When entrepreneur Nick Szabo envisioned growing his startup company, Swizzle, St. Louis was not part of the picture. But sometimes coming home can be the best move.
Szabo, a self-proclaimed “military brat” grew up in Europe and moved back to the United States at age 16. By the time he was ready for college, he had moved to Scott Air Force Base with his military father. Already dipping his toes into the world of entrepreneurship, Szabo was managing a veterinary clinic and had developed a website company. Knowing he needed more knowledge of the business world, he enrolled at the University of Missouri–St. Louis seeking a degree in marketing and international business.
“I wasn’t your typical college student,” Szabo said. “I was already managing two businesses and needed a program that would enhance my skills, while still giving me the flexibility to work full time. UMSL has a great College of Business Administration, and it really fit my needs.”
After graduating in 2009, Szabo and his wife moved to Washington, D.C., and then to Korea, where he created Swizzle, a tech startup that uses artificial intelligence to read the Internet and give market insights to new media companies. In early 2015, Szabo decided it was time to return to the U.S. and began looking into the startup landscape of various cities.
“I honestly avoided St. Louis because when I left there was nothing going on here. This was a big business town. It wasn’t a small business town,” he said. “But as I was looking, St. Louis kept popping up. So I spent a week here, every day looking at companies, and when I started looking at actual facts, St. Louis really had everything needed to succeed with a startup.”
That fall, Szabo and one other employee set up shop inside T-Rex, a technology incubator on Washington Avenue in downtown St. Louis. With seven employees still back in Korea, Swizzle began to spread its wings in St. Louis. Szabo received an Arch Grant, which not only provided his company with $50,000 in seed money but also with resources and connections he never expected.
“Receiving an Arch Grant is a phenomenal thing for a startup – not just the money, but for the exposure to people so willing to help us,” he said. “St. Louis is a booming startup city, and one of the great things about it is that there is no shortage of resources. Everyone is so willing to help you and be a part of whatever it is that you’re doing. It’s unlike anywhere else.”
Through the Arch Grant, Swizzle will be one of several startups participating in UMSL’s Midwest Digital Marketing Conference on April 21 at Union Station. The conference, now in its fourth year, offers insight and workshops to marketers and techies in the innovative industry of digital marketing. Experts and speakers from numerous companies including Buzzfeed, Google, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Yahoo will be in attendance.
Szabo, who currently serves as the chief operations officer for Swizzle, is excited to learn from others and have a chance to show off the company’s latest project, Swizzle Labs, an artificial intelligence software that can read and understand text.
“I can’t wait to be around like-minded people who understand digital marketing in all aspects,” he said. “And to have a chance to show off Swizzle Labs – it will be like a launch party for us. I really think there are not enough digital marketing conferences out there, not ones like this, with people who really get it and understand what digital marketing today is. This is such a great resource that UMSL provides, and anyone in marketing, digital media or business in general needs to attend.”
To register for UMSL’s Midwest Digital Market Conference or for a complete conference schedule, visit umsldigitalconference.com.