This story is from the November 3 edition of The Big Think newsletter. Subscribe to The Big Think for more about the people and policies transforming St. Louis, delivered every other Wednesday.
What would you do with $50,000?
This year, 35 startups and start-ups, winners of the annual Arch Grants Startup Competition, will decide. Through an intensive, month-long process, startups submit their business plans to the competition for the chance to win $50,000 in non-dilutive grants plus resources and pro bono services from local industry professionals. In exchange, the beneficiaries establish their head office in Saint-Louis for at least one year. (Businesses outside of Missouri or 150 miles out of town also receive $10,000 to relocate.) Winners will be recognized Nov. 17 at a virtual gala, where Arch Grants will also present its 2021 Entrepreneur Award to the co-founder. of Square, Jim McKelvey.
Since its launch in 2012, Arch Grants has been on a mission to accelerate economic development in St. Louis by providing seed funding. It has granted more than $10 million in funding to 208 companies, created 2,347 jobs and generated more than $479 million in revenue. Past Arch Grant winners still operating in St. Louis include Big Heart Tea, The Normal Brand, Greetabl, Edison Agrosciences, and Riley’s Premium Pet Products. The Arch Grants Lasting Impact Campaign has raised $22 million to date with a goal of $36 million, which is being invested in an endowment, infrastructure, and increased annual seed funding for the competition. This year, Arch Grants used $1.4 million to fund startups, including 15 more than last year.
The 2021 cohort of Arch Grants is the largest and most diverse to date. A quick look at the list of winners reveals several companies that fit well with St. Louis’ identity as a hub for healthcare, biotech, agtech and geospatial. Preventogen, for example, is a biotech company that makes a wound care product that kills pathogens on contact but doesn’t contain antibiotics. Simerse is a geospatial company that uses synthetic data for AI models.
Arch Grants, however, is not industry-focused. “We’re not as concerned about whether or not you’re advancing the economy in health tech, or finance [tech], or agtech,” says executive director Emily Lohse-Busch. “What we want to know is that your company and your founding team are the right combination to be able to grow and that you are committed to doing so here in this region.”
What’s remarkable about this cohort is that it includes more consumer products and consumer packaged goods companies than ever before. The pandemic “has made us all recognize how powerful and effective e-commerce can be, especially direct-to-consumer e-commerce,” says Lohse-Busch.
Startups moving to St. Louis include No Limbits and Imanyco. No Limbits is a clothing brand that caters to people with limb differences. It was launched after founder Erica Cole, a theatrical costume designer, lost her leg in a car accident. Imanyco’s Comunify is a live transcription app that separates speakers using color coding, so those who are deaf or hard of hearing can more easily tell who is speaking and what they are saying in a group setting. . Its founder, Saïda Florexil, is deaf.
Another example—and a company that’s already located in St. Louis—is Mighty Cricket, Cricket Protein Powder and Oatmeal from Sarah Schlafly. Schlafly’s goal is to offer a more sustainable protein alternative to meat. (She’s also the focus of a previous Big Think.)
Harmonee, a mobile app, is another St. Louis-based Arch Grants winner this year. With a business model centered on the idea that “free moments add up to great change,” it’s on a mission to change the way consumers, businesses, and nonprofits interact with each other. . Here’s how it works: Individuals use the app to answer business questions. In exchange for this data, the companies donate money to participating nonprofits. It provides market research to companies. It empowers people to take control of their own data and support causes they care about. And it also gives a boost to non-profit organizations.
“A company could pay 100 people $10 each for their data, but that money wouldn’t represent a meaningful change in people’s lives,” Harmonee’s website says. “In the cycle, people allow free access to their data and the company donates the same $1,000 to a nonprofit that’s optimized for real impact. The same dollars have more value in the cycle What was once a business expense now becomes a tax-deductible contribution, increasing profitability.
Local nonprofits that have signed up include Home Sweet Home. Harmonee founders CEO Tara Nesbitt, CCO David Rygiol and CTO Justin Trusty expect the app to launch this month. Here, four questions to its founders.
How did the idea for Harmonee come about?
Rygiol: We’ve had experience with both sides of this idea – the nonprofit side of the fight to raise funds and the marketing side. Market research and advertising are very complicated and expensive. We saw this opportunity to solve both problems with this one solution and ended up adding Justin, who really brought a lot of data architecture and technical knowledge.
Tell me about Harmonee’s vision for the circular economy, “The Interloop”.
Rygiol: [The Interloop is] the thinking behind connecting businesses, nonprofits, and individuals in this new way. If you look at the economy right now, nonprofits are really next door. Corporations and individuals donate to them, and nonprofits return value to communities by improving people’s lives and addressing issues that for-profit corporations typically don’t address. By bringing nonprofits into this economy, we’re able to create a circular model where people provide information to businesses, and instead of businesses paying a small fee to those people, they can aggregate all those funds and pass them on to a non-profit organization, which is really good at raising money and using it effectively.
What does the launch in November entail?
Rygiol: What we’re launching in November is a true MVP [a minimum viable product, a basic version of the app meant for feedback and trouble-shooting.] It’s very difficult, but all the features will be there for the basic interaction for businesses to register and create questions. Nonprofits will be able to register and receive donations, and individuals will be able to register, answer questions, and interact with both parties. We hope that we will work closely with [participants] to gather feedback on how it works and how it can be improved. Over the first three to four months, we’ll be iterating and improving this product fairly quickly, working in St. Louis with a handful of five to 10 nonprofits and as many businesses [as choose to] jump on. Once we have refined this first version we will be looking to create our first native app that will work on Android and iOS which will really be the first full manifestation of our vision as there are only different features that can happen in a native app. .
Nesbitt: From a business perspective, we’re looking at 10-15 small to medium sized businesses that we’ll bring onto the platform, and then we’ll talk to a few large organizations about how they can be early adopters to help us secure this product. . market fit. It will be a continuous construction [iterative] process for us, knowing that what we initially release is not the final [product]. We want to make sure that the organizations we work with are able to help us continue to develop a great product that will benefit them in the long run.
Rygiol: [For individual users], very early, because our user base is small and growing, most people will probably be asked all the questions. As the number of people using the platform grows and becomes more segmented, businesses will be able to target at a grassroots level based on demographic information.
What is the long-term vision for Harmonee?
Nesbitt: These three metrics — relating to people, businesses, and nonprofits — are the milestones we’re most looking forward to seeing the actual metrics around. The native app is a game changer. From there, our expansion plan is to go into new cities, while understanding the nonprofit landscape and how to align businesses in those cities and connect to communities.
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