Startup Connection draws companies and crowds in its 10th year

Startup Connection, the St. Louis regional celebration of entrepreneurship, marked its 10th year on November 7 at the Globe Building in downtown St. Louis. The event pulled together 66 startup companies under one roof, ballooning from 200 attendees its first year, to over 1,100 on Wednesday night. On the roster this year were companies such…

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GiftAMeal wins $10,000 in consulting services from Slalom at Startup Connection ’18 (photo credit – Romondo Davis)

Startup Connection, the St. Louis regional celebration of entrepreneurship, marked its 10th year on November 7 at the Globe Building in downtown St. Louis.

The event pulled together 66 startup companies under one roof, ballooning from 200 attendees its first year, to over 1,100 on Wednesday night. On the roster this year were companies such as Balto Software, Carto Technologies, Equine SmartBit, Lux & Nyx, Pasilobus, and many more. The evening’s award recipients took home cash and services prizes worth a total value of $45,500.

Silicon Prairie News attended the event and sat down with Phyllis Ellison, the Startup Connection Managing Director, to hear more about what has made this perennial event so exceptional and popular over the years, and how it has made a difference for the companies that are selected to participate.

Ms. Ellison shared that for many of these early stage companies, Startup Connection is a prime opportunity to showcase products and talent. The event is the first time that 25 percent of the companies have created and presented a display. She noted that the event is the place to get a first look at companies that will be hot in two or three years.

Companies apply to Startup Connection and are selected based on a variety of factors. The company must offer a product or service that is beta or in the marketplace, and be forecasting sales within the next six months, but with sales currently less than $2 million. This year’s cohort had $1.5 million in revenue between them, compared to $300,000 at the same time last year across these same companies – a testament to the discipline and promise demonstrated by the talented founders and their teams in St. Louis, and how quickly a company can move into the market.

Ms. Ellison went on to say that there is a subtle but persistent notion that startups are only for “whiz kids” and computer science grads. She points out that many founders are mid-career and creating companies and jobs that influence and are influenced by a host of education, experience, and industry.

The Startup Connection Organizing Committee has remained true to and has reinforced its mission around supporting early stage companies and representing the full breadth of industries in St. Louis. Ms. Ellison noted that the committee watches the year-to-year trends. “We expect to see a continuation of the region’s strength in bioscience and tech startups. Those companies typically make up 60-70 percent of our Venture Showcase each year.” The Selection Committee also keeps an open mind and looks for trends that appear each year.

She said that for several years there was a trend in Green & Clean technologies. A strong trend for the last several years has been the Education sector, with companies recognizing tech opportunities to innovate around education and alternative learning methods.

Founders are thinking about better ways to successfully inspire teachers and educate children. In fact, Edhub recently launched in Cortex Innovation Community, and Ms. Ellison said she would expect to see some of its seven fellows at Startup Connection next year. “We want to highlight the growth in these new sectors as well as showcase the continuing strength of our Bio and Tech ecosystem here in St. Louis. We want to show that the startup ecosystem is alive and well in St. Louis, and it’s only growing and getting hotter.”

Ms. Ellison mentioned the unique opportunity for founders at Startup Connection to present early on in their companies’ growth. There are many opportunities for companies that are further along in sales or in seeking venture capital, but Startup Connection is intentionally focused on the great wins happening for early stage companies. The event is also intended to enable founders coming from every walk of life to share their stories about their varied paths to entrepreneurship, and to inspire others to pursue their dreams.

“It’s important to us to raise awareness through this event, and to get consumers and investors talking about what’s coming around the corner by meeting these companies, their founders, and their teams. The room is full of ideas, talent, and enthusiasm about the next chapter for the regional ecosystem. We’re in our 10th year, and already planning for next November,” said Ms. Ellison. Watch for news on next year’s event in Spring 2019, with the application for the Venture Showcase scheduled to open mid-July, due by September 1.

Ms. Ellison said that the committee continues to seek more sponsors to grow the event. “These sponsors are vital, and so appreciated by our committee and our St. Louis community because of all they do to give these startups a chance to grow.”

She added, “The prizes they generously provide are both cash and services such as legal help and accounting…services that cash-strapped startups want but feel hard-pressed to afford. Our sponsors also have the experiential benefit of working with these companies. The sponsors’ pro-bono services and interest in the growth of these startups is one of the factors that makes St. Louis so special. Plus, the event is entirely volunteer-run…another nod to the collaborative spirit of the St. Louis ecosystem,” said Ms. Ellison.

Ms. Ellison and the committee haven taken note of the expanding interest about the event in the region. Though preference is given to companies in the St. Louis region, the committee has seen increased interest from other Midwestern companies as well. The fresh energy and faces they see each year demonstrate more awareness about the event.  Attendees have commented that they “didn’t realize so much is going on here.” The event attracts classes from universities and high schools, as well as civic groups that bring delegations from other cities and countries to see the incredible energy of the evening.

The tradeshow format at Startup Connection had companies divided into three separate rooms at the Globe Building, enabling attendees to flow easily between displays from companies such as Panoptive, SensrTrx, Vital, and Genoscopy, to name only a few, while enjoying food and refreshments along the way.

Andrew Glantz, CEO of GiftAMeal, received two prizes at the end of the evening. He commented,

“Startup Connection was a huge success and I enjoyed meeting the rest of the innovation community. Startup Connection is definitely a huge value add to the St. Louis startup ecosystem, and entrepreneurs from out of town that I spoke to noticed and appreciated it. In addition to meeting like-minded entrepreneurs, I also met multiple large companies like Slalom Consulting and Enterprise Holdings that offered their unique perspective and advice. I look forward to attending the event again next year!”

Startup Connection ‘18 Prizes

Silver Sponsor Prizes

Bayer (Bayer – recently purchased Monsanto): $1,250 cash prize – Agrela Ecosystems

BDO (accounting firm): $3,000 in accounting services – SwipeSum

CardConnect: $1,250 cash prize – SwipSum

CIC (Cambridge Innovation Center – coworking space): $3,000 in office space – Big Heart Tea Co.

Greensfelder (law firm): $3,000 in legal services – esso skin care

Polsinelli (law firm): $3,000 in legal services – Intact Genomics, Inc.

RubinBrown (accounting firm): $3,000 in accounting services – KaloCyte, Inc.

Gold Prizes

BioSTL (Bio startup support organization and regional bio coordinator): $2,000 – Gateway Pharmaceutical, LLC

Enterprise Holdings (Enterprise Rent-A-Car): $2,500 – GiftAMeal

Lewis Rice (law firm): $2,500 – Equine Smartbit LLC

Anders CPA + Advisors (accounting firm): $5,000 in accounting services – Lux & Nyx

Datotel (data storage company): $6,000 of data and IT storage – Lean Media, Inc.

Slalom (consulting firm): $10,000 of consulting services – GiftAMeal

Visit to learn more, and for a list of the participating companies.


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