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Q&A: BioSTL’s Ben Johnson on how to get “unstuck” using ANBP

In 2019, Start Us Up coalition member BioSTL spearheaded the launch of NEXT Missouri, a statewide coalition dedicated to entrepreneurship advocacy. To focus its policy efforts, the coalition created the NEXT Missouri policy platform — a roadmap for policymakers modeled after America’s New Business Plan.

As we celebrate National Small Business Week, we spoke with Ben Johnson, vice president of programs, BioSTL, and chair and co-Founder, NEXT Missouri, about the group’s efforts in the region and the importance of advocacy for new and small businesses.

“Using ANBP as a guide allowed us to get unstuck and organize a policy agenda that made sense for our state.”

Ben Johnson, vice president of programs, BioSTL, and chair and co-Founder, NEXT Missouri

Tell us about your group and what you do.

BioSTL is a nonprofit founded in St. Louis in 2001 with the goal of transforming St. Louis’ economy through entrepreneurship and innovation. We saw a need for this work because our area had great corporate and academic R&D in medical and plant sciences, but there was no ecosystem to spur innovation to help entrepreneurs become fully fledged business owners. As a result, we set out to build homegrown startups and remove some of the risks that present barriers to local entrepreneurs.

How did you get involved with the Start Us Up Coalition and America’s New Business Plan?

My role is multifaceted — I work across BioSTL’s Ecosystem Building pillar (talent/workforce, DEI, public policy), which involves some work in Washington, D.C. and Missouri. In that space, and via our policy work, we became interested in – and ultimately a part of – the SUU Coalition. When we discovered ANBP, it was the catalyst to really start mobilizing partners across the state who share our entrepreneurial vision.

How have you approached the development of a policy agenda specific to Missouri?

I helped co-found NEXT Missouri in December of 2019 with partners from efactory in Springfield, EDC of KC, Codefi in Cape Girardeau, and MOSourceLink – among others. NEXT Missouri is a group of 30+ grassroots and grasstops coalition members across the state, promoting new business development and innovation in Missouri. The goal was to create an entrepreneur-friendly environment and formalize efforts across the state to advocate for financing, resources, and policies that support entrepreneurs. For us, ANBP was then what really allowed us to mobilize, creating a broader policy platform others could get on board with.

How did ANBP help you get “unstuck” as you say?

ANBP was the perfect organizing tool. While we massaged it a little bit, we largely just worked with what was already in-place and applied it to Missouri, expanding the breadth of issues we discuss by creating the NEXT Missouri policy platform, which has really taken off.

What steps have you taken to share your policy plan?

With a framework in hand, we conducted a few virtual statewide meetings with partners across the state to build interest and buy-in. We also surveyed entrepreneurs across the state to better inform state-specific policies that were most critical here in Missouri. We know our plan will continue to evolve, and our goal is to continually incorporate feedback and adapt in a way that moves our agenda forward, focusing on recommendations decisionmakers can actually act on.

What are your next steps?

We’ve only implemented pieces of our plan so far, and now, we’re really focused on broadening our base and building capacity. NEXT Missouri is 30+ members strong, and we have a nine-month plan to build staff, further develop our coalition, and create a group of influencers and policymakers who will lift up the pillars of the NEXT Missouri policy platform. Right now, we have a dedicated group of members and volunteers who are moving our plan forward –  to build a sustained voice for entrepreneurs and new business in the policy discussion across Missouri.

Any advice for other Start Us Up Coalition members?

I encourage others to use the ANBP framework – or ours, or those of others in the coalition – to make a plan in your state! It was surprisingly simple, and we just had to put our stamp on it. Again, ANBP got us “unstuck”, and we’re now making real progress in Missouri.

Make a plan and take the Start Us Up Challenge.
For support on getting started here is a how-to guide.
You can also learn more about the NEXT Missouri policy platform and coalition at their website. 

The documents to which this page links are presented solely for educational purposes and are intended as examples of policy plans that may help you as you develop your own policy agenda. These documents have been created independently of Start Us Up. Start Us Up is not responsible for the content in those documents and any opinions, views and/or plans are not endorsed by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation or the Start Us Up coalition.

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