California entrepreneur Mark Comiso has started nine businesses in Silicon Valley, but he's coming to St. Louis to get his tenth off the ground.
Two of his co-founders live here and, just as importantly, Comiso has found a supportive environment here. In fact, he says, his venture -- Click With Me Now -- might be just an idea if not for Capital Innovators, an accelerator fund in downtown St. Louis.
The accelerator model means that when Capital Innovators invests in companies, it moves them into a shared office space for three months of intensive mentoring. On Thursday, after a competition that drew 100 applicants, the fund announced that it is investing $50,000 in each of six companies, including Click With Me Now.
The startup software company wants to enable people to follow a distant friend's or relative's web browsing. The technology would be useful, Comiso says, when helping an aging parent understand an insurance policy or when planning a trip with someone who lives in another city.
Comiso and his co-founders, Brian Handrigan and Mike Behr, have been talking about the idea for some time, but hadn't gone much beyond talk until they heard about the accelerator fund in St. Louis.
"Capital Innovators was a good impetus for us to start working on the business," Comiso said. "We knew it was a good idea, and they gave us a good nudge."
The cofounders say they'll have a working version of the software in customers' hands by early April, when they "graduate" from the Capital Innovators program. They expect to do some software development in Silicon Valley, but to have the company's marketing and operations based here.
Their accelerator classmates will be BusyEvent, which makes software for trade-show exhibitors; Material Mix, an electronic exchange for reusable industrial materials; Off Campus Media, whose Bonfyre mobile app shows college students where their friends are hanging out; RollSale, a network where dealers can buy and sell used cars; and Systematic Revenue, a developer of marketing automation software.
They'll join seven other companies in Capital Innovators' portfolio, including five that went through the accelerator program last fall. Judy Sindecuse, the fund's chief executive, says six of the seven companies have raised more capital since Capital Innovators invested. Their value, based on those fund-raising rounds, has more than doubled.
What's harder to measure is the fund's role in creating an ecosystem for startup companies in St. Louis. The best way to see its impact is to visit the 12th floor of the Railway Exchange Building, a space that business groups are marketing as T-Rex, for Technology at the Railway Exchange.
The space was empty when Capital Innovators moved in last August. Now it's nearly full, and the groups are looking at expanding to the 13th floor. T-Rex is home to Arch Grants, another effort aimed at funneling money to startups, and it recently hosted the first Startup Weekend in St. Louis.
In short, T-Rex and Capital Innovators have created a focal point for a community that always had a lot of entrepreneurial energy, but didn't always know how to fund it or celebrate it.
Speaking of celebrations and money, Capital Innovators will hold a Demo Day for its portfolio companies on April 4. It will be a coming-out party where Comiso and his fellow entrepreneurs can show off their software and talk to potential investors.
Without too much exaggeration, one could call it a coming-out party for St. Louis' technology industry, too.