World Trade Center St. Louis

Small Business Network of the Americas Interviews WTC Staffer

The La Idea Program

In a recent interview with Small Business Network of the Americas (SBNA), Sean Mullins, Director of Foreign Direct Investment at the World Trade Center St. Louis, spoke on how the SBNA supports St. Louis and its foreign direct investment (FDI) plan. Mullins said connecting with the SBNA’s “La Idea” program helps St. Louis’ FDI efforts. The La idea program, a U.S. Department of State fund activity, focuses on strengthening entrepreneurship, investment and business across Central America as well as business between Central America and the United States. The program is a collaboration between the Small Business Development Centers (SBDC), the International Business Innovation Association (InBIA), and the Regional Center of Promotion of Micro, Small and Medium Businesses (CENPROMYPE).

The La Idea program, a boot camp to show Central American companies how to do business in the U.S., was an activity focused on companies in the AgTech/foodtech sector and took place over a five-day period in September 2018. A cohort of 9 Central American companies came to St. Louis to explore it as a possible expansion destination. The group met with local organizations and companies to talk about their business and visited local incubators to network with other entrepreneurs. Additionally, the group traveled to the University of Missouri-Columbia to visit the College of Agricultural, Food, and Natural Resources (CAFNR) to hear the latest in nutrition and food trends. Once participants returned to their home countries after the boot camp, they received mentoring and resources from CENPROMYPE for the next twelve months.

The La Idea boot camp was held at the World Trade Center St. Louis and the Helix Center, which is an InBIA “Soft Landings” designee. According to InBIA, Soft Landings designees “specialize in the identified industry and offers unprecedented customer networking opportunities, mentors who are subject matter experts, useful market trend analyses, and additional relevant resources.” The Helix Center, located in the 39 North Innovation District, is also home to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, Bio-Research & Development Growth (BRDG) Park, and Bayer Crop Science.

Foreign companies moving into the Helix Center can expect to receive help integrating the company and its employees into the local community.  According to Mullins, “the World Trade Center St. Louis acts as the international interface for the Helix Center.”  The connections made through the Helix Center’s Soft Landings designation, such as the La Idea program, are of substantial importance to St. Louis because, according to Mullins, “it shows the international business community, particularly the AgTech community, that St. louis is open and welcoming to foreign business and the best place for AgTech companies to find success.”

Watch the SBNA interview with Sean Mullins here.