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House of Genius, a curated monthly event with origins in Boulder, Colorado, arrived in St. Louis last week. The event brings in three entrepreneurs or companies and anonymous members of the community for an evening of ideas, collaboration, problem-solving and growth at CIC@CET in Cortex. We checked in with Co-Founder Toma Bedolla to hear more about House of Genius’ format and get his take on how St. Louis’ entrepreneurial ecosystem can grow from here.
For these events, the first one can either be a great success or a total disaster. How did you think Thursday night went?
I think it was a great success. As far as the event itself goes, the ongoing element of success is how well people follow through. They are part of an inaugural group, so it’s their word of mouth and their nominations for people to attend future events, and it makes a tremendous impact on how quickly the foundation of things move here in St. Louis and how quickly the cross-pollination across boundaries on what House brings to a community.
Explain the event a little bit.
In its infancy, it’s once a month. We do have some cities where, as they reach their maturities, the pressure from the community is to do several a month. House of Genius is open to all, but each event is really curated for diversity and perspectives. We have no more than two people in the room from the same background or expertise. We try to keep it as close to fifty-fifty as we can, male to female. And we also try to have diversity across age, so we’re reaching people who are MBA or grad students, all the way up to successful entrepreneurs and people who are wanting to give back. So that diversity of perspective is certainly one of the key ingredients.
What is the process of curating these individuals?
Our events are a truly transformative experience; part of it is that anonymity we impose, where it’s first names only and you’re not allowed to talk about your background and during the event, you’re not allowed to qualify your statements. So you can’t say, “In my ten years of experience … .”
The curation comes from nominations from people who have been to previous events, because they do a very good job of nominating their best, brightest and quick minds. So that becomes really helpful, but it’s their diversity of background and expertise. And some of those areas of expertise can be curated to be relevant to the event or to the person presenting. And some of the participants are artists or dancers or PHDs from fields that might seem completely unrelated, but these are just bright minds and creative minds who look at problems creatively and in unique ways.
What’s the next step after the community offers entrepreneurs feedback?
At the end of the event, we do the big reveal. People are allowed to share their first and last name and what they do, but we find out it doesn’t really matter. Most people say, “ I don’t know what X does, but I really just like the way their mind works.”
As an organization, we put together content about the event, and one of the things we do is share what impact you had on the event you attended. We share: here’s the company you helped, and here’s where they are now, how many jobs were created, the people that were nominated from those events, and here’s the businesses they helped. It’s so important to see when you engage how far that ripple goes across the pond in your community and that it’s not just you going to the event; you’re having an impact on economic growth.
For the first six months, House of Genius STL is in a kind of trial phase. One event isn’t enough to get the full scope, but do you think House will succeed in St. Louis?
At the end of the day, that comes down to the community. Right now the St. Louis House of Genius team is great, and I’d love to see it grow to other sectors of the community. But it looks to me there’s a tremendous amount of activity happening in St. Louis—the density is here to succeed and thrive.
What can St. Louis learn from cities like Boulder, which has a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem?
I think every community has a little bit of its own recipe for what will be required to be a thriving ecosystem. One of the things that I think is a bit of a mistake, is when I see or hear people saying, “We’re the next silicon valley” or “Silicon This”. What happened in the Valley was a unique set of circumstances and Boulder has that as well. I think St. Louis as a community will have to discover what its own unique strength is. Denver, for example, I think can be the global mecca for sustainability.
One way we think St. Louis stands out is in how collaborative it is.
We have this moderating tool as we make our way around, and everyone has their first chance for feedback, so if someone who spoke before you and kinda stole your thunder, or if they had a point you really liked, we just ask you to plus-one that response and then move on to what you’re adding to it, so you’re not restating it, in the effort to get as much on the table as possible. Normally, cities will wait to give their plus one when it’s their turn. And [on Thursday], at any provocation, people started blurting out “plus one, plus one.” There was just a lot of enthusiasm and energy around engaging right away and I had never seen that before. And I thought “Wow, there’s a lot of enthusiasm here to collaborate and participate.” and I found that fascinating.
To apply to participate in House of Genius, or to nominate someone, go to the House of Genius St. Louis website.