Entrepreneurship and Policy: Entrepreneurs Can Lead the Way for New Missouri Economy

Entrepreneurship and Policy: Entrepreneurs Can Lead the Way for New Missouri Economy

Meet Ben Johnson, vice president of programs at BioSTL, a nonprofit and MOSourceLink resource partner that advances St. Louis’ prosperity by cultivating a thriving bioscience sector. Part of cultivating that path for prosperity is in making a case of entrepreneurship, and convincing people across Missouri, and especially legislators and lawmakers, to bring entrepreneurship and the impact of Missouri entrepreneurs into their policy and their budgets. BioSTL is leading the statewide policy initiative. Add your voice to the conversation by completing this survey and sharing your experiences about starting your company in Missouri.

And so, in the spirit of the Kauffman’s State of Entrepreneurship theme that it’s people, not politicians, that must advance entrepreneurship, we asked Ben to give us a few talking points we could share with you, so that you can approach your community’s decision makers and help them realize how important entrepreneurship is to our culture and our economy.

Take it away, Ben . . .

It is well-documented that entrepreneurs and young, newly created companies drive economic and job growth across the United States.  Missouri’s own Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation (an internationally renowned leader in promoting entrepreneurship, based in Kansas City) has often cited that “new businesses account for nearly all net new job creation and almost 20 percent of gross job creation.”

Kauffman Foundation Job Chart>Source


In Missouri, entrepreneurship is just as much a driver of economic growth as it is anywhere in the country.  A spirit of entrepreneurship – from local-growth/“Main Street” businesses to cutting-edge, high-tech firms – has been a staple of Missouri’s culture, uniting urban and rural communities, since the state’s founding.  However, in recent years, the state’s momentum in entrepreneurship and new business growth can best be described as a tale of ‘fits and starts.’ 

Kauffman’s ranking of state entrepreneurial activity for 2017 lists Missouri as 10th among the 25 largest states for rate of business formation.  This is a ranking that is up from the bottom quartile among all states just a few years ago.  However, the state ranks 22nd among the 25 largest states for the rate of startup growth – the leading driver of economic impact. 

While Missouri is a business-friendly state with low taxes and operating costs, these traditional measures of business climate do not always reflect the needs of new entrepreneurs in the 21st century economy, where access to talent, capital, and customer networks can be the largest drivers of business formation and growth. 

Creating an Entrepreneur-friendly Environment

For more than 15 years, BioSTL (a privately funded nonprofit building St. Louis’ innovation and bioscience community since 2001) and its metro and rural partners across Missouri have advocated for entrepreneur-friendly policies and greater public/private partnership to grow the state’s startup communities.  Investments in research capacity at the state’s higher education institutions and commercialization activities (through the Life Science Research Trust Fund in 2003 and Lewis & Clark Discovery Initiative in 2007); R&D tax credits to support new innovations; use of U.S. Treasury’s State Small Business Credit Initiative dollars to support small businesses (2011); and, importantly, growth of the Missouri Technology Corporation have all contributed to an increasing rate of startup activity in the state.  Coupled with the state’s business-friendly environment, these policies have accelerated public-private partnerships aimed at turning good ideas into good jobs in Missouri and enabled entrepreneurs to start and grow new business in the state.

Policy Advocacy

While partners across Missouri have worked for years to reduce barriers to entrepreneurship in Missouri, these initiatives have largely been ‘grasstops’ efforts sustained through leadership relationships and led by entrepreneur support organizations.  More recently, with changes in legislative and executive branch leadership in Missouri [remember, Missouri representatives are elected every two years], momentum in these initiatives has slowed as the startup community has been challenged at sustaining deep, authentic relationships with new political leadership. 

The opportunity exists to enhance past initiatives and relationships through greater direct engagement of entrepreneurs and mapping/leveraging of their networks and relationships with policy makers.  Without such relationships, barriers to entrepreneurship and to stronger public/private collaboration will persist and Missouri will continue to lag in new company formation and growth.

To build a more sustained platform for ‘grassroots’ policy advocacy and to bring entrepreneur voices to the forefront, BioSTL (with support from the Kauffman Foundation) and partners across Missouri – including MOSourcelink – are engaging entrepreneurs in dialogue about the policy-related barriers they face, activating them related to the importance of their engagement in policy discussions, and mapping relationships that exist between entrepreneurs and Missouri policymakers.  By leveraging the stories and voices of entrepreneurs and engaging policy leaders through their existing networks and relationships, this new “Missouri Innovation Policy Network” (working title) will increase awareness of the barriers faced by entrepreneurs and develop policy solutions toward making Missouri more entrepreneur-friendly, ultimately creating a platform for sustained, pro-entrepreneur policy advocacy.

Get Engaged

To help change the trajectory of Missouri’s economic future by keeping entrepreneurship at the forefront, your engagement is needed!

  • DOCUMENT YOUR EXPERIENCE AS AN ENTREPRENEUR: Please participate in this quick survey to share your experiences about starting your company in Missouri
  • ATTEND AN EVENT: Events in St. Louis and Columbia took place in January and February in collaboration with Venture Café and REDI. Attend the March 27 event in Kansas City.
  • ATTEND A WEBINAR: Can’t make it to an in-person event? Join a webinar for rural entrepreneurs on March 25 at 12 noon. To join the webinar, go to www.uberconference.com/margie1 or call 855-385-6207. No PIN needed.


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