It’s no secret that St. Louis is an active center for entrepreneurship, technology development and business growth. We often read news stories about companies launching and expanding here, but we rarely get to delve deeper into the personalities who drive that change. T&S spoke with two such innovators who are using their talents to create new opportunities for businesses and residents.
ceo and co-founder, atomation
Entrepreneur Guy Weitzman believes so strongly in St. Louis as an innovation hub that he moved here from Tel Aviv—and brought his family and technology company with him. Known as Atomation, the firm offices at CIC St. Louis and maintains a research and development location in Israel. It helps companies monitor and maintain equipment and processes by connecting them to the cloud through data-collecting sensors and mobile devices.
“For example, Ameren has thousands of electrical poles across the area,” says Weitzman, who started Atomation with chief technology officer Eran Keshet, based in Tel Aviv. “We are doing a pilot project that installs sensors on the poles to monitor wear, damage and other conditions so they can be repaired or replaced before they fail. We can tell if a pole is leaning, cracking or about to break, so a dangerous and costly situation can be avoided.”
Weitzman says his company spent two years developing its platform in Israel before he moved to St. Louis last year, and so far, the Midwest has been an ideal central location for the business. He first heard about the city as a technology hub through BioSTL, an organization that encourages life science companies to locate in this area. Atomation fit the criteria because it helps agriculture firms operate more effectively. “Our system shows them daily soil and irrigation conditions so they can use water more efficiently and increase crop yield,” Weitzman notes. Industrial firms also use the technology to monitor machinery and prevent breakdowns. “We can collect data about temperature, humidity, vibration and other conditions that affect maintenance,” he says. “The technology can be applied easily to small or large sets of remote objects.”
St. Louis businessman and attorney Rich Wolkowitz is global operations executive for the company, which also employs 15 engineers in Tel Aviv. It currently has clients in Europe, Israel and the Far East, focusing on three main business segments—agriculture, industry and utilities. But growth is on the horizon, according to Weitzman. “There’s a huge need for all kinds of companies to connect their processes to the Internet so they can collect useful data,” he says. “The technology makes each piece of equipment a ‘smart’ object, provides critical business insights, and saves money and time.”
co-founder and co-owner, nexcore
St. Louis businessman and philanthropist Larry Cohn knows what it’s like to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. His financial path has been rocky at times, and he even knows how it feels to be homeless. But now, he uses his life lessons and recent business successes to help others thrive.
A decade ago, Cohn found himself in a difficult situation. He had been living the good life after spending 20 years in the restaurant business and running his own venture capital firm, among other projects. “I had nearly reached retirement when the stock market tanked in 2007, and I lost a lot of money,” he says. “I had made major financial pledges to St. Louis charitable causes, but I couldn’t fulfill them.” Instead of breaking his promises, Cohn donated the money he would have used to pay his own bills, and he lost his house and car as a result.
“I was homeless and facing a major decision,” he says. “Should I act like a victim or rise above the crisis? I took a hard look at my life and created a plan to recover. I learned not to live beyond my means anymore.” He’d always been happy as an entrepreneur, so he felt that was his best way forward. He began working as an independent representative for an organization providing group legal services to small businesses and rose to a managerial position. “It gave me the confidence to rebuild my life,” he says.
When he was back on his feet, Cohn co-founded Nexcore, an innovative co-working space for small business owners and entrepreneurs in Fox Park. Now, he focuses fully on that company and his charitable efforts. He mentors young businesspeople and supports organizations like Lift for Life Gym, a nonprofit that helps kids stay physically and mentally fit; St. Louis Public Schools; 7th Grade Poetry Foundation, which teaches students to express themselves through writing; and Colorbridge Arts Collective, which provides art programs for kids and community groups. “I live by a quote from Gandhi: ‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,’” Cohn notes. “People think they only can be generous if they’re wealthy. But I try to show that you can give a few hours of your time and still have an impact.”