An Entrepreneur’s Experience Living And Working In Downtown St. Louis
Before Ilerasoft co-founder Kwaku Owusu was awarded a $50,000 Arch Grant to relocate his business from Houston to St. Louis, he didn’t know a soul in the area. Now he lives and works Downtown, where he walks by the Arch nearly every morning.
For a startup, $50,000—plus access to mentorship and office space—can be the difference between a business becoming a reality or not. Owusu and co-founder Melanie Igwe both have extensive backgrounds in the healthcare industry and began developing the Ilerasoft software as a solution to a multitude of problems with defective medical equipment and inefficiency in the industry, an industry that has not yet fully embraced technology.
We spoke with Owusu to discuss the advantages of living, working and building a business in Downtown St. Louis.
Tell me a bit about your business.
Ilerasoft’s software automates and simplifies the most challenging aspects of managing medical device safety and surveillance for hospitals. We combine multiple workflows around medical equipment safety that are performed separately, or not at all, on one platform. Our technology also allows hospitals to be more efficient with their medical equipment use through our Efficiency Score, which is basically like a credit score for medical equipment.
My cofounder Melanie Igwe and I both come from the healthcare space. I also consulted in a hospital, and it was there that I noticed the waste and inefficiency surrounding medical equipment. We found the current state of medical devices to be really lacking, which ultimately harms the patient. We found a way to infuse some efficiency into that process, by allowing hospitals in the same system to share equipment and quickly identify defective products that had been recalled. The safety piece of it really came out of witnessing patient injuries due to defective medical equipment.
How did you come up with a solution to that problem and build it out from there?
Prior to Ilerasoft, I worked as a healthcare consultant where I saw massive waste around underused medical equipment. My co-founder Melanie saw the gaps with product safety solution used in hospitals from an operational point of view, whereas I was seeing it from a strategic point of view. She oversaw FDA and manufacturer recalls at a large health care company, and as part of her job she listened to issues with devices on a monthly basis. On one recording, a patient who relied on a pacemaker that had been recalled died on the phone. Melanie went to her manager and said, “This needs to be fixed.” And she told her, “It’s not in our budget.” We found that unacceptable.
Coming from Houston, one of the biggest cities in the U.S., we were coming from a place with a lot of healthcare talent. I thought coming to St. Louis, I’d lose that. But I found the opposite. St. Louis is a healthcare hub, and people are really willing to talk to you and help you out. It’s also working really hard to become a tech hub in the Midwest. So being able to be around the other Arch Grants winners in the tech space helped a lot. If you have a problem, you can easily talk to someone else who can help you from making avoidable mistakes.
How has the Arch Grants program been for you?
It’s been a great experience—you really get out of it what you put into it. It helped us connect with people whom we otherwise wouldn’t have met, people with deep experience in healthcare to guide us. Through Arch Grants we have met great mentors who have helped us with financial models, presentation and helping us understand what will resonate with customers.
Shifting gears a bit, tell me a little bit about your background.
I am originally from Ghana. My family won something called the Diversity Visa Lottery, which allowed us to immigrate to the United States, and we eventually settled in Massachusetts. After I finished my undergraduate education I went to grad school in New York, and then moved to Houston to work in healthcare and tech.
What has your experience in St. Louis been like? What’s it been like to live and work in Downtown St. Louis?
It’s a great city. People are really willing to help you. It’s much smaller than Houston, but you can have more of an impact. Your mentors understand what you’re going through and can offer advice. I also really like the closeness of having everything you need in the Downtown core. St. Louis is a also walkable city. You can walk everywhere here—which is a big thing for me especially, because I don’t have a car. There’s also the museums, the art and being able to see the Arch—you don’t have all of that anywhere else. I live really close to the Arch, so I try to walk by it every morning.
We work out of the T-REX building Downtown, where there is a high concentration of tech companies in one building. It helps to be around other people who are building software and on the same journey as you—that’s the whole point of an innovation hub, and St. Louis is excellent at fostering this community. If you have a problem, you can easily talk to someone else who can help you from making avoidable mistakes. Personally, I’ve made a lot of friends at T-REX, and coming here I knew no one. It was a cool adjustment.
The last thing about St. Louis is that the food is really great. I used to live on top of Lucas Park Grill on Washington Avenue and they have this burger called the Lucas Park, with pork belly and fried egg. It’s probably the best burger I’ve ever had.
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Cover image by Mia Baker