St. Louis Character: How ITEN's Quentin Ortega wants to help nurture local startups – St. Louis Business Journal

Quentin Ortega has always had the instincts of an entrepreneur.
“For my fifth birthday, I actually wanted a briefcase,” he said. “That’s what I got on my fifth birthday, so that I could carry my colored papers around.”
Ortega launched his first business, a DJ company in Southern Missouri, in high school. Several other ventures have followed. Today, Ortega is helping entrepreneurs pursue their own startups. Earlier this year, he took on the role of executive director of the Innovation, Technology & Entrepreneur Network (ITEN).
Founded in 2008, ITEN is a division of Lindenwood University and supports entrepreneurs and helps them launch new companies through educational programs, events, mentoring and partnerships.
As its leader, Ortega wants ITEN to be a launching pad that helps early stage startups advance to other groups and resources to aid their growth.
“We want to get them in and teach them some stuff and let them go to the other organizations that make sense for them,” he said.
You’re not from St. Louis originally. How did you end up here? I was born in Northern Arkansas and raised in Southern Missouri. I went to college at Missouri S&T and started some companies there with some of my college friends. That’s what actually moved us to St. Louis. In 2012, we were looking at moving our company to the coast because that’s what you did. Arch Grants actually said “hey, we’re new and we’re going to offer $50,000 to move companies to St. Louis.” We were part of the initial class of Arch Grants, bringing us to St. Louis. I always tell them, “It’s worked. I’ve stayed.” I’m not as involved in that company anymore, but still involved in the ecosystem thanks to them.
How did you get involved in mentoring other startups? It was probably around 2015. We had moved our company to St. Louis in 2012 and it was growing and doing well. All the operational pieces, which is what I was in charge of, were running smoothly and I found myself in a moment of like, “OK, what else can I give back? How can I help other entrepreneurs avoid the potholes that I’ve had over the years or at least navigate them better?” I spent about a year talking to all of the entrepreneur support organizations I could find about what they do and how I could give back. I kind of went on, as they say, a listening tour right just having conversations. I had discovered two organizations in particular that I really identified with, One of those was ITEN and the other one was the Square One program at the Center for Emerging Technologies.
What drew you to leading ITEN? I look at ITEN as a cornerstone of the startup ecosystem here. As far as entrepreneur organizations go, it’s hard to find one that’s older than ITEN in the St. Louis region. They’ve done so much over the years. This is not the step that I predicted I would take, but it’s also the logical next step. I’ve led companies and grown other things. Now, how can I lend those skills even more to ITEN and help them now with our partnership with Lindenwood? I started some of my first companies while in college, so I have a real affinity for college campuses and working with students to know that they can be an entrepreneur. And that it’s a viable career path.
What makes the partnership between ITEN and Lindenwood work? It’s an extremely mutually beneficial relationship. Lindenwood was looking for a way to be more entrepreneurial. They have an initiative on campus called “Grow the E,” which is to bring that entrepreneurial mindset to everyone and not just business students. I think it was very beneficial that we can integrate some of that knowledge into Lindenwood. As far as ITEN goes, it’s having a home and an ability to continue to do our work comfortably and be in the community. Lindenwood is very supportive of us continuing to be community focused. A lot of people were worried that we will be only university-focused right after this merger, but they’ve been extremely encouraging and telling us, “hey, go out, still play your role in the ecosystem and be a branch for both of us.”
What do you like to do outside the office? During the pandemic, we all got really into Netflix and Hulu. I love decompressing with movies and TV shows. There’s nothing better for me than spending time with friends. The pandemic slowed that down for sure, but I have a small group of friends that continually had our weekly zoom calls. With my fiancé, we own a couple of show horses. She is a managing editor for an equestrian magazine. That’s really her world that she’s invited me into, but I love dabbling in that world and meeting the people there and seeing the whole industry. We also were fractional owners of Authentic, who won the Kentucky Derby last year.
What’s something people may not know about you? I was an entertainment agent for a couple of years. I booked bands, musicians, magicians and comedians all across the country. I always tell people, “I probably have more magician friends than you.” It’s a large number of magicians who are friends, which is fun.
More about Quentin Ortega
Title: Executive director, ITEN. Ortega is also executive vice president of business development for Great Data Lake and founder of QCO Consulting.
Age: 32
Family: Ortega is engaged to his fiancé
Education: Ortega earned an MBA and bachelor’s degree in management and information systems from Missouri University of Science & Technology
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