Choose Your City: Why These 7 Startups are Building Their Companies in St. Louis
For these seven startups, the Gateway City wasn't just a pit stop on the way to a coastal destination: It was a place to plant roots and grow.
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For these seven startups, the Gateway City wasn’t just a pit stop on the way to a coastal destination: It was a place to plant roots and grow. Some are international, and some drove down via Interstate 55, but all are important additions to our ecosystem. Find out why they decided to call St. Louis home.
Storming the City: Tallyfy
We don’t like to think about foreboding Midwest Januaries in early fall, but we all know how bad they can get.
Carless in their first days here, they trekked out to buy groceries, and while they were shopping, it started to snow heavily. The store’s security guard saw them struggling as the snow and wind picked up and offered them a ride home.
“That altruistic phenomenon has continued since,” Pindoria says. “I hope this Midwestern DNA rubs off on us.”
Tallyfy is a British-born process management app that eliminates flowcharts and focuses on enabling anyone to track any business process in the easiest possible way. Teams use their powerful checklists to make processes like client onboarding, SOPs and compliance checks easier, faster and more transparent.
It’s an idea that the husband-and-wife team put it all on the line for: They didn’t draw a salary for two years, rented out their London apartment; Ebay-ed most of their belongings—and then began a worldwide search for people who believed in their vision.
That led them to Start-Up Chile, then to St. Louis for an Arch Grant. They launched their product in October 2015, and then this spring they were accepted to top Silicon Valley-based accelerators 500 Startups and Alchemist. Now they travel from STL to the coast.
Pindoria says they owe much of their success to St. Louis. “I look forward to giving back by creating more local jobs and continuing to evangelize the city,” she says. “I’ve truly fallen in love with St. Louis.”
Though situated on separate continents, Argentina and the Midwest have an important commonality: agriculture.
Buenos Aires-born S4 was initially created as an efficiency tool for farmers in 2010. The company’s business model—essentially digitizing the agriculture process—worked, but didn’t scale up as well as planned. Individual farmers didn’t fully embrace the more advanced information and processes.
As they were working with the data, the S4 team, through a chance hailstorm, discovered a divide existed between the information available with technological advances and satellite photos and how crop insurance claims were made. So in 2014, they reworked their business model to target risk managers to sell crop information. That same year, they were invited to apply for Yield Lab’s inaugural accelerator class and were selected, along with four other startups from more than 155 companies from around the world.
“It was a great experience,” S4’s Tomas Peña says. “We received a lot of help during those visits here in developing our U.S. market.” The AgTech startup then applied to the SixThirty FinTech accelerator and was accepted for their Spring 2016 class.
It was around this time that Peña made the decision to relocate himself and his family to St. Louis, so that a founding member the team was based in the U.S. as the company grew. The choice was a wise one: S4 won an Arch Grant this past summer and closed a $1.2 million investment round led by Cultivation Capital.
“This is a great experience for my family and I, and we are going to stay connected to St. Louis for as long as we can because we love it,” he says. “I don’t think the AgTech world has really started, and I think St. Louis could definitely be the center of that.”
Feeding a Need: NRGene
In the spring of 2016, six years after forming in Ness Ziona, Israel, NRGene, Ltd. opened the doors to its US office in St. Louis. The biotech company has developed analytics, technology and software to compare genomes and plant performance across breeding populations to help predict the best genomic makeup.
Why? Because the world needs to eat.
“We need to feed 9 billion people by 2050 using less arable land, less water and fewer inputs,” says Dr. Paul Chomet, scientific adviser for the company. “One important solution will be to accelerate breeding by using big genomic data to efficiently select and advance desirable genetic diversity.”
Chomet was the last graduate student of Dr. Barbara McClintock, the Nobel Prize-winning cytogeneticist who challenged existing concepts of genome structure and function. Now NRGene is helping to continue her legacy.
After assembling more than 80 complete genomes in 2015—including one of the most complex: bread wheat, about five times the size of a human genome—NRGene entered into a partnership with Illumina, one of the largest sequencing companies in the world.
“I’m very excited about NRGene’s technology, [particularly] the GenoMAGIC (TM) platform, which is being utilized extensively across both academia and industry to transform how scientists make breeding decisions using big genomic data,” says Dr. Chomet.
“NRGene in St. Louis really just demonstrates the universal truth of business: You need to be in the right location, selling the right goods at just the right time. St. Louis, our technology and the ever-increasing need to feed the world puts us right there.
Born From Necessity: Babyation
For some, long car rides are a pain. For the Rudolph-Miller family, they’re an opportunity.
After Samantha Rudolph read that no notable advancement in breast pumps had been made in years, she and her husband, Jared Miller, came up with an idea for a much-needed update while on vacation. By the time they returned home to Connecticut, they’d agreed they could build something better—and Babyation was born.
In the fall of 2015, the startup moved to St. Louis after receiving an Arch Grant and knew they’d found a new home.
“We flew back to Connecticut more energized and excited than we’d been in a long time,” says Rudolph. “We realized joining this community would give our business the best chance for success.”
Next came a stellar Kickstarter campaign that garnered national attention and raised more than $81,000 in 30 days. Now eager customers can look forward to a working product to hit the market within a year.
“It’s such an honor to be making something that will have such an impact on people’s lives,” Rudolph says.
Why all the excitement? Miller engineered their device so women could stay covered while pumping and included sound reduction technology, as well as a digital component utilizing smartphones so moms could monitor and log data. Sam herself successfully tested the first working prototype after welcoming Chief Baby Officer Exton Miller to the team in the summer of 2015.
Fittingly, the company finds inspiration directly from its future customers: the thousands of mothers who’ve offered up personal stories, time and talent.
“Knowing that we can make the process a little better and give moms back some freedom pushes me forward every day,” says Miller.
Addressing Pain Points: Janus Choice
When Alexandra Goodwin’s father required additional care following a hospital stay, she experienced firsthand the stress of finding an adequate provider. After speaking with friends in similar situations, she realized she wasn’t alone.
“We started doing some research and learned there was some information available, but it was not organized or curated, and it was hard to obtain,” Goodwin says.
The duo—both former astrophysicists—first came to St. Louis from Chicago after Goodwin was selected as a member of the Prosper Women Entrepreneurs Startup Accelerator’s Fall 2015 cohort.
They were immediately drawn to the city for its entrepreneurial support, investment opportunities (they were recently selected to receive MTC funding) and—most importantly for them—a large, mature healthcare landscape. The team applied to Arch Grants this summer hoping for an excuse to permanently relocate—and fate was on their side.
“St. Louis has its own rhythm of entrepreneurial life,” says Goodwin. “It’s a hidden jewel in the middle of the United States.”
Goodwin’s father passed away earlier this year after battling cancer, but not before encouraging his daughter and Palmer to think big.
“He encouraged us to build the solution to help others,” says Palmer. “Now patients at multiple hospitals are using our solution and making better choices that, in turn, lead to getting well faster. Seeing the impact we have on the lives of patients and their families inspires us to work harder every day.”
Picturing Success: Scopio
Christina Hawatmeh wanted to change the way people see the world by making moments more accessible—so she created Scopio.
The social image agency automates a system to find, organize and store user-generated photos and videos that can then be licensed for commercial and editorial use digitally. If Scopio has a rival, it’s the out-of-touch stock photo, which Hawatmeh argues gets lost in the shuffle online.
“We believe user-generated content is here to stay,” she says. “We have seen more than 40 million images from all over the world. It’s really inspiring to work with and source [content] that captures our daily lives.”
Hawatmeh started the company in Columbia University’s Startup Lab in June 2015. Originally from St. Louis, she’d lived all over the world before landing in New York City for graduate school.
After she launched the startup, her parents, vaguely aware of the St. Louis’ entrepreneurial scene, suggested she come home, use money and resources wisely, focus and build the company here. Arch Grants gave her the perfect reason to return to the Midwest.
“I [wanted] to be a part of the narrative because I know the potential the city has,” says Hawatmeh. “I think all of us startups here have a big responsibility [to create] a sense of urgency for innovation because that isn’t natural to the more relaxed environment in St. Louis. We have to activate that and actively help one another, because it really is a race against time.”
So far, that mantra has worked for him.
“It’s crazy that in 2016, most of us rely on serendipity to find jobs and talent,” says Motley. “Our goal is to make the discovery of jobs and talent easier for young professionals and the organizations that want to hire them.” They do this by matching potential hires and companies by skills, interests and values, making sure the job and the job seeker vibe on a cultural level.
In 2014 Capital Innovators brought the team to St. Louis—and that’s where they’ve stayed since, working out of T-REX and plugging into St. Louis’ ecosystem.
“It’s relatively easier to navigate and get access to people and organizations that can change the course of your company,” says Motley. “The community has welcomed us and embraced our idea, and we will give it everything we’ve got.”
The idea has proven lucrative; the company currently ships a viable product, has a team of 13 employees, raised $1.6 million and is on track to generate $1 million in revenue in the next eight months, with no signs of slowing. When asked about future plans and what he’s most excited about, Motley’s answer was pretty to the point: “Everything.”