I went to an Open House Friday night that completely opened my eyes to the tremendous possibilities that could await the St. Louis metropolitan region if we could ever get our collective act together.
Initially, I thought I was merely attending an Open House for Manifest Digital, located in the @4240 Cortex building. I had been told the whole building was having an Open House and entered the evening expecting to have a beer or two, chow down on whatever appetizers might be available, check out the new Manifest digs and then be on my way.
Three-and-a-half hours later, I left, still wondering exactly what it was that I had just experienced.
The entire building was packed – a total mix of young and old, all races, all types, all mingling together in what seemed to me to be a carnival-type atmosphere of technology on display.
I had heard bits and pieces of the Cortex concept but was far from dialed in as to what it’s all about.
The overall correct name is Cortex Innovation Community (cortextstl.com), which calls itself mid-America’s premiere hub for bioscience and technology research, development and commercialization.
All were on display Friday night. When you checked in, they gave you a wrist band – which, if you got it scanned at any of the stations around the building, would automatically enter you to win some hi-tech door prizes.
I walked up to a bar, asked what they were serving and was given some type of vodka drink that contained a Swedish fish and dry ice that made the whole thing bubble and steam. It’s one of the few times I was ever intimidated by a drink.
I began to make my way around. Boeing has an office there – it’s their internal idea incubator. On display was a flight simulator which I decided to try and it quickly reminded me why I never chose being an airline pilot as my career path.
The space at Manifest is very cool and very non-traditional. Everyone is out in the open, working side-by-side. There’s a huge video wall in the center that can be broken down into quadrants showcasing news and updates from the social media world, all tracking their existing client base, giving real-time capsules of what’s going on throughout the day. Collaboration is key and the open-space environment encourages that.
I quickly discovered that’s pretty much how the entire building works and is one of the key concepts behind the whole innovation district.
There are a lot of shared spaces throughout the building. At lunchtime, they use a lot of these to host idea exchanges – where people from different companies can talk about what they’re working on or the challenges they’re facing and get ideas or input on potential solutions. Everybody’s doing their own thing, but everybody is also totally in to helping out if they can.
There were students everywhere. I spoke to a recent graduate from Rolla who was engaging engineering students to build robots that perform a variety of tasks. I spoke to students from SLU, Wash U and UMSL – all who were working in one way or another at a lot of the startups located throughout the building.
And there were plenty of startups on display. That’s part of the concept – get established technology companies to locate there. But also make it easy and affordable for start-ups and entrepreneurs to utilize space and encourage knowledge-sharing so that ideas can flourish.
The location of the Cortex campus is a huge asset as well. Mass transit is key and soon there will be a new exit off of Highway 40 that feeds right into the area. Metrolink will also soon have a station and mixed-use housing is being developed while neighborhoods in the surrounding areas are all getting an influx of new occupants who want to be close to where they work.
Overall, the area represents a potential $2.1 billion in development, $100 million in public infrastructure and could lead to 13,000 new jobs – all on the premise that we sure can accomplish a lot more when we work together.
What a concept!
If only we could get such cooperation between the city and county. If only we could forget about all the little fiefdoms that exist throughout this region and recognize the fact that when we work as one, we grow as one.
St. Louis needs forward thinkers to step up.
It’s totally happening in some areas. It’s severely lacking in others.
Let’s GrOw, St. Louis.