The Startup Ecosystem
The white-hot startup scene is thriving, thanks to a healthy business ecosystem.
In nature, a pond starts with a single drop of water and grows into an intricate ecosystem of plants and animals to sustain life. We see a similar system supporting St. Louis’ burgeoning startup environment. What was the single drop that began the local startup boom? “Collaboration,” says Gilbert Bickel, chairman of St. Louis Arch Angels, an early-stage investment group. “It used to be nobody shared information,” he says. “We have to have everyone pushing in the same direction. That’s what makes the ecosystem.” And many groups have evolved to help push, from grant and investment funds to co-working facilities and marketing organizations—each providing vital services or financing at various stages in a business’ evolution. Here’s a look at three inhabitants of the entrepreneurial pond and their recent contributions to the startup ecosystem.
It has been a big quarter for Arch Grants, the global startup competition that awards 20 new businesses with $50,000 grants to locate their companies in Downtown St. Louis. The recently announced winners of the 2013 competition run the gamut from TrakBill, a platform that tracks bills through the legislative process, to Triflare, a triathlon/athletic apparel company. Other notable winners include Juristat, Rover Town and Immunophotonics.
In addition, two businesses from last year’s inaugural class of winners will receive follow-on grants of $100,000 each. Food Essentials develops technologies to analyze food label data and simMachines is a search-engine technology that addresses duplicate content issues. In another victory for Arch Grants alums, Obsorb, a startup from the 2012 Arch Grants class, was recently acquired by the Canadian company MetaLab. Visit archgrants.org for the full list of winners.
Founded in January 2005, Arch Angels is widely recognized as a major catalyst in creating the St. Louis startup culture local entrepreneurs enjoy today. Positioned to provide early-stage capital to companies whose products or services will revolutionize their industries, Arch Angels has invested approximately $33 million in more than 40 startups to date.
The most recent addition to Arch Angels’ already impressive investment portfolio is Adarza BioSystems (which also took home an Arch Grants win), a medical diagnostics company developing technology that will allow rapid analysis of clinical samples. As with Arch Grants, the Arch Angels investment requires that the business relocate to St. Louis from Rochester, NY. Other notable companies in which Arch Angels has invested include LockerDome, a social media platform for sports that has become one of the fastest growing online sports properties in the world, and Sequoia Sciences, a pharmaceutical company developing medicines to treat bacterial infections (in cystic fibrosis patients, among others) and some cancers. Visit stlouisarchangels.com to view the full portfolio.
A consistent concern in the St. Louis entrepreneurial scene is that, aside from insiders, few people are aware of the dynamic startup movement currently happening in St. Louis. More awareness brings more investors and more contributors to the ecosystem. Enter InnoVox STL, a new nonprofit that aims to create a greater mainstream awareness of the growing entrepreneurial scene. Founded by former journalist Jim Bafaro InnoVox is much more than a traditional public relations firm.
Its not-for-profit status broadens the pool of potential partnerships, reaching from media to educators to elected officials. Most notably, InnoVox has a radio show on KMOX every Tuesday morning that helps create early awareness for new startups on a regular and scheduled basis. “People will realize over time that we are a creative community,” Bafaro says. “This will start to sink in through osmosis.” For more info, visit innovoxstl.com.
Photo credit: Illustration by Samantha Winkler