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Arch Grants ~ Building Opportunities in St. Louis

February 17, 2017

During assembly on Friday, February 17, Ginger Imster, executive director of Arch Grants, spoke to students about her organization which fuels economic development in the St. Louis region through grants and pro bono support services to entrepreneurs. Imster was invited to campus by the JBS Business Club and was introduced by William Howlett '18.

Imster's prepared remarks, on which she built her more conversational presentation, follow:

Arch Grants is a nonprofit founded to kick start the St. Louis economy. It is the brainchild of [JBS parents and alum] Bob Guller and Kellie Hynes, [JBS parents of alums] Jerry and Sue Schlichter, Joe and Annie Schlafly, and Zack and Rachel Boyers. The foundational program is the Arch Grants Global Startup Competition. The founders were inspired by their own children – and you.

The St. Louis economy and culture must be attractive to you and your peers for our region to thrive. Arch Grants exists to support entrepreneurs excited to build their brands in St. Louis, and who are committed to creating professional opportunity here for the next generation of talent – your generation.

The Arch Grants Global Startup Competition launched in 2012. It has since attracted several thousand applications from entrepreneurs in 46 states and 85 countries. Grant recipients receive $50,000 in “free money” plus a robust package of pro bono support services from local firms.

Arch Grants is unique because grants are equity-free, and Arch Grants Recipients must commit to having 51% of their team in St. Louis for the 12-months that they receive funding.
We are now in our sixth year. We have awarded 96 grants – over $5 million dollars has been awarded. Our $5M in Arch Grants have been leveraged by our portfolio companies to generate:

  • Jobs – 370 full-time jobs in Missouri as of our last reporting period.
  • Revenue – over $48 M in revenue generated by all Arch Grants Recipients
  • Capital Attracted – over $100 M in investment capital has been attracted by all Arch Grants Recipients.

Startups matter for our region because of the density of job creation by firms less than five-years old. Nearly all net new jobs are created by firms less than five-years old. For St. Louis, and for the United States in general, entrepreneurship is a key strategy for us to attract and retain talent and investment capital. We can collectively harness the forces of the market and the potential of our region by leveraging entrepreneurship and innovation to push our regional economy forward.

And the potential impact of our regional startup activity is enormous given the challenges we face as a country and as a community. In Missouri, 18% of our state’s population lives in a distressed zip code – including a concentrated group of distressed zip codes in our urban core where Arch Grants is located.

Our GDP in St. Louis trails Kansas City and Springfield. The standard of living in St. Louis has stagnated since 2009, and we have experienced very little labor force growth in recent years.
The good news in our local economy is that the gap between job growth in our region as compared to the U.S. has finally closed (it opened in 2010). The job growth we have experienced has been driven by professional business services and leisure & hospitality. And we’re fortunate that our unemployment rate is below the national rate, and has been since 2011.
All this to illustrate that place really does matter. And that is why we talk about Arch Grants in the context of people, place and purpose.

Place is shaping the workforce of our future – and zip code, place, has an overwhelming influence over the future for today’s children. For St. Louis to evolve, we must be proactive about wage growth, attraction of capital, and growth of early-stage business development as we simultaneously invest in infrastructure, K-12 education, early-childhood programming, and access to health services.

We also need to leverage our assets locally, regionally, and throughout Missouri. ABCD – Asset Based Community Development. You can see our region working to leverage our plant science and bio communities to attract more entrepreneurial activity ….fintech….cybersecurity….food science….logistics….animal health….our region has tremendous assets.

Arch Grants leverages our STEM economy, our cost of living, and our ready access to college graduates to make a compelling case to entrepreneurs to build their businesses in St. Louis.

We need to retain and attract really smart people in St. Louis – lots of different kinds of people. The quality of the people we invite into our program is a very important consideration when we evaluate our applicants.

Arch Grants Recipients are located throughout the region, and we continue to maintain a healthy balance between attraction and retention of talent with nearly a 50/50 split. Of the 80 Arch Grants Recipients still active, over 80% remain in the St. Louis region.

But how we look at our people through the lens of Arch Grants is rooted in a commitment to inclusive talent retention and attraction. Inclusion and equity are cornerstones of our program because more diverse companies and institutions achieve better performance.

  • 37.21% of companies were women-led at the time that they were selected
  • 45.35% of companies were minority-led at the time that they were selected
  • 30.23% of companies were immigrant-led at the time that they were selected
  • 12% of active Arch Grants companies were founded outside of the United States.

Economists estimate that if St. Louis could eliminate racial income gaps, we would boost the St. Louis economy by as much as $14 billion.  Currently, 70% of active Arch Grants Companies are led or co-led by a woman, minority, or immigrant. Support and engagement of minority entrepreneurs is especially important given the demographic changes coming regionally and nationally.  By 2040, it is predicted that over 1/3 of the population in the St. Louis region will be people of color.

We need a strong city and region for an economy built to last. Arch Grants’ Global Startup Competition is an intentional and strategic investment in early-stage businesses. The businesses we fund help to diversify our economy, and contribute to the development of a dynamic, diverse, and resilient regional economy for St. Louis.

And we must remember St. Louis was founded by entrepreneurs! Auguste Choteau and Pierre Laclede were entrepreneurs who established St. Louis for fur trading, Lemp and Busch were prominent beer barons, Annie Malone was a chemist and established a tremendous hair-care and beauty business before women had the right to vote, and Samuel Cupples leveraged St. Louis’ geography to revolutionize the shipping industry. They were all entrepreneurs (and philanthropists) in St. Louis.

Arch Grants brings our community together to support a new generation of entrepreneurs who are, once again, defining our region’s future.

And time is of the essence.

There are currently 10 Fortune 500 companies in Missouri, and 9 are in St. Louis. There were over 20 at one time. Comparatively, there were 10 Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Missouri a decade ago as well (1994). But the list has changed significantly in ten years. Of the 10 Fortune 500 companies in Missouri in 2015, only two of them (Monsanto and Emerson) were on the list in 1994.

The current list of Fortune 500 companies in Missouri includes Express Scripts (#22) and Centene (#186) both of which were founded in the mid-1980s.

I mention all of this to illustrate how essential it is for St. Louis to strike a balance between the retention of established companies, and the seeding of new.

In addition to the role of new companies in net job creation from year-to-year, we also see the potential of today’s startups to become the next major regional employer and market leader of tomorrow – Centene and Express Scripts are but two examples.

Regionally, we need to strengthen the partnership between public and private investment if we are to see dynamic economic growth. Private and leveraged public investments are engines of economic growth. With increased investment comes increased employment. This increase in employment will be through both direct jobs and secondary, indirect multiplier effects.

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