The St. Louis is rich in technology support organizations, but some local leaders have long longed for an umbrella group to unite them.
They already have one at TechSTL, a membership-based technology council created with the help of a federal grant. Executive Director Emily Hemingway said the council will add, not compete, with organizations like LaunchCode, which provides software training, and ITEN, which trains entrepreneurs.
“While St. Louis has a lot of individual, successful programs, it doesn’t have a lot of connective tissue,” Hemingway said in an interview after the official launch of TechSTL last month.
“There are a lot of organizations in St. Louis that are doing good things,” echoed Brian Matthews, a venture capitalist president of the TechSTL board. “Our vision is to identify gaps and work on the gaps.”
With its launch, TechSTL listed a set of ambitious goals, including doubling the region’s information technology workforce within five years. It also wants to increase industry diversification and create a $ 20 million “builder fund” to support technology startups.
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Forming an umbrella group for the information technology industry is a central recommendation of the 2013 Regional Entrepreneurship Initiative. The report’s goals, which include a $ 100 million fundraising effort, were hampered amid turmoil and turnover by two of the organizations that sponsored it, St. Louis. Louis Regional Chamber and the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership.
Today, TechSTL envisions a grassroots effort rather than a top-down model. Its fees are a flat $ 500 a year, regardless of whether the member is a large corporation or a startup, and it hopes to reach 1,000 members this year.
The need for a tech council, according to Hemingway, became apparent after the coronavirus pandemic hit two years ago. The tech community at St. Louis, used to a busy calendar of networking events, became quiet and stopped growing.
According to the Computer Technology Industry Association, St. Louis will have 74,602 tech workers in 2021, 118 fewer than last year. Metro areas like Nashville, Tennessee, and Indianapolis added hundreds of tech jobs last year, while areas like Dallas and Denver added thousands.
TechSTL’s goal to double that workforce by 2027 is a long line for a community whose population is not growing. The council is looking at a variety of efforts to attract and develop talent, from apprenticeships to university job fairs to marketing campaigns.
“A lot of it is changing the worldview around St. Louis,” Hemingway said. “They have to see this town as a place of opportunity.”
With many technology companies adopting a policy of working from anywhere, there is an opportunity to attract people who have reached out to jobs in Silicon Valley or New York but don’t have to live there. Part of TechSTL’s job is to convince them that St. Louis is an inexpensive place with a vibrant technology scene.
The council’s goals align with those in the region’s STL 2030 Jobs Plan, which looks at high-tech industries pushing for an era of inclusive growth. “It’s clearly advancing goals around tech talent and tech jobs, with a very strong emphasis on tech talent diversity,” said Jason Hall, chief executive in Greater St. Louis Inc.
Hemingway, the council’s new executive director, moved to St. Louis. Louis a year ago from North Carolina, where he founded a public relations firm and a couple tech startups.
Being a newcomer is probably an advantage. Because he didn’t have to navigate the turmoil and land wars of the recent civic in St. Louis. Louis, he could focus on the new organization in the future.