Shalom, Entrepreneurs!

Jewish Light Editorial

If GlobalSTL—an initiative of the nonprofit group BioSTL—succeeds in its goal to turn St. Louis into a Midwestern outpost of Silicon Valley, Israeli entrepreneurs will play a key role.

As detailed by Eric Berger in last week’s Jewish Light, St. Louis may not have the dynamic social scene or internet energy of a Tel Aviv, but the synergy of firms such as  Monsanto and Express Scripts, top university talent and a nexus such as Cortex are proving attractive to startups from Israel.

GlobalSTL is part of an effort that came out of what originally was named the St. Louis-Israel Innovation Connection and, although the name has changed, the thrust of the project remains. BioSTL president and chief executive Donn Rubin wants to attract companies in the biosciences as well as those in technology to take advantage of the growing concentration of expertise in St. Louis.

As opposed to the fervid atmosphere in Israel, where Rubin says “the entrepreneurs are in their labs, in their offices all night long,” St. Louis may be a little more laid back. But thanks to the executives in the nascent firms that chose to expand to the Midwest from the Mideast, he says, “We’re changing that. These guys are changing that.”

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And the way Rubin and others are changing that includes time-honored methods of networking: Someone knows someone else who ran into a third person who knows what GlobalSTL is trying to do. No matter how well social networking brings people together, good old-fashioned face time can work wonders as well.

That personal approach also helps to sell St. Louis on a broader scale. For example, Ben Herzel, a plant scientist with Israel-based Kaiima Bio Agitech, is taking advantage of more than the agricultural expertise in St. Louis. He and his family are also enjoying the benefits of living here that longtime residents may take for granted, particularly when you compare the area to big cities on either coast.

“It’s a great place to raise a family,” Herzel says. “It’s so convenient and everything is very close. Almost every Sunday, we are taking our kids to the [St. Louis Art Museum]. There are so many parks within a 30-minute drive.”

So when companies including Kaiima Bio-Agritech, Atomation and Evogene blossom, know that their growth was nurtured with roots from Israel and St. Louis soil. It’s a partnership that will benefit both sides many times over.