Startup Founders Say 'Meet Me in St. Louis'
By Kate Rogers
Published June 11, 2012
Mark Sawyier and Raymond Gobberg of Bonfyre.
For proof that a successful technology venture can grow somewhere other than Silicon Valley, 29-year-old entrepreneur Gabe Lozano says he had to look no further than his own father, who in 1996 founded PaylinX in their hometown of St. Louis, Mo., and later sold it for $138 million.
“I knew it could be done in St. Louis—if my dad could do it here, I knew I could do it here,” Lozano said. “There is a lot of pressure to move toward the coast, but there is a determinable excitement here.”
And he should know—his company, LockerDome
is rapidly expanding. According to Lozano, the social networking site for sports, which connects fans and athletes, has grown 25% week-over-week for 24 weeks straight.
The company raised $2 million after over-subscribing on a $1 million funding round, he said, and plans to raise between $5 million and $10 million in the next year.
Lozano is part of a growing network of technology innovators choosing to call St. Louis home. Thanks to a strong commitment from local colleges, private investors and public support, the startup community is growing and thriving.
The founders of Off Campus Media
, Mark Sawyier, 27, and Raymond Gobberg, 25, started their tech company while studying as undergrads at Washington University in St. Louis. The company aims to help students better manage their lives through the site and its mobile application Bonfyre
, as well as through its national ambassador program network that reaches 125 campuses in the U.S.
Sawyier and Gobberg just closed a $750,000 funding round to support the Bonfyre app, and said they have received a tremendous amount of support from the local community. The level of collaboration seen in St. Louis is just one of the many things keeping their company planted in the city.
“With Bonfyre, which is a location-based app exclusively for college students, we’re not one out of five million mobile apps trying to make it in San Francisco,” Sawyier said. “And the cost of the mistakes that young companies inevitably make is a lot less.”
Brad Pittenger, founder of XIOLINK
, a managed infrastructure, hosting, collocation and cloud computing provider, started his company in 1999 and today is focused on fostering the city’s newest innovators though organizations like Arch Grants. He also independently invests in home-based startups through an angel organization in the city.
“Building more technology in St. Louis is good for all of us,” Pittenger said. “Some of the things that have really attracted us to stay here are the great educational institutions, talent of employees and the tech companies.”
The area is prime real estate for recruiting, he said, due to the city’s power infrastructure and fiber optic network of skilled workers. Pittenger said that while the Midwest is obviously less competitive than its East and WestCoast counterparts, once startups see the value in the area, staying is a no-brainer.