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In 7 years, Arch Grants has become an essential part of St. Louis' startup ecosystem

In 7 years, Arch Grants has become an essential part of St. Louis' startup ecosystem

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Boston has a long-standing reputation as a technology hub, but David Hojah is moving his business from there to St. Louis.

Why? His company is getting a $50,000 Arch Grant to make the move, but Hojah also hears good things about the business climate.

“St. Louis has the fastest-growing startup scene in the USA, especially in health tech,” says Hojah, co-founder of Loro, which is developing a navigation device for wheelchair users. “We are looking to be active, innovative members of the St. Louis community.”

His excitement about St. Louis is just what attorney Jerry Schlichter and a few other St. Louisans hoped to create when, in 2012, they decided that a high-profile giveaway might boost the region’s entrepreneurial scene.

The group they founded, Arch Grants, has handed more than $8 million to 150-plus early-stage companies. Those businesses have created 1,800 jobs and attracted at least $239 million in capital.

Arch Grants recognized 20 recipients Friday, awarding $50,000 grants to businesses ranging from health to handbags to hip-hop music as an educational tool. The group also announced that it will expand to 25 grants next year, five of which will be reserved for companies using geospatial technology.

In addition to the money, the program includes mentoring, networking, office space and discounted professional services.

Letisha Wexstten, a 2019 graduate of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, won an Arch Grant for HireMe, a job-search platform for people with disabilities. She said the grant would enable her to hire a programmer.

“We’re very excited about the resources the Arch Grant can provide, and being able to network with other businesses,” Wexstten said. “There’s a lot of people I want to connect to.”

Another winner, Edison Agrosciences of Creve Coeur, aims to produce rubber from sunflower plants. It recently moved here from North Carolina.

The money will help Edison apply for a patent and expand its research, but Chief Executive David Woodburn says the award “is more than just handing over a check. It’s a chance to be involved with Arch Grants and with people throughout the St. Louis area.”

Past winners say the connections they made through Arch Grants helped turn promising ideas into viable businesses.

SpenDebt, a 2018 winner, has rolled out a full-featured version of its software, which helps people pay down student debt by adding small sums to credit card transactions.

“The opportunity was great,” said Kiley Summers, who co-founded SpenDebt with his wife, Ty’Lisha. “We got a chance to meet potential customers and be included in a community of entrepreneurs.”

Half of this year’s recipients were already in the St. Louis area; the other half have committed to move their operations here for at least a year.

Based on seven years’ experience, many of those who come decide to stay. Early-stage companies have a relatively high attrition rate, but of 105 Arch Grants recipients still in business, 86% remain in the St. Louis area.

Emily Lohse-Busch, executive director of Arch Grants, says she’s happy with those numbers but isn’t resting on her laurels. The group plans to expand its services, using a federal grant to connect startups with potential investors and customers.

As it does so, the organization should create even more of a buzz, attracting the attention of out-of-town entrepreneurs like Hojah.

Back in 2012, Arch Grants’ founders were concerned that St. Louis lacked an entrepreneurial culture and ranked low on most measures of startup activity. Their organization has done as much as anyone to turn that situation around.

2019 Arch Grants recipients

Each winner receives $50,000 and must run the business from St. Louis for at least a year.

Company Location Description
Adalo St. Louis Software for building mobile & desktop apps
Audra New York Fashion womenswear
Clockwork Chicago AI-powered financial projection software
Connexio St. Louis Virtual adviser for study-abroad students
Customily Montevideo, Uruguay Software for maximizing e-commerce sales
Edison Agrosciences Creve Coeur Rubber production from sunflower plants
FastDemocracy Kansas City Legislation-tracking software
Healthy Hip Hop Kansas City Educational software
HireMe St. Louis Employment platform for people with disabilities
HomeTraq St. Charles App for scheduling home showings
iSite Media St. Louis Restroom ad platform
Key2Enable Miami Assistive technology for people with disabilities
Loro Boston Socially assistive robot for people with mobility challenges
Lux and Nyx Earth City Luxury handbags
PenPath Creve Coeur Marketing software
Phas3 Eureka Remote monitoring for cardiac rehab patients
Planetarians Palo Alto, Calif. Food ingredients made from byproducts
Provider Pool St. Louis On-demand health care staffing
Roo Columbia, Mo. Airbnb-like platform for storage space
Tcare St. Louis Support for family caregivers

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