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Growing Good Ideas in St. Louis

Divya Kumaraiah, Policy Assistant for the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, spotlights the creative , place-based work Sprout is doing in downtown St. Louis.

As part of our celebration of service this month, we commend the visionary efforts of Jay Swoboda and RJ Koscienlniak that help catalyze innovation in Missouri.  Swoboda and Koscielniak recognize the importance of creativity and innovation in addressing our greatest community challenges.  With this understanding, in 2010 Swoboda and Koscielniak opened the doors of Sprout – a social enterprise accelerator, located in downtown St. Louis.

Even before the 2008 recession, the loss of manufacturing jobs in the Northeast and Midwest left many of the cities in decline.  Faced with the challenge of a changing job market, Swoboda and Koscielniak recognized the opportunity to empower the citizens and engage their community to do better.  They created Sprout to offer local startup companies the essential tools for inspiration, collaboration, and innovation.  The founders believe that there is space for business to “do good.”  Sprout is a resource for startups that are dedicated to the “triple bottom line” – doing business for people, planet and profit.

Business incubators, or accelerators, are popping up all over the country.  These incubators are designed to help small businesses mitigate some of the initial costs by sharing office space, IT staff, and other high-cost assets.  In addition to providing the standard accelerator amenities, Sprout offers support and training for community-minded and mission-driven ventures.

Swoboda and Koscielniak, like many other innovators across the country, promote local businesses that are rooted in the authentic identity of place.  Sprout is located in downtown St. Louis with the goal of boosting the local economy and providing entrepreneurs with the inspiration of the bustling city.  Swoboda and Koscielniak envision an environment of cross-sector innovation; where landlords, investors, municipalities, and entrepreneurs support each other and market St. Louis as a city willing to take chances on good ideas.

It is the belief in our potential that is rooted in President Obama’s message of “Winning the Future.”  The message challenges us all to confront these economic times by strengthening our local economy and accelerating ideas that produce outcomes that reinvest in the community.  Sprout is accepting this challenge by empowering the citizens of St. Louis to become social entrepreneurs.

Do you know of organizations or individuals in your community that are rising to this challenge?  Share your story with us.

Divya Kumaraiah is the Policy Assistant to the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation