A nationally and internationally recognized hub of innovation
A nationally and internationally recognized hub of innovation
Founded in 2002, the Cortex Innovation Community is a nationally and internationally recognized hub of innovation and technology commercialization located in St. Louis’ Central West End. Founded through a collaboration of Washington University in St. Louis, BJC Healthcare, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Saint Louis University, and the Missouri Botanical Garden, Cortex is the largest regional anchor of a growing ecosystem of innovative startups and established technology companies.
It has been cited by the Brookings Institution as a Best Practice among global urban innovation districts. To date, Cortex has developed 2 million square feet that are home to 430 tech-commercial companies, university academic units, residential developments, and support retail. With 6,000 employees working in the District, it is a 24/7 live-work-play-learn innovation community that is served by a new light-rail commuter station opened in 2018, funded by a federal TIGER grant and matched by Cortex. There is a new $20M I-64/40 interchange, and multiple bus routes traverse the District.
During the 1990s, several civic conversations were convened to determine how best to enhance and catalyze the region’s entrepreneurial environment to position the St. Louis region as a global hub of innovation and entrepreneurship. In September 2000, these discussions culminated in a pivotal Battelle Memorial Institute Technology Partnership study that provided a roadmap for leveraging regional assets and developing tools necessary to formally establish a regional technology hub that would initially focus on bioscience research and technology.
One of the placemaking strategies that resulted was the formation of Cortex, located in a blighted, industrial-legacy 200-acre district situated between two of the region’s premier universities: Washington University in St. Louis and Saint Louis University, and adjacent to the region’s first technology incubator, the Center for Emerging Technologies. From 2002- 2009, Cortex leadership was provided directly by the Board of Directors. Under their direction, significant progress was made.
After incorporating as a nonprofit, the founding members capitalized the initiative with a $29M investment. A formal redevelopment district was established with approval from the City of St. Louis. The agreement designated Cortex as the Master Developer with powers that include master planning, conferring of incentives on third-party developers, and eminent domain to assist in parcel consolidation. With these resources, the Board acquired key land parcels and secured State of Missouri development tax credits and federal grants. By the end of 2009, an abandoned factory had been rehabbed into residential condominiums and apartments; two new technology buildings were constructed (a multi-tenant office/lab building known as Cortex I, and a single tenant, build-to-suit R&D soybean research facility for Solae); and Cortex was home to 35 companies.
Having tested the vision and demonstrated success, the Board decided to hire professional staff to advance the organization’s mission more quickly. In 2010, the first President and CEO was hired, with the staff growing to 13 employees to date. Since 2010, many new collaborations, development partnerships, and projects have resulted, including a 3-acre park known as the Cortex Commons, and 15 additional buildings that have been or are being constructed.
The mission of Cortex is to develop a nationally and internationally recognized innovation hub that positions St. Louis to be economically competitive in the global, knowledge-based economy. Our goals are to (1) increase the City’s tax base to support essential services, (2) attract and create high-tech jobs, and (3) become the most inclusive urban innovation district in America.
To achieve our goals, Cortex engages in “innovation engineering.” We have evolved our business plan over time to focus on building an innovation community, and not just an urban business park. We developed and are implementing a new mixed-use masterplan to create a live-work-play-learn, car-optional community of innovators. We changed our name to the Cortex Innovation Community.
We expanded Cortex to include all technologies— not just bioscience. We now have a dual focus on growing our own startup companies as well as recruiting established technology companies. We actively engage and invest in physical placemaking public realm improvements. And we facilitate and curate a broad range of entrepreneurial programming that supports our innovation companies and inclusion objectives.
The 200-acre District hosts 11 activator/accelerator centers that support the startup community with flexible space, technical assistance programming, and funding. They include the Cambridge Innovation Center, Venture Café St. Louis, Innovation Hall, EdHub STL, BioGenerator Accelerator Labs, Center for Emerging Technologies, Sling Health Labs, MEDLaunch, Capital Innovators Accelerator, Ameren Energy Accelerator, and COLLAB. Two more innovation centers are now in planning: the Global Center for Cybersecurity @ Cortex as well as the Geospatial Collaborative @ Cortex. Each of these centers has their own programming that supports startups and established technology-related companies.
In addition to entrepreneurial startups, a strong cohort of established corporates also reside in Cortex. They include the Midwest regional headquarters of Microsoft, the US corporate and R&D headquarters of AB Mauri North America (a food ingredient company), DuPont—Nutrition & Health Protein Solutions Division (soybean R&D and GMP facility), Square, Boeing, Accenture, Express Scripts, Centene, Ascension Technologies, Alcami, Aon, Booz Allen Hamilton, ESRI, Emerson, Mastercard, and General Dynamics Information Technology. A number of these corporates provide contract services to the St. Louis National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA West).
At full buildout, Cortex will contain over 4 million square feet of new and rehabilitated facilities, $2.5 billion of facility investment, up to 15,000 permanent jobs, and over 600 companies. Currently, three new buildings and parking structures totaling 2 million square feet are in design: a 325,000-square-foot tech commercial building, a 500,000- square-foot neurosciences research building, and a 244-unit residential project.