‘The perfect storm’ for geospatial technology: A look at efforts to elevate a St. Louis industry

St. Louis has deep roots in the geospatial industry. The city has been the home of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s western headquarters for decades. And, with a new facility currently under construction in north St. Louis slated to be fully operational by 2025, there has been a recent wave of efforts at the intersection of geospatial data and early-stage business, looking to strengthen the region’s position in the geospatial technology industry.

Mark Tatgenhorst | Courtesy of Tatgenhorst

One leader of those efforts is Mark Tatgenhorst. He spent three decades with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency before becoming the the geospatial program director at T-Rex, a startup hub in downtown St. Louis that houses a geospatial resource and innovation center.

Missouri Business Alert spoke with Tatgenhorst about the current state of St. Louis’ geospatial ecosystem, and the opportunities it provides for early-stage startups.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Missouri Business Alert: How would you describe the geospatial ecosystem in St. Louis?

Mark Tatgenhorst: I would say the geospatial ecosystem in St. Louis is growing and maturing and has the ability to serve as the nation’s geospatial hub.

If you look at St. Louis’ geospatial technologies, it’s kind of part of our DNA. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has been here for 75 years, and a number of companies that utilize geospatial data are in this region.

You couple that with academia and industry and civic leadership to help grow this ecosystem through grants, new curriculum and universities, and you kind of have the perfect storm to elevate this geospatial ecosystem to one of the best in the nation.

Hear more: Mark Tatgenhorst on the Speaking Startup podcast

MBA: Can you explain what the Geospatial Innovation Center at T-Rex is?

MT: We’ve created a 16,000-square-foot Geospatial Innovation Center that allows for intense collaboration … so all of those entities … industry, academia, government, military and startups, to bring them all together in an environment that will allow them to foster innovation and growth.

The other line of effort is really focused on developing talent. It’s one thing for us to be able to attract talent to St. Louis, and bring them into this geospatial ecosystem, but as the demand grows, we have to create a talent pipeline to support this ecosystem.

MBA: Can you outline the opportunities that the Geospatial Innovation Center offers Missouri startups?

MT: I’m glad you asked that because we have a number of initiatives going on that specifically focus on startups. All the resources that we provide them from cloud services, to data, to the infrastructure. They need the mentoring, the legal support, all that I call enablers to help grow the startups and help foster them along the way.

What it really takes to get them started is to incentivize them. So we’re getting ready after the first of this year to launch a geospatial seed program where we’ll give cash rewards to get ideas started — get ideas germinating a little bit in our incubator and help grow them.

The other thing is, Arch Grants, who’s also in the T-REX building, just gave out five $50,000 equity-free grants for geospatial companies. We gave them free space in our facility to help grow them and gave them access to the network and the resources that we provide.

MBA: Looking to the future, what’s your vision for what is next to come for T-Rex?

MT: I certainly hope that’s that T-Rex and the Geospatial Innovation Center is looked at as this premier hub for geospatial technology and innovation in this region.

We’ve done some real intentional programming to not only bring together the best of the best in the geospatial industry, but we’ve also attracted companies and organizations to come into T-Rex that are really looking to be inclusive and adopt diversity in our community, and are fully participating in programming that will bring opportunities to underserved regions –– both urban and rural areas of Missouri.

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