Dr. William Peck, chairman of Innovate St. Louis penned a very nice Op-Ed piece for the Business Journal on the importance of entrepreneurs to our economic recovery. As entrepreneurs create almost 100% of new jobs in the United States, supporting entrepreneurs should be the number one economic development priority for the region and state.
Entrepreneurs are enormous contributors to both regional and national economic success. They create business entities that provide the majority of new jobs and exhibit the potential to rise to national and international significance. They collectively act as a hedge against the inevitable failure, relocation and downsizing of some established enterprises and offer an economic diversity that helps protect against destructive downturns in individual business sectors. Entrepreneurs advance the quality of life, wealth and the economy in the community as they capitalize upon opportunities to advance innovation.
Historically, successful entrepreneurship has been synonymous with St. Louis’ economic advancement. Entrepreneurs originated many of our world-class corporations, including Anheuser-Busch, Emerson, McDonnell-Douglas, Monsanto, Sigma-Aldrich and Ralston Purina. More recent entrepreneurial successes with international impact include Build-A-Bear, Centene, Scottrade, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Express Scripts and World Wide Technologies, among others. Of major importance is the huge economic impact on our region of the many small businesses founded by entrepreneurs.
Over the last decade, far-sighted community leadership has focused emphasis on plant sciences, life sciences, information technology and energy, leveraging our regions’ strengths in innovation, thereby yielding new opportunities for entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurism expresses itself in all walks of life. Social entrepreneurs spanning the arts and community services are as committed to enhancing our community as entrepreneurs who create businesses.
It follows that St. Louis must make every effort to encourage entrepreneurs – to make it absolutely clear that we welcome their initiatives, and their willingness to take educated risks – and will work hard to aid their success. We should be recognized worldwide as a place where entrepreneurs can effectively pursue their dreams because we have maximized their opportunity to succeed and go forward.
St. Louis leaders must headline entrepreneurship in overall economic development strategy. It is a fact that St. Louis is strongly committed to economic development – we strive to relocate successful and promising businesses from elsewhere and assist in retaining, stabilizing and growing our existing enterprises. More entrepreneurial support, both educational and financial, will sharply increase the region’s ability to grow – creating the next generation of companies, jobs and prosperity, to build on St. Louis’ strong community assets.
Access to ample seed and follow-up funds is critical. Additional requirements include effective mentoring of entrepreneurs as provided by Innovate St. Louis (undertaken by its Innovate Venture Mentoring Service and Information Technology Entrepreneur Network) and other organizations and ready access to business advice, support and facilities. Entrepreneurship will be advanced by identifying potential entrepreneurs, e.g., high school and college students, returning war veterans and those whom the recession has rendered jobless.
Regional commitment to entrepreneurship must be long-term. Failures are commonplace — indeed it’s a part of the learning experience for entrepreneurs — and success may come slowly. But creating an entrepreneurial focus in our region will stimulate our local economy and accelerate the recovery of the region.
Innovate St. Louis’ mentoring experience indicates that the number of potential and de facto entrepreneurs is not limiting; there are many. By engaging in this crucial mission, our leadership can provide the focus and coordination needed to expand our entrepreneurial assets and turn them into community wealth.
Dr. William Peck is former dean of the Washington University School of Medicine and current chair of Innovate St. Louis.