5 Reasons To Build Your Startup in St. Louis

This month, finalists for the 2017 summer cohort make their pitches to the Arch Grants competition committee to secure a $50,000 grant to grow their startup in St. Louis, Missouri.

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis

My company, Longneck & Thunderfoot (L&T), won an Arch Grant in summer 2016 and I moved to St Louis from New York that July. After a year here, I can say, with confidence that it is totally worth applying to the Arch Grants Global Startup Competition and considering relocating your company to St Louis, Missouri.

In less than 12 months, we have won a Fortune 500 company as a client, grown our STL team to five people, and loved it so much here, that we doubled down on our commitment to the region and made our first acquisition. That’s something neither myself nor my co-founder imagined saying after graduating our startup accelerator program in New York.

But, I don’t say that to beat my chest! I’m passionate about the opportunities and growth I’ve experienced in St. Louis and it’s made a real difference to me.

The least I can do is try and pass the spark of what’s possible on to you.

Here are five strong reasons for why it’s worth opening an office or relocating to St. Louis.

  1. Your money goes a long way; you can live well and work hard.
  2. The entire St Louis Startup Ecosystem has strong core values that are practical and progressive; their mission is easy to get behind.
  3. The cost of failure is low; that means you can take more risks!
  4. St Louis is a great city; lots to do, both for work and play.
  5. An Arch Grant (or any other local accelerator program) will push your company into the limelight, boost your PR and generate wider market recognition that will assist in the next stage of your company’s growth.

I highly recommend applying for an Arch Grant.

Here’s why: You’ll win $50k in equity free cash. It’s paid out in five installments over a year which gives you a much needed cash injection every quarter, just when you need it.

$50,000 goes a long way in St Louis (STL). Arch Grants say that, “$50,000 in St. Louis equals $76,584 in Boston, $121,267 in New York, and $93,824 in San Francisco.” From personal experience, I can tell you that downtown St Louis has plenty of co-working spaces and affordable offices.

It is not unrealistic to budget only 0.1% of your Arch Grant grant to monthly co-working costs, and stretching to 1%, will get you a private office fit for a team of four. We work from T-Rex, a city sponsored downtown St. Louis co-working space that costs just $50/month to get started, and plays host to a brilliant and active community (Friday happy hours are the best!).

The day to day cost of living is low too. In the early days of L&T, when we first started in New York, I used to rent my Brooklyn apartment on Airbnb to help lower my living costs.

In St. Louis, for the same cost of renting out a single room for a month in NYC, I now rent an entire apartment. You can get a downtown designer loft overlooking the Mississippi for similar prices too.

Arch Grants stands for a lot more than simply, “Startup Success.”

Their core values center around, “People, Place and Purpose.” Not only are they are great values to get behind, but the Arch Grants team really live up to their mission.

There is little doubt that getting your Startup off the ground is simply a matter of hard grind. Vision is essential, but sometimes it can be hard to see the wood for the trees. Arch Grants wants you to succeed in St Louis and is looking for bright entrepreneurs to be part of the bigger story of the development of the city.

As such, Arch Grants enables their entrepreneurs unprecedented access to the wider business community.

Not only do they introduce you to key enterprise connections across a wide range of industries such as energy, healthcare, real estate, financial services and agriculture, but they also frequently present one-off community engagement initiatives that offer entrepreneurs opportunities to pitch, test, research and collaborate with local organizations.

For instance, while you may know you want to “build something gigantic” (which is the motto of T-Rex the co-working space), you can occasionally lose sight of key steps in the process. A few discussions with all the local ESOs (Entrepreneur Support Organizations), will quickly help you establish an internal roadmap and guide you around venture funding in St Louis along the way.

Once you’re off to the races, the wider talent pool of university graduates from Wash U, SLU and Mizzou mean there are plenty of strong candidates motivated to work at Startups.

Local collaborations between organizations and startups like Downtown STL, Cortex, PluggedIN, ITEN and TEQjobs all help facilitate a steady flow of interns and FTE candidates. Depending on your needs, local programs like Slate OJT will even contribute matched funds to your salary budget if you hire new staffers as part of an on the job training program.

Personally speaking, I find the wider mission of Arch Grants and the collaborative spirit of the St Louis startup community in general, extremely inspiring. At the risk of going off on a tangent here, I would say that this greater context of, “Place,” really does lend me a greater sense of, “Purpose,” as an entrepreneur.

Failure is an option

What’s available here for new and seasoned entrepreneurs alike is a big chance at a big change. If you’re worried you might, “fail,” put that out of your mind.

But if you’re starting to feel apprehensive too, that’s good. Because that really is okay too.

Not only does Arch Grants NOT forbid you from applying again every year, but actively encourages it.

You could almost say, failure is part of the plan. This classically American, yet utterly modern, entrepreneurial spirit of St Louis is underlined by Ginger Imster, formerly Arch Grants’ executive director, simultaneously in a discussion with the Post Dispatch.

“Even some founders of defunct companies have stayed in town to start other firms. That’s important, Imster said: “How we celebrate successful failures will ultimately determine how well we do at retaining talent in St. Louis.”

I love that attitude. St Louis is a place for people with purpose. It’s nice to work in a city where some of that rubs off on you.

Yet, the truth is, you probably won’t fail. That’s because the entire city literally opens their ‘little black book’ of contacts and makes introductions to help you succeed.

In less than a year, I’ve met top executives from the world’s leading investment banks, healthcare providers, energy and law firms, and the illusion that our company might not be able to operate at an enterprise level has been well and truly dispelled.

St Louis may be the beginning or middle or your Startup story, but it certainly won’t be the end.

There’s a lot going on. And a story for every occasion. There’s so many ways to be part of the story of a forward-looking city that you can count on arousing the interest of the local press too.

Coverage in local news, the most trusted source, is often the springboard to national attention.
For instance, SafeTrek, a startup that found it’s people, place and purpose in St Louis (I love their story of why they chose St Louis, and Arch Grants chose them back, but I’ll save that for another post), was recently named as a Top 25 Upstart in 2017 by CNBC.

St Louis may also help you springboard into other regions too.
Arch Grant graduates, like Tallyfy and Scopio, have gone on to join prestigious accelerators, like 500 Startups, and successfully establish a foothold in Silicon Valley.

Also, the St. Louis Regional Chamber regularly takes STL Startups on investor roadshows to NYC and Boston.

St Louis really is a great place to work and play!

You might have heard it’s a city in decline – a typical rust belt city. Whatever you’ve heard, ultimately, it’s up to you to do the research and make your own mind up, but I can tell you that there is a lot more going on in this place than you can imagine.

But don’t just take my word for it; The Economist can tell you that Millenials really like it.

There is so much going on that, EQ, the region’s hyper-local publication that focuses on entrepreneurship in St Louis, has a dedicated section that lists all the latest events you can get involved with. Not only is business being done and investments being made, but this is a city on a mission.

A heroic-dose of pragmatism means that St. Louis is committed to equity actively supporting Startups with diverse teams from all over the world.

Speak to anyone from T-REX, Arch Grants, Downtown STL, The Mosaic Project, Venture Cafe, CET and CIC, and they’ll all tell you that increasing diversity is a well known catalyst in transforming any local economy. Diverse teams bring new eyes, new brains and new tastes to the city, and my studied friends at these organizations all assert that these factors drive economic prosperity at a fundamental level.

That’s what I enjoy about working in St Louis most of all. While we may laugh at Startups, “making the world a better place,” in the HBO show, Silicon Valley, there is not a hint of irony that this city is investing in startups to make St Louis a better place.

In my experience, it’s a city that is not scared to reflect on itself and understand how it got where it is today. It’s run by a people who put their insights into action. People who know what they are doing and why they are doing it.

When you get here, you’ll be meeting like minds who stand for making St Louis a great city, in whatever creative capacity they can.

Imagine working with people who think that way, as a matter of integrity, every single day? Yeah. Exactly. It’s awesome.