Q&A: Arch Grants director reflects on program’s sixth year, looks ahead

Almost all the startups in Arch Grants’ current cohort plan to remain in the St. Louis region, the organization’s executive director said.

As Arch Grants nears the conclusion of its latest class, the nonprofit aims to build on its track record of attracting entrepreneurs to the St. Louis area and keeping them there. Of the 103 Arch Grants recipients that are still in business, 88 percent have stayed in St. Louis, according to Emily Lohse-Busch, the organization’s executive director.

Arch Grants is a nonprofit that funds startups that locate in St. Louis. Since 2012, the program has awarded more than $6 million in grants to 114 early-stage businesses. The nonprofit views its role as building the economy through entrepreneurship.

“In some ways, Arch Grants itself is a startup,” Lohse-Busch said.

The organization requires grant recipients — which for 2017 included businesses from Canada, Norway, and around the U.S. — to stay in St. Louis for at least a year, where Arch Grants connects them support services. Ideally, at the end of the year, the startups decide to stay in St. Louis long-term.

Lohse-Busch spoke with Missouri Business Alert about Arch Grants’ recently released 2017 annual report.

Topics covered with Lohse-Busch included:

St. Louis’ startup environment

“The momentum is continuing to build. We’re seeing that both in terms of companies that want to come here and then also in terms of follow-on capital, venture capital. … One of the great trends that I think we’re just starting to see the beginning of is there’s enough critical mass here that they don’t see as much of a reason for companies to automatically leave communities like St. Louis.”

Arch Grants’ work

“Once the new cohort either comes to St. Louis or is awarded the Arch Grant, that’s when the work really starts for us. We have a year at that point. We ask our companies to be here for a period of at least a year. We have a year to show these companies what it looks like to be a St. Louis startup and how much value this community can provide.”

“We’re starting to hit that stride between what it looks like to establish ourselves as a brand, gain trust from the community, to — now we’re really getting to the point where companies are seeking us out, seeking St. Louis out.”

Companies staying in St. Louis

“I would say, at the end of this year, at least … almost all of them are planning at this point to stay here beyond the year. There’s a few that, for one reason or another, obviously, every year it makes sense for them to go elsewhere. But we’ve funded 114 companies as of our 2017 annual report, and of those, 103 are still in business, and of those, 88 percent are still here in St. Louis.”

Responsibility and the future

“This had never been done before, in 2011, when we were founded. And so this was a big risk that our founders took. And now, six years in, I think it’s not only meeting, but I think it’s far exceeded, anyone’s expectations. And so now we have not only a huge opportunity but a responsibility to make sure that we are building intentionality into everything we do.”


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