Arch Grants and its executive director have parted ways. And not on good terms.
Spear, who had been with the organization since it was launched, said that co-founders Jerry Schlichter and Joe Schlafly asked her to resign “for family reasons” at a meeting last Wednesday. When she declined, she was terminated.
Spear, who is 8½ months pregnant and recently missed two weeks of work after her brother died in a car accident, said that no specific reasons were given for firing her.
“I really felt like I was being forced out without any clear reasons and without any previous feedback,” she said, adding she had received positive performance reviews and a significant raise. “They said that I’d not met the board’s expectations and that to get any more specific would be counterproductive.”
In a statement, Schlichter said Arch Grants wished Spear “the very best,” but declined to discuss specifics of her departure.
“There are performance reasons, but the board does not believe it is appropriate to discuss details of that because it is a personnel matter,” he wrote. “Sarah was given a generous severance that provided her with full future paid maternity leave that she would have received had she remained.”
Spear said she received a check worth two months’ pay. She declined comment on whether she was considering a lawsuit.
Since its launch in late 2011, Arch Grants has generated nothing but good news for St. Louis.
The competition awards a $50,000 grant, plus office space and professional services, to startups to locate in St. Louis and is one of just a few programs like it in the world. It has raised at least $3 million from local companies and economic development groups. Its first class of 15 startups is wrapping up its first year now, and 20 more companies — from more than 700 applicants — were announced last week.
Spear, who previously ran a mobile health startup in New Delhi, India, led its day-to-day operations and managed the annual competition selecting new companies. At least one of the incoming Arch Grants recipients, reached Wednesday afternoon, hadn’t yet heard of her dismissal. Scott Leiendecker, managing member of Know.Ink, which is developing tablets for election officials, said he had emailed Spear earlier Wednesday, asking her what came next now that the new recipients had been named. He hadn’t heard back.
“I didn’t think anything of it,” he said. “It usually takes people a day to get back to you.”
Schlichter said the Arch Grants board was moving forward and planned to hire a new executive director.
“Plans are on track,” he said. “Everything’s on board.”
Spear, who moved here from Connecticut and whose husband is stationed at Scott Air Force Base, said she planned to take some time off with her baby.
“Work has been so busy this past month,” she said. “I’ve kind of had no time to think or prepare for it.”