Being a startup or entrepreneur has become the new black to some degree. Corporate America and 401K plans are out while sitting in a garage with a handful of Millennials and pounding out mobile apps is in.
It's why former "Rustbelt" cities like Cleveland, Kansas City and Nashville are trying to dramatically alter the nature of their collective economies and brand themselves as startup hubs.
One such city is St. Louis, and one of the many drivers of its transformation has been a little-known business plan competition called Arch Grants, a non-profit focused on creating a more robust startup culture and infrastructure in the Gateway City.
Since 2012, Arch Grants has given out more than $1.9 million in grant funding to 35 companies -- 32 of which are still operating, while one was acquired -- leading to $6.5 million in revenue, $17.7 million in addition capital raised, and 192 net new jobs.
But here's where philanthropy comes in: Whereas most similar incubator programs take a cut of companies they invest in -- between eight and 15 percent -- Arch Grants takes no equity. Nada. They evaluate hundreds of applicant startups each year and dole out $50,000 grants as well as supplying companies with free legal and accounting services, additional networking and mentoring opportunities, and direct access to St. Louis-based angel investors.
The only catch is that you must move to St. Louis. Get it? There's really very few like-programs worldwide.
"These firms will help reinforce the message that St. Louis is a globally competitive city and an attractive destination for top business talent," said Jerry Schlichter, co-founder and board president of Arch Grants. "We look forward to continuing to assist these entrepreneurs in growing their businesses."
Schlichter is a trial attorney by trade who seems to simply love his hometown, believing investments in promising startups who can help drive the St. Louis economy is the greatest legacy he can leave to the region. And just this week he, along with Arch Grants Executive Director Ginger Imster, announced awards totaling $1 million to 20 early-stage startup companies committed to headquartering in St. Louis at an event in the city's urban core.
The winners include St. Louis-based Cast, dedicated mobile app that allows publishers and consumers to quickly understand social opinion by creating public or private polls and observing structured response data in real time; Less Annoying CRM out of San Francisco, which makes a simple customer relationship manager (CRM) for small businesses; and Tallyfy out of London, which makes critical business processes incredibly user-friendly and visible -- in real-time with a friendly layer on top of complex tools and confusing processes.
"The success metrics of the recipient companies are encouraging," said Imster. "Of the companies still operating today, 97 percent remain headquartered in St. Louis. Arch Grants-funded companies are helping to drive the narrative of a resurgent St. Louis."
Good metrics. Good business. Good philanthropy. Gee whiz. They can all go together.