06/12/2014 02:25 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Startup Community in St. Louis Catching Fire

By Dr. Sean Siebert 

Across the great state of Missouri the startup community is bustling, largely thanks to a Startup Weekend that took place in St. Louis two years ago. You heard that right; a Midwestern American community's startup scene is bustling! You would not know that, however, if you only spent your time reading the TechCrunch, Pando Daily or Recode circuit, simply because the term 'startup' in our current society is largely relegated to innovations that spring from Silicon Valley, or Seattle, or even Boulder.

St. Louis may never rival San Jose in terms of startup community size, but a fire has been lit here and we are starting to see significant growth and community investment from those companies that emerged from that original Startup Weekend. One company in particular, Juristat, which was that weekend's winner, has been the spark that has helped ignite the Midwest startup scene.

Its early success has allowed the company to grow quickly - they've already doubled in size and look to double again by this June. The company is not only committed to continued growth and job creation in downtown St. Louis, which was a virtual ghost town just three years ago, but also to mentoring the local startup community through the varying stages of entrepreneurship.

What does Juristat do? According to CEO, Drew Winship, its software, "helps lawyers predict the future." But for entrepreneurs like Winship, the narrative they share with others isn't just what they do, but how they were created. Winship makes it clear that, "without Startup Weekend, Juristat wouldn't exist."

Startup Weekend is all about starting up in a place where something--actually, several things--can be created out of nothing. What's created varies from location to location, and weekend to weekend. For most entrepreneurs, it is a time to test ideas and concepts, fail forward, or get a better understanding of the startup world. For some, it's a time to forge a new business, career, or life.

At the start of the original St. Louis Startup Weekend, the three founders of Juristat were strangers. Yet, after coming up with the idea for the software on the first night of the event, they formed a working relationship that would develop into the foundation for a business concept that, in the following year would receive:
  • $50,000 investment as a part of being chosen for the Capital Innovators accelerator program
  • $50,000 Arch Grant
  • $50,000 prize at the St. Louis Startup Challenge competition
Roots must take hold before any start-up scene can truly take off. As much as Juristat has taken off, the founders have made a point to continue strengthening the environment from which they grew. Not only is the startup headquartered in downtown St. Louis, the founders are actively working to help the St. Louis startup scene become something TechCrunch, Pando Daily and Recode want to write about.

Winship, for example, recently sat on the panel of judges for a Startup Weekend in St. Louis, potentially picking the next piece to contribute to the local startup scene. That type of volunteer and mentoring effort is how startup communities are created, and the products and services created by the entrepreneurs in those communities often reflect the community itself. I've always subscribed to the mantra of, 'compete through collaboration.' Juristat exemplifies that mantra.

Throughout history, communities, especially those in the Midwest, were built on the backs of entrepreneurs who created a company and then employed half of the community in that company. Those companies typically addressed a need particular to that era and region, which in the Midwest was agriculture, and for a large part still is. That's why many of the startups in Missouri are now starting to address farmer's needs.

Regardless of where you live, and what you consider innovation, consider attending a Startup Weekend in your area. The resources you need to build your dreams are likely already there. Expose those ideas and then make them into a scalable enterprise. And play to your region's strengths! If there are natural springs in your area, make bottled water. If you live in Seattle, build the world's best rain gear, but do it at a Startup Weekend so you can collaborate with others, and if you are lucky, find your future team.

Dr. Sean Siebert is the Founder/CEO of Invent Yourself LLC, Founder of Social Era Entrepreneurs, Creator of The Innovation REDI Project, and serves as Chairman for #COMOBOOM Events Task Force.