On Thursday nights, area entrepreneurs fill Cortex’s Venture Café for seminars, discussions, and networking. It’s just a taste of what the 200-acre innovation community, started in 2002, does. Cortex—hosting seven Fortune 500 companies, generating $34 million in tax revenue over the past five years, and now expanding with six more buildings—has helped St. Louis “develop a lot of the pieces of an ecosystem that are found in other regional tech hubs,” says CEO Dennis Lower, noting that companies outside the region are also looking to grow here because of that ecosystem.
When Lower moved here, in 2010, he saw potential. “I was struck by the fact that St. Louis and the region have so many assets and opportunities,” he says. He looks for certain elements to indicate a region’s capacity to serve as a tech hub: technology and new ideas; “agents of engagement” to support those ideas; human capital, including serial entrepreneurs, STEM workers, and business managers; financial capital, the capacity for investment; and physical capital, buildings and factories with which to produce products.
There’s still work that needs to be done, though, he says, naming C-level executives and affordable multi-tenant buildings for emerging companies as areas in which St. Louis needs to improve. “But I do believe that one day, take that elevator to the top of the Arch and look west,” he says, “and you’ll see miles and miles of technology-related industry companies.”