Estimated reading time: 4 minute(s)
Dr. Patricia Hagan is a person in the startup space you need—and want—to meet. A native St. Louisan who holds her PhD in Public Policy with an economic development focus, Hagan spent some 20 years at Saint Louis University in a variety of roles, including Associate Provost for Research, and was the founding Executive Director for the Audubon Center at Riverlands, serving as Vice President of the National Audubon Society and State Director for Audubon Missouri.
Now serving as Executive Director of T-REX since 2014, Hagan sat down with EQ and talked millennials, the future of T-REX and trumpeter swans.
What does an average day look like for you?
There are a lot of meetings. We are working on upgrading the facility, so there is a lot of attention to day-to-day needs as well as projecting what future needs will be. We applied for quite a few grants and just received some tax credits that we’ll use as a tool to get more funding in so that we can renovate the rest of the building. So, there is a lot of attention on the facility, building our staff capacity, ensuring events and meetings go well and more grant writing—it’s a good mix.
On grant writing—any tips on how to succeed in that area?
I think communicating clearly, understanding what the opportunity is and answering that in a way that is compelling to the funder as well as ensuring that you follow all of the directions and don’t miss anything.
What is the most challenging part of your role at T-REX?
I’d like everything to happen faster. I wish I had the money right now to renovate the rest of the facility. We’re working on it, but I would like of things to happen more quickly.
And the most rewarding?
Getting to work with our wonderful staff. It’s really an honor to work with these guys. It’s a really supportive atmosphere around here, which is what we need. Also, the wonderful companies we have here and always learning new things. This is a really exciting, organic thing that’s happening Downtown. It’s everything that people say about millennials, about what a great generation they are. It’s that live/work/play balance; it’s doing things on your own terms; it’s caring about the environment; it’s wanting to create a diverse atmosphere; it’s a reuse of great old buildings. It’s all of those things that make this generation. There has been some research that millennials are mostly motivated by a desire to do good things in the world and make a difference—that’s pretty amazing.
How can startup incubators contribute to an innovation district?
So there are some very obvious ways. When a lot of our graduates leave T-REX, many of them choose to locate Downtown. That’s not only good for economic development, but it increases that community vibe that’s so important to an innovation district. You want more density, you want more interaction and you want more opportunities for creativity. When you have people walking not only within T-REX, but on the street recognizing one another and having conversations in coffee shops, all of those things add to the vibrancy and sustainability of the community. So that’s really important and T-REX is a hub for that.
The other thing that’s really cool about T-REX is all of the conference and meeting space that we have. I don’t think we realized when we opened this place that we’d be running an innovation conference center and yet we are, almost organically, and that brings people Downtown that may have had no other reason to be here. So it increases attention to Downtown, it increases attention to the energy and the opportunities that are here and elevating Downtown to a new level.
T-REX in five years: what would you like to see?
I’d like to see it totally finished! There’s some raw space in the building and some under-utilized space as well. We’re in the midst of raising funds to be able to finish those spaces so we are able to fit more companies into the facility. We can do more!
And what about St. Louis–what would you like to see in five years?
I’d to see us get some big hits. And I’d like all of us to think of what quality means. I’d like us all to raise the quality and our reach for quality in terms of our startup companies, but also in terms of education for the workforce here and for enhancing opportunities across the region. I think we have a talent shortage and that presents an opportunity for the workforce training to be beefed up. We can do a lot more in identifying early stage companies and great ideas and helping to fosters those along. We’re doing a really good job already, but I think we can do more.
Where would we find you in your off time?
I garden, and I just built a a greenhouse, my husband and I did. I also love to go kayaking on the rivers. There’s a number that are in the backwaters of the Mississippi River–Dresser Island and Piasa Creek—anywhere where we can grab out kayaks and do that.
I was told to ask you about your hand in bringing back trumpeter swans to the St. Louis region. What’s the story?
(Laughs) So this is going back to my previous role (as founding Executive Director at the Audubon Center Riverlands). It’s kind of a hidden secret in the region, that with the two greatest rivers in North America coming together here, the Missouri and the Mississippi Rivers, what that does is bring migratory birds. They use the rivers as routes for their migration, feeding and resting along the river.
There is a beautiful species called the trumpeter swan and the trumpeter swan used to migrate from Northern US, Canada and Yellowstone all the way down to the Southern United States, but when habitats disappeared, trumpeter swans pretty much disappeared along the Mississippi River, at least in this area. The US Army Corp of Engineers at a habitat called the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary near Alton started managing the water and the habitat assets like the prairie grass such that during migratory seasons, birds would be attracted to feed and rest there and some of them even winter there.
As they started to manage this habitat and became more successful, trumpeter swans started to show up again. The first three or four showed up in the late ’90s and since then the population has grown and it’s fanned out a little bit into Central Illinois and the Missouri River. I think it was last year the Corp counted some 1,100 trumpeter swans that winter in the Riverland Sanctuary. And this is a magnificent species, they can reach a height of four feet, they are completely white birds, they travel in family groups, they’re just spectacular birds and they’ve stayed there. They feed along the river during the day, and then at dusk they all come back and they spend the night in the ponds there. You have to go in January, that’s the height.