Startup Voodoo brings ideas, lessons to St. Louis entrepreneurs

"If you believe in a product, just do it. The market is there." said Sam Altman of Y combinator. |Yizhu Wang/Missouri Business Alert
Y Combinator president Sam Altman returned to his hometown to deliver one of the keynotes at the Startup Vodoo conference in St. Louis. |Yizhu Wang/Missouri Business Alert

The second annual Startup Voodoo brought together entrepreneurs, investors and more in the shadow of the St. Louis Arch. Startup founders, funders, employees and observers from St. Louis and Silicon Valley exchanged ideas and lessons at the conference, held Thursday at Hotel Lumiere.

“The idea was to bring in people from Silicon Valley to share what the most innovative place on earth is doing with our community here,” said Edward Domain, who organized the conference. “Entrepreneurs here can get exposed to what’s going on in San Francisco, and we can show off to some of the people in Silicon Valley what we’re doing here. Hopefully they’ll take interest.”

Keynotes speakers included Robert Scoble, a blogger and technology evangelist from Silicon Valley; Maxine Clark, the founder of Overland-based Build-A-Bear Workshop; Sam Altman, the president of startup accelerator and seed fund Y Combinator; and Erik Moore, the managing partner of venture capital firm Base Ventures.

As a veteran entrepreneur, Moore suggested startup founders should be determined and sincere in front of investors, and strive to make ideas very simple to understand.

Compared to 10 years ago, Moore said, “It doesn’t take as much to get a company started. It’s good.

“But it’s not good that there are lots of entries in the market, so it’s quite a bit of noise.”

Altman, a St. Louis native, encouraged aspiring entrepreneurs to not be discouraged by similar ideas in the market.

“If you believe in a product, just do it,” he said. “The market is there.”

Ear Compass team from St. Louis won the "Most Promising" startups award held by Startup Voodoo. (Missouri Business Alert|Reporter/Yizhu Wang)
St. Louis startup Ear Compass won the “Most Promising” award in a pitch competition at Startup Voodoo. | Yizhu Wang/Missouri Business Alert

Domain worked in San Francisco until 2008, when his company was hit hard by the economic crisis. In 2011, he started Techli, an online technology publication that he moved from Chicago to St. Louis in 2012.

Domain said St. Louis has a good support network for entrepreneurs and praised other assets the area offers. However, capital for startups is not as abundant in St. Louis as it is on the coasts, he said.

Arch Grants is one organization that aims to address funding challenges for early-stage companies. The nonprofit gives $50,000 grants to startups that are willing to set up shop in St. Louis. At the end of Startup Voodoo, Arch Grants Executive Director Ginger Imster announced the 11 companies that will receive the first round of Arch Grants for 2015.

Startup Voodoo also featured a pitch competition to determine the winner of its “Most Promising” startup award. Three early-stage companies pitched at the event, and Ear Compass, which develops assistive software for the blind and visually impaired, won the grand prize, a package of services and funding valued at $10,000.


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