St. Charles County Startups Can Win $40,000 Free. That’s Right. Free.

By Greg Prestemon, CEO

This November, for the third year in a row, the EDC Business and Community Partners and OPO Startups will host St. Charles County Demo Day. Like the previous two years, this year’s Demo Day will be held at OPO Startups and give five finalists the chance to showcase their startups in front of competition judges, potential investors, and possible customers and clients.

Oh, and there will be a pool of up to $40,000 in prize money and in-kind services available to competition winners. That part is kind of a big deal—both for the startups participating in the competition, and for St. Charles County.

Our county is an important part of a booming regional startup ecosystem. That’s not bragging. This year seven St. Charles County companies made the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest growing privately held companies in the United States. One of our other local entrepreneurs is on his way to TechCrunch with a cutting-edge drone startup. Another entrepreneur recently sold his startup to a large Boston-based company.

In other words, good things are happening.

But the St. Louis region isn’t Silicon Valley (yet).

Venture capital and other traditional sources of startup funding exist, but they are stretched pretty thin. Things are changing, but right now there are more ambitious entrepreneurs in this region than there are funding sources.

That’s why in St. Charles County, the EDC and local leaders like OPO Startups founder Randy Schilling have stepped in to create resources and opportunities like Demo Day for local entrepreneurs. While $40,000 isn’t a lot of money, sometimes even a small infusion of cash helps a young business stay open for a few months—and those few more months may help that startup get much closer to their breakthrough.

Of course, job creation is one big reason why economic developers support entrepreneurs and startups. It is incredibly rare for a company of any size to relocate to a new community, and the new jobs of the future will come from the entrepreneurs in our own backyard.

But it isn’t just about jobs.

A community with homegrown entrepreneurs is stronger, more resilient, and better positioned to withstand the changes that will come as our economy becomes increasingly technology focused. Personally, I’ve been lucky to work with several homegrown entrepreneurs through the EDC Partners group, and I can tell you that local business owners and leaders are often the first to step up and address important needs within our community.

The money we award on Demo Day won’t take a company from being a local startup to a unicorn (startup speak for a billion-dollar valuation). But it may help an entrepreneur buy a key piece of equipment their startup needs. Two years later, that startup may be creating a handful of good jobs that didn’t exist before. Fifteen years later—with the knowledge that her community supported her when she was just getting started—that same Demo Day winner may be leading the charge to fund a new scholarship program for young, aspiring entrepreneurs in the community.

That’s the big-picture reason why Demo Day is important.

Big picture aside, it’s also just a really fun, inspiring night. And we can always use more fun and inspiration.

If you are a startup, you can learn more about the rules of the competition and how to apply by clicking here.

If you’re not a startup, we still hope to see you on November 8, 2017, at 5:30 PM at OPO Startups in St. Charles, Missouri.

You won’t be disappointed.