It started in Cape Girardeau. And then it expanded to southeast Missouri and southern Illinois.
Meet carGO, the on-demand rides, restaurant food, alcohol and courier delivery service. The Cape Girardeau startup has grown to more than 30 employees, will soon surpass 200,000 rides and deliveries, and is projected to generate more than $4 million revenue in 2019.
“What may be surprising to most is that we built the technology with talent right here in Cape,” said Dr. James Stapleton, co-founder of carGO. “Like carGO, other tech-based companies who started or are plugged into our local tech hub, are hiring local talent in high wage jobs to build these companies,” he added.
Creating an Innovation Hub in Cape Girardeau
carGO is just one of the 40 startups that have launched in the region since Codefi and the Marquette Tech District Foundation (MTDF) announced the tech district in 2016.
And now that model and the Cape entrepreneurial community is receiving extra recognition and support through the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) and its inaugural Rural Innovation Initiative. Supported by the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), an agency of the Commerce Department, the program supports rural communities working to create digital economy jobs with an innovation hub strategy. Codefi and MTDF were selected to participate in the program from a nationwide competition of more than 130 rural communities in 40 states.
“These communities represent the best of what rural America has to offer: strong visions for the future, solid infrastructure, excellent quality of life, and the talented workforce needed to engage at a high-level in the digital economy,” said Matt Dunne, CORI Founder and former head of Community Affairs at Google. “We’ve heard from more than 130 rural communities that are interested in pursuing an innovation hub strategy and these stood out. We’re excited to work with them and know that their energy, local assets, and innovative strategies are sure to deliver results for their communities.”
The invitation is further validation of the vision that Codefi and MTDF have been working on for the past several years and that has helped build out fiber internet for businesses and free Wi-Fi in downtown Cape Girardeau, train more than 100 adults as entry-level computer programmers through Code Labs One and create the 1ST50K startup competition.
Accelerating Innovation in Rural Communities
Participating communities will receive a range of support from CORI as they execute an innovation hub strategy: an economic model that works to educate and train local residents in digital skills, employ them in new economy jobs, and empower them to launch the startups that will drive their digital economy.
Rural Innovation Initiative participants will have access to significant technical assistance to refine their economic development strategy, help them identify partnerships and leverage existing resources. The program will also help prepare MTDF to compete in the EDA’s Regional Innovation Strategies competitions, which awards up to $750,000 in matching dollars to build additional regional capacity to translate innovations into jobs through proof-of-concept and commercialization assistance to innovators and entrepreneurs.
In addition to the intensive technical assistance provided by CORI, there will also be a virtual network created to support capacity building, link innovation hubs across selected communities, enable communities to make connections to new sources of capital, expand their networks with national technology leaders and secure digital economy jobs for remote workers in their communities.
MTDF has raised a significant portion of the match funds required, but is looking for local partners to support this initiative.