Journalistic ethics require me to disclose a conflict where one exists.
And there is a conflict of interest when I write about the Missouri Technology Corporation (MTC), a public-private partnership created by the Missouri General Assembly to invest in entrepreneurs and startups.
In 2015, my wife, Megan McKissen, was hired by St. Charles County Economic Development Council (EDC) to be the Community Manager of OPO Startups, an incubator located just across the Missouri River from St. Louis in the City of St. Charles. My content marketing and public relations firm was housed at OPO, and my wife had been volunteering for a few months before the EDC received funding from the MTC to hire a Community Manager.
My wife wasn’t a traditional pick to lead an incubator—she had been a stay-at-home parent for 12 years. However, to their credit, the EDC and OPO founder and serial entrepreneur, Randy Schilling, recognized the transferrable skillset of a stay-at-home parent. In a single-employee incubator, you need someone who understands how to budget, is humble enough to take out the trash, and because tears and early-stage entrepreneurship often go together, is also a good shoulder to cry on—all experiences you get as a stay-at-home parent.
I know I am clearly biased when I talk about my wife.
However, I also know that regardless of her being my wife, Megan has made a significant difference in the success of entrepreneurs at OPO. The entrepreneurial life can be a lonely one, and the feeling of belonging to a community of people sharing a common experience is a powerful antidote to the loneliness. But belonging to a startup community isn’t just about a sense of abstract emotional fulfillment. Members of the community come to rely on one another and use each other’s services. My first three clients were all OPO members, who took a chance on me specifically because of a shared sense of community.
That wouldn’t have happened if MTC hadn’t provided the funding to hire someone who turned out to be a very skilled community builder.
That is also why the news that the MTC budget would be substantially cut from it $23 million budget in 2017 hit the startup ecosystems of Missouri so hard. The reduction in MTC’s funding wasn’t arbitrary: Missouri’s requirement for a balanced budget meant budget cuts had to come from somewhere. Budget discussions initially included reducing the level of funding to $1 million, which left some observers of the St. Louis and Kansas City startup scenes with the impression that the MTC was close to disappearing altogether.
While Missouri Governor Eric Greitens has called for a private innovation fund to help fill the gap created by the reduction in funding, MTC hasn’t disappeared. The organization is still here, providing funding to local entrepreneurs and startup ecosystems.
“We understand the requirement to balance a budget, and that funding for startup ecosystems is just one of the state’s many economic development priorities,” said Greg Prestemon, CEO of the St. Charles County Economic Development Council. “However, the governor’s continued commitment to MTC shows his administration recognizes how important innovation is to our economy, and MTC’s continued commitment to organizations that support local entrepreneurs shows they see startup communities as a great investment. We’re proud and grateful of the support they’ve given OPO Startups and the support they’ve given startup ecosystems throughout Missouri.”
While everyone involved in the startup world would prefer no funding cut, a state-supported organization created specifically to invest in hi-tech companies and startup ecosystems is a rarity—and the continued existence of MTC, even in a tough budget climate, shows how Missouri is committed to transitioning to an economy built for the 21st century.
As someone who’s deeply ingrained in the St. Louis startup community, I am grateful for that.
Plus, they helped my wife find her calling as an entrepreneurial community builder—and that’s pretty awesome, too.
Dustin McKissen is a consultant based in St. Charles, Missouri. He’s a two-time LinkedIn Top Voice and a columnist for Inc. and CNBC.