Today in the economic development world, the importance of supporting local entrepreneurs and start-up businesses has become a key strategy in many communities, including St. Joseph. People have come to realize that those individuals starting a business or developing the next great idea are an important part of the local economy and, as such, there must be a strategy to attract, encourage and support local entrepreneurs.
St. Joseph has a long history of entrepreneurship. Think about the businesses and products associated with our community: the Pony Express, the saltine cracker, Aunt Jemima pancakes, Anchor Serum (the forerunner to Boehringer Ingelheim) and the Hillyard Companies to note a few. Even the founder of St. Joseph, Joseph Robidoux, was himself an entrepreneur, navigating the Missouri River from St. Louis to establish his own fur trading business on Blacksnake Creek now known as St. Joseph. The rest, as they say, is history.
To be successful in today’s environment, there must be infrastructure to support entrepreneurship. Over the last several years, the community has made important strides to create opportunities for entrepreneurs. To provide access to local capital, the St. Joseph Angel Capital Group was established. Angel funding provides initial capital to start up businesses to assist in early development costs. To offer networking and engagement, Cup of Joe was established. Based on the national 1 Million Cups program, Cup of Joe offers two local entrepreneurs each week an opportunity to present their start-up stories to a diverse audience of mentors, advisors and entrepreneurs. Recently, our own Innovation Stockyard joined with Digital Sandbox KC to bring a grant program to St. Joseph, which awards small grants to start-up businesses to assist with initial costs and proof of concept.
We are not done though. As a result of collaboration among several local groups including the Chamber, we opened coworking space in Downtown St. Joseph called “CoJoe.” The space allows for a variety of uses from typical leased office space to drop-in by the day use of space to do business. There is a conference room to rent by the hour, free Wi-Fi, mentoring and education sessions, all designed to support our local entrepreneurs. This type of space has spread to communities across the country and I am pleased to welcome it to St. Joseph.
While these efforts are part of a larger strategy to grow the local economy, it is really about creating an opportunity for our local entrepreneurs to be successful and an opportunity for St. Joseph to grow and prosper.
R. Patt Lilly
President and CEO
St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce