Startup Connection 2015.

16 Startups Compete for Inaugural STL Export Accelerator Awards

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AirZaar captures visual intelligence from aerial maps with drones. PawFriction helps aging dogs keep their footing on smooth surfaces. Start Right Foods packs Belgian waffles with protein to make a satisfying toaster breakfast.

These three companies—along with 13 other startups and mid-size companies eager to export—began their work as participants in the new The STL Export Accelerator on October 1. The goal of the accelerator is to reward the region’s best new exporters and promote their future global market strategies. It focuses on startups and the region’s small-to-mid-sized companies who plan to export within two years of launching.

On Tuesday, November 15, $60,000 in prize money in the form of equity-free grants will be awarded to Accelerator participants at the first STL Export Accelerator Awards Ceremony. The first-, second- and third-place prize winners will take home $20,000, $15,000 and $5,000 respectively. The cash awards are provided by JP Morgan through the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership (SLEDP). Four Bright Futures awards, at $5,000 each, will also be announced for immigrant-, women-, minority- and veteran-owned companies.


In January 2015, Tim Nowak, Director of the World Trade Center in St. Louis (member of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership) announced that St. Louis had won one of eight spots in the final cohort of the Global Cities Initiative, a five-year joint project launched in 2012 by the Brookings Institution and JP Morgan Chase. The initiative consists of a total of 28 metro areas working to orient their economies toward greater engagement in world markets. The two year program was to include research and development followed by implementation of integrated global trade and foreign-direct investment strategies to expand growth and increase competitiveness for each of the cities.

St. Louis’ Export Plan

In June 2016 at a special event at Washington University, Nowak presented St. Louis’ first Export Plan, and the news that JP Morgan Chase would invest $125,000 to launch St. Louis’s first Export Challenge as Phase 1 of the Plan. Nowak said, “We surveyed and interviewed more than 750 regional companies, gaining insight into what–and where–St. Louis businesses sell.”  The surveys indicated a surprising number of early stage companies expressing the need and desire for exporting resources. In addition, Nowak said, “International business competition has given rise to a new entity—the born-global firm.” As a result, St. Louis, recognized nationally for its startup culture, was one of few cities in its Global Cities Initiative cohort to include startups in its Export Plan.

STL Export Challenge

The Export Challenge was incorporated into the Accelerate St. Louis Challenge contest run by Christine Karslake, Vice President for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership. The Accelerate St. Louis Challenge awards $125,000+ annually at Startup Connection, a celebration of St. Louis’ innovation community, happening Wednesday, November 16. Applicants for the Accelerate St. Louis Challenge could opt to enter the Export Challenge on the same application. The result was 39 applicants in the Export Challenge. Karslake said, “It was a very strong group,” and they determined a group of 16 finalists to participate in the The STL Export Accelerator.

STL Export Accelerator

The 16 participants in the The STL Export Accelerator received export training by working on the Chancellor’s Certificate for International Trade at University of Missouri – St. Louis starting October 1.  The complete list of finalists competing for STL Export Accelerator Awards:

The awards ceremony takes place Tuesday, November 15, from 5-7pm at Anheuser-Busch Auditorium in Cook Hall at Saint Louis University. Entry to the ceremony is free, but registration is required.