Arch Grants awards $750,000 to startup companies
The area’s startup community is three-quarters of a million dollars richer, thanks to a local nonprofit that hopes to spur innovation around town.
Fifteen recently established companies will receive $50,000 each from Arch Grants, a group founded by a cadre of St. Louisans and funded by various public and private sources, according to an announcement made on Monday.
"This marks St. Louis as a top destination with a community of high-quality startup businesses who will compete in the global economy and Arch Grants will be working hard to build that community as we move forward,” Jerry Schlichter, the group's co-founder and president, said in a release.
In a telephone interview, executive director Sarah Spear said the three-tiered application process began months ago with executive summaries followed by business plans. The final stage included 29 applicants making in-person presentations.
“These 15 were the ones that rose to the top and really were at the top of the pile in each of those three stages,” Spear said. “It was important to us that the companies had really innovative, disruptive technologies or ideas that they were applying, either doing something radically new or doing something in a radically new way.”
The awardees were culled from 420 applications from business around the world. About three-quarters of the applicants were from the St. Louis area as were 12 of the 15 winners.
The out-of-town grantees include a Chicago-based online newsletter aimed at digital startups, a Costa Rican search engine and an enterprise that has managers in Dallas, Portugal and Chile with a customizable mobile device platform for small businesses. Now all the businesses will be located in the Gateway City.
"We hoped to attract as well as retain entrepreneurs in St. Louis, so we wanted to make sure we had companies that could move into the region as well," Spear said.
The companies chosen reflecte the diversity of the applicants. Selected enterprises included a startup that produces online tools to analyze food label data, a company that will deliver foreign language television feeds to immigrants in the U.S., and a business that patented a stainless steel conduit and process pipe support system for use in the food and beverage industry.
The last is run by husband and wife team Ron and Julie Meyer along with co-founder Charlie Overschmidt.
"Right now, we’re having to use an outside vendor to do some of our cutting for us," said Ron Meyer, CEO of Unique Metal Solutions. "And this grant money will help us purchase machinery to set up shop and do this all ourselves. So we can basically get our product to our customers across the country in a very short amount of time."
Other winners focused on such fields as recycling, veterinary medicine and liquid transportation fuels.
Spear said about half the winners were already generating revenue. The competition was open to any specialty but most had a high-tech aspect.
“We had the greatest response from the technology sector, and I think that’s just because St. Louis has such a strong technology presence,” she said. “Also, the biosciences because again, St. Louis has strong support with the Danforth Center and the local universities.”
In addition to the cash, the winning businesses will receive help with a number of other support functions including accounting, mentoring and legal services over the course of a yearlong program set to begin the first of next month. Awardees will be further introduced to the public through a showcase event set for October and the 15 can compete for an additional follow-on grant of $100,000 that will be available to one of them.
“The pioneers in entrepreneurship in St. Louis have been at this for awhile and we’re just building onto and enhancing what they’ve put in place,” said Spear. “I’ve seen so much activity since I moved here in October. It is a burgeoning ecosystem. People who have been at this for years have exclaimed how wonderful it is to see the fruits of all their efforts.”
Jim McKelvey, a St. Louisan and the co-founder of Square, a mobile payment device firm, lauded the effort saying St. Louis has excellent resources for entrepreneurs.
“You know, the quality of life is exceptional and it’s important that the rest of the world know that,” said McKelvey, who is an advisory board member of Arch Grants. “Now, you’ve got this Arch Grants' money that’s no-strings-attached funding for great ideas, and believe me great ideas have been coming.”
He said whether a business is grown here or relocates to the area, it will find life in Missouri a good fit.
“And once they get to St. Louis, it’s like everybody else,” he added. “They don’t want to leave.”