With the recent launch of its GeoFutures Initiative Strategic Roadmap, the St. Louis geospatial ecosystem has laid out its vision for becoming the global hub for geospatial excellence. On Oct. 7, 2020, during USGIF’s GEOConnect Series Main Stage, a panel examined how the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is working to attract new GEOINT talent and develop the workforce to meet its growing needs, as well as align its tech incubators and academic institutions to foster innovation.
One of the many exciting GEOINT innovations occurring is at the nonprofit innovation and entrepreneur support center located in downtown St. Louis, the Technology Entrepreneur Center (T-Rex). The center’s goal is to increase the vitality of the regional economy by recruiting and nurturing startup companies that advance technological development, encourage creative thinking through design, and employ highly skilled workers who contribute to the economic development of the area.
“T-Rex has made a concerted effort to develop a strong hub of geospatial energy and expertise for our region,” says Patricia Hagen, Ph.D., president and executive director of T-Rex. “We are engaged in making connections among all these different organizations to ensure they can have the most success. In the long run, that will encourage economic development, workforce development, and equity inclusion across our entire region.”
In addition, the fourth floor of the center is designated to Geosaurus, an initiative to provide collaborative content and programming for advancing the geospatial industry. The goal behind Geosaurus is to become a talent pipeline for companies like Bayer and NGA.
Xeo Air is one of those startup organizations benefitting from T-Rex. Xeo Air is a drone service platform that provides high-quality aerial mission management services and data management. Bronwyn Morgan, CEO of Xeo Air, returned to her hometown of St. Louis and, according to her, struck gold as the region’s geospatial initiative began to flourish.
“Why St. Louis? The geospatial focus is amazing. It’s specific and relevant to what I do as a provider of geospatial and photogrammetry data. The relationship between academia and startups as well as the entire thinking around geospatial is blossoming. And as a startup, it’s a great place to develop those connections,” Morgan says.
Like Morgan, when starting a company, many individuals ask themselves, “Where?” and “Why?” Where will your company be located, and why should it be located there? Anthony Sardella, vice chairman and founder of evolve24, also asked himself these questions.
“The first thing that helped us get started and expand our company in St. Louis was the incredible relationship among universities in the region and startup organizations. And the second was the willingness from the local business ecosystem to support and engage with startups,” Sardella says. “What exists now that didn’t exist when I first started in St. Louis are two incredible incubators and innovation centers, T-Rex and Cortex. These incubators have created a diverse experience and knowledge center that allow startups to flourish in St. Louis.”
But what role does academia play in the current entrepreneurial ecosystem in St. Louis? According to Dedric Carter, Ph.D., vice chancellor for operations and technology transfer, Washington University in St. Louis, there are a few areas in which universities can help:
- Partnerships with startups, government, and academia
- Being a persistent leader in the community
- Thinking outside the box
Carter thinks that an organization like Washington University could be helpful in that—in concert with partners like Slew and others that have the depth of knowledge and understanding of geospatial and their underlying technologies.
“Academia brings people from all over the world to study, grow, learn, teach, and conduct research,” Carter says. “The more individuals we can bring to practice their craft and input their expertise into the advancement of geospatial technologies, the more recognizable we will be as a [geospatial] powerhouse globally in this region.”