What It Means To Build An Innovation District

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With more attention being drawn to the innovation district concept—where our own Cortex is leading the way, as shown in Brookings’ June 2015 update on their annual innovation report—we sat down with Cortex President and CEO Dennis Lower to learn more about what it means to bring this kind of asset to our community.

Photo courtesy of Cortex
Photo courtesy of Cortex

What makes up the Cortex Community?

The Cortex Innovation Community really is a collection of innovation centers—and that’s very intentional for us: BioGenerator, Center of Emerging Technologies, CIC, Venture Cafe, soon to have TechShop. All of those are innovation engines. Each one wouldn’t identify themselves as the purveyor of technology; they’re the facilitator. People bring ideas to the table and these engines help them shape their efforts to get them to the marketplace.

There’s an old ad that said “We Don’t Make The Product, We Make It Better” and that’s what Cortex is doing. These centers are creating environments, places and social networks of people that allow the individual innovators to be able to see their ideas all the way through to fruition. This concept of being a network of environments that facilitate innovation—that’s all part of what being an innovation community is.

In order for us to become the epicenter for innovation and entrepreneurship in the region—which is one of our aspirational goals—we need to drive entrepreneurial density. All innovation centers are dense places, where people interact and it’s sort of like a beehive of activity. So everything we do is to add layer upon layer of activity. Some of those layers are restaurants, bars, hotels and Cortex Commons. Others are buildings and innovation centers.

What we try to do is create this atmosphere in the innovation district where people can seek out and find whatever it is that they need at any given time. Each of these innovation centers has a slightly different focus and methodology and how they go about supporting innovation—some are for very early-stage and some are for middle- or late-stage. So what we’re trying to do in the district is develop an environment that meets a person where they are in their stage of development.

We’re a building community. We provide the tools to the innovative, creative people to build and fuel their dreams.

What is this innovation community doing for St. Louis? 

Cortex means many things to different people. The most immediate thing that it means is that it offers a place here in St. Louis for more technology-related jobs–having more jobs so that when the students here graduate, they have options to stay right here in their own backyard.

All of our initiatives and efforts are designed for and try to benefit the many. I think what we’re doing is very important for the image of St. Louis and for projecting that St. Louis will become, we believe, recognized as a technology hub location for plant and life sciences, IT sciences and advanced manufacturing. That’s important, because that’s the world jobs are being created in and that’s where we’re competing with other cities and regions at that level of job, and globally. We feel that what we’re doing here is extremely important to the future of St. Louis.

This blog was created in collaboration with Cortex, a member of the EQ Partner Network.

This story was created in partnership with the organization listed in the label at the top of this post. We work with a curated list of partners we feel are aligned with EQ's mission to raise the visibility of and increase connectivity within St. Louis' startup ecosystem. Read more about partner content here.