Sure, Silicon Valley has a new hit HBO show named after it due to a well-deserved penchant for deep-pocketed VC firms and companies launching culture-altering technologies. But to quote the "X-Files'" Fox Mulder, "Are we alone in the universe? Impossible. When you consider the wonders that exist all around us... voodoo priests of Haiti...The truth is out there."
Perhaps it was with Mulder's prescience in mind that Startup Voodoo was unveiled this week as sort of a Midwest Mecca of the burgeoning scene for startups and entrepreneurs inside the U.S. coasts.
"From St. Louis to Chicago to Cleveland, Nashville, Omaha and beyond, the startup scene in the Midwest is booming," said Startup Voodoo co-founder Aaron Perlut, a St. Louisan who developed the event with partner Edward Domain of Techli.com. "We hope through Startup Voodoo we can further demonstrate how the ecosystem in the Midwest is booming and simply help drive that positioning."
Indeed, as covered previously, some interesting tech plays are coming from nurturing startup centers in the Midwest like St. Louis' Cortex Innovation District, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign's Research Park incubator, or the Nashville Entrepreneur Center.
Startup Voodoo boasts an impressive lineup of speakers for a first-time event including Square co-founder Jim McKelvey; CEO David Karandish of Answers.com, who led a raise of $300 million last year in what is assumed to be preparation for an IPO; Sherwood Neiss, who's book "Crowdfunding Exemption Framework" became the basis of Title III of the JOBS Act to legalize equity-based and lending-based crowdfunding for startups; Cambridge Innovation Center founder and CEO Tim Rowe; Delon Dotson, the former director of software engineering for Netscape who led a $170 IPO for MP3, and more.
Most interesting, however, might be an endeavor Domain and Perlut are leveraging to engage directly startups in various Midwest markets: a "Most Promising" Midwest Startups contest, which seeks crowdsourced nominations of promising startups from each Midwestern city that will ultimately be voted upon online. Then, three finalists -- what they call "the best of the best from across the Midwest based on review from a panel of Startup Voodoo judges" -- will be asked to attend Startup Voodoo and make a one-minute pitches to a panel of judges with a chance to win $5,000.
"I really think we have a unique opportunity to shine a light on the tech innovation in the middle of the U.S. that often gets ignored by the tech centers on the coasts," said Domain. "Too often major media ignores innovative startups until they've grown into giants and Startup Voodoo is going to speak to entrepreneurs building the next big thing that we'll be talking about in five years."
Like Fox said, the truth is out there. Domain and Perlut are hoping part of that truth is realized Sept. 25 at St. Louis' sparkling new urban center Ballpark Village where they'll be doing a little voodoo.