, mend stuff, build stuff and create stuff.
Despite having no engineering expertise whatsoever, I found something primordial about the place. I’d heard of the concept of “maker spaces” before, and assumed I knew what it meant, but after a guided tour of lazer cutters, 3d printers, screen printing presses and wooden lathes, I understood that my view of what it was ‘to create’ had not really kept apace with times that have been a-changing. As a “tech-guy,” I’d dimly assumed that everything was ‘digital,’ these days.
But after a peek into this DIY workshop and fabrication studio, I realized that I’d just landed in a fundamentally different world of co-working. Extremely specialized and sophisticated equipment that I would never have imagined having access to, was there just beckoning me to try them out.
It’s like a gym for artists or engineers and I was present to the sense of the tactile and reminded of the possibilities of physical computing. For a brief moment, I imagined people hacking objects and creating anachronistic interfaces, like something from the mind of Jorge Luis Borges.
Designed for entrepreneurs, artists, makers, teachers, and students come together to learn and collaborate, this shared creative facility is both an inventor’s playground or a great hobby hangout for anyone who wants to get away from the computer and, literally, get more “hands-on.”
Welding & Wizarding
Member Ambassador, Emily Elhoffer, talked me through some of the expensive equipment available to TechShop members.
“If you just had ‘one of those days’ and you need to let off steam, you gotta just try welding something. You’ll feel like a hero afterwards as you just learned to melt and meld metal. You’ll get all the satisfaction of prodding a campfire, or BBQ, only 10x better.”
She then proceeded to show me a T-Rex skull she’d recently carved out of granite, using a water jet – a giant precision cutting tool that cuts through pretty much anything with water… yes, water.
If you want to invent a physical product, this is the place to do it. Discussing the things local members had created, Mike Hill, General Manager, told me to expect the unexpected. He then thumbed open what looked like a wooden bound book, except when the pages fanned open, they lit up like some sort of wizard’s manual from Harry Potter.
We’ve only been going a year here, so most of our members who are on their way to building successful products are still at the patent pending stage. But nationally, TechShop has seen member creations go on to win Shark Tank and build a $6 million dollar company. This is a great environment to simply get an idea out of your head or go a step further and test a plan for mass-producing something.
At the Summer Showcase, our members will display many handcrafted products from lawn Roombas, and laser-cut topographical maps, to cosplay costumes, and 3-D printed jewelry.
Tours and demonstrations of TechShop machines and equipment will be available to all who attend, and various members will present and show off their creative abilities and the products they have been working to develop all summer long.
TechShop’s Summer Showcase in St. Louis
When: Saturday, August 26th
Time: 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Location: 4260 Forest Park Avenue St. Louis, MO 63108