Midwestern Innovation Is Alive and Well

By David Strom Print this article Print

The Strominator checks in on the venture capital-seeking event InvestMidwest.

Last week I had an opportunity to spend some time with a bunch of start up companies that were pitching venture capitalists for additional funding. I thought I would share with you some of the more interesting ideas, to show you that innovation is alive and well.

What made things more interesting is that this event took place in
St. Louis where I live. It is called InvestMidwest, and is held every year alternating between St. Louis and Kansas City. About 40 different companies attended, pitching to about 40 VCs. They ranged from traditional IT to biotech and alternative energy ventures.

Some of the ideas were downright goofy. But some had some immediate traction with me, such as Earth Perspectives, a Columbia, Mo.-based venture that is trying to improve the analysis of satellite imagery by comparing what has changed in particular areas of the earth's surface. If you think about the issue of how to examine the thousands of pictures taken each day and try to organize them in some meaningful fashion to see man-made and natural changes over time, it is ripe for computational solutions.

Another company called SpiritShop.com has a more mundane solution for custom-printed logo clothing. In the past, if your organization wanted their own t-shirts or whatever, you had to fulfill minimum quantities. They can do whatever amount you need and provide a nice Web interface to customize and upload your design. They have a great revenue sharing model to make their products appealing for fundraising opportunities (such as school PTAs and such), too. They are based in
Ann Arbor.

How about keeping track of supermarket coupons electronically?
TDP's SaveMyCoupons.com is such a service, and they produce all the back office operations that are needed to collect and apply coupons to your purchases. They can also track purchase history and customize coupons for particular merchants and shoppers. They have gotten traction with several of the major grocery retailers and they have former Sprint executives who founded the Kansas City company.

This being the midwest we also had an idea for branding cattle with ink tatoos that could be quickly read by barcode readers to keep track of their growth and other statistics. Somark Innovations based here in
St. Louis is on the case, especially noteworthy given our recent food safety scares.

And an Indianapolis-based company called Vyante is trying to assemble software that allows a company to track its online reputation through blogs, discussion forums, and Web pages, The product is called ChatterSpike and is designed to help marketers make decisions about their brands and how they are being perceived online. This is a very competitive and active field, with dozens of wanna-bes. Time will tell if they have the right stuff.

What I liked about the half day conference was how quickly you got the feel that the spirit of innovation is alive and well in the middle of the country. Too often we tend to focus on
Silicon Valley and Cambridge, or a few other areas, and not realize that there is a tremendous talent pool in our own backyards. I hope many of these companies that I saw last week at the event were successful at finding backers and can continue to grow and becme profitable.

This article was originally published on 2008-02-25
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