054: Megan McKissen (OPO Startups)

Megan McKissen on Innovation City

“A person just in their basement working hard is great, and they might have traction and success, but if they do it’s because they’re leveraging past relationships. If you don’t have those relationships, or you need to make new ones, you’ve got to be out in the community doing that.” — Megan McKissen

Welcome to Innovation City—powered by Venture Cafe—where Tyler Kelley and Michael Johnson, Co-Founders of SLAM! Agency, interview innovators, creators, and disruptors to discover how business is changing in the modern world.

Created and produced by SLAM! Agency in cooperation with Venture Cafe St. Louis and Venture Cafe Miami, Innovation City gives you an inside look at how rapidly business and culture are changing thanks to increasing diversity and inclusion, heightened creativity, and a stronger and better-connected business community. Venture Cafe is the largest combined gathering of entrepreneurs and innovators anywhere in the world. Events are held every Thursday in St. Louis, Miami, and other leading innovation cities around the globe.

Today’s guest is Megan McKissen, Director at OPO Startups and Founder and Managing Partner at Clustered Economic Development. As Director of OPO, an incubator focused on technology and design startups in St. Charles, MO, Megan helped create one of the Top 25 communities for startup growth in the entire nation. Clustered works to build inclusive, homegrown startup clusters that create high-paying jobs and attract high-growth companies in small towns and suburban and rural communities. Megan joins Innovation City today to talk about her plans for building economic growth centers in small towns across the country, share stories about fast acquisitions of OPO startups, and explain why we shouldn’t forget about the suburbs when we think about innovation.

They discuss:

  • Megan’s background at OPO Startups
  • What inspired her to found Clustered; figuring out how to take advantage of the entrepreneurial potential that already exists in the suburbs
  • What research says is the ideal entrepreneurial candidate
  • Suburbs are the unsung part of metropolitan areas
  • St. Charles’ history and distinct identity
  • The difference between a midwestern commute and commutes in larger cities
  • The relationship between OPO and Clustered
  • Companies at OPO:
    • Transactly, a fintech company making transactions more transparent
    • Tenant Loop, a tenant-landlord communication tool that was acquired in under one year
    • A Medicare cost-containment program that received an $8-Million dollar investment round, and will do over $2.5 Billion in transactions this year
    • Solo entrepreneurs
    • Service providers
  • Developers start out freelancing while working on their own projects on the side
  • No freelancing currently being done at OPO, everyone has built their own SAAS
  • Constantly working to pull in new people as businesses grow and transition out
  • Bootstrapping in the ex-urbs
  • The difficulty of going it alone; counteracting emotional and professional loneliness
  • Megan’s curation model; figuring out what personal and professional needs her solo entrepreneurs bring to the table, and how to provide the services that are needed
  • The big benefit of OPO and other coworking spaces — being around other people, getting advice, and drawing energy from fellow entrepreneurs
  • Clustered’s initial targets — cities in the Southwest that are similar to St. Charles:
    • Flagstaff, Sedona, Park City, St. George, Twin Falls
    • Considered sleeper communities
    • Dense populations of knowledge-based workers
    • Well-educated, fluent
    • Poised for the shift to entrepreneurialism
  • Coworking spaces offer great ROI for government investments, in addition to boosting revitalization
  • Density and WiFi issues in spread-out western cities
  • Some cities have coworking spaces starting up without city economic development officials even being aware of them
  • Clustered offers:
    • Viability studies to help cities determine if they can support a coworking facility
    • Research to determine what kinds of businesses are needed
    • Community engagement and PR
    • Strategic guidance from site selection, demo days, coaching around staffing
    • Government Relations
  • Megan’s goal is to see a Clustered in every suburban space across the country
  • Coworking spaces need collaboration between different members, a shared industry or goal
  • Tech & Design, Real Estate, you can build a cluster around whatever industry is predominant in your area
  • Megan’s husband, Dustin McKissen, is her partner in Clustered, Editor-at-Large for EQ, and a writer for Inc. Magazine and VentureBeat