If you are a startup in your pre-Series A, post-early seed stage, you are in the Valley of Death.

The "Valley of Death" isn't one of those buzzwordy startup terms.

The Valley of Death isn't an LTV, PoC, MVP, or CAC, or some other incomprehensible combination of letters.

It is a very literal term.

Companies that successfully cross the Valley of Death are twice as likely to succeed (or, put another way, are more likely not to die).

They are twice as likely to become a job-creating, wealth-generating positive contributor to a local economy.

That's why the St. Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce partnered with Cultivation Capital (a St. Louis-based VC firm), Twain Financial Partners, and several of the region's banks to create the Spirit of St. Louis Fund 1. The fund will open $5 million in new seed capital for the region's highest impact startups, with the goal being the eventual creation of jobs and opportunity for a city and region still shaping an economic identity in the 21st century.

Even if you've never visited St. Louis, there is still a good chance you're somewhat aware of the area's challenges. On the spectrum of cities and where they exist in the public's imagination, St. Louis might not be Detroit, but it is also not San Francisco.

However, there is more to the region's brand than what people outside of the area see in the national media.

St. Louis, as I've discovered since I moved here in 2013, is far more than a stereotype of Rust Belt struggle.

In 2014, I started a small communications consulting firm housed in OPO Startups--one of the area's multiple incubators. While my firm is, by design, not the potential "high impact" engine of job creation this fund focuses on, I am 100% sure that my company would not have thrived without support from the local business community.

The essence of that support is that a community should invest in entrepreneurs who invest in it.

That spirit (pun intended) is also at the heart of the Spirit of St. Louis Fund.

"Our research shows that if you are an entrepreneur with a solid idea and a pitch deck, your chances of getting funding in St. Louis are higher than almost anywhere in the US. That wasn't the case 10 years ago," said Andrew G. Smith, VP of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the St. Louis Regional Chamber. "But if we want these companies to survive and thrive, we have to fill the funding gap and make sure they have access to pivot capital."

While this fund is a big deal for the early-stage startups in the St. Louis region, it also serves as a potential model for other small to mid-sized cities looking to strengthen and grow their entrepreneurial ecosystems--and those individual ecosystems have a collective importance far greater than their individual parts. The country is politically divided right now, and one of the reasons for that division is a gap in economic opportunity between large coastal cities and smaller cities and communities in the Midwest and South.

The story of an up-and-coming startup hub creating a unique funding mechanism for early-stage entrepreneurs isn't just important because it fills a local need.

It's important because it presents a model for fostering innovation and entrepreneurship at the local level at a time when the country needs it most--and at a time when solutions and ideas aren't likely to come from Washington, D.C.

In the grand scheme of things, though, that might be best.

Innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic opportunity are kind of like the agricultural products more typically associated with the "Silicon Prairie":

They are better when grown locally.

Published on: Aug 22, 2017