Silicon Valley doesn't have a lock on offering fertile fields for tech startups. St. Louis is rapidly becoming an innovation hub for startups as well. Much of the credit is due to the entrepreneurial-friendly culture of this city and programs such as an innovative $1 million startup program, which just announced its second round of competition.
The Arch Grants program, which takes its name from the city's iconic Gateway Arch alongside the Mississippi River, will award $50,000 each to 20 startups in a new round of competition announced in late October. This is an increase from the 15 grants awarded in the program's first year.
In addition to cash, the grants will also provide winning companies with access to business mentoring, free legal and accounting services, pro bono marketing and cloud computing services, collaboration with local universities, access to local investors and the chance for an additional $100,000 follow-on grant.
The program is funded by a mix of state and local funds and donations from private companies. Unlike some other startup competitions, Arch Grants does not take an equity position in the winning companies.
To be eligible, companies must be for-profits in any industry and can be located anywhere in the world, but winners must move to St. Louis or remain in the city.
Entries will be evaluated by a panel of judges on innovation in product or service, scalability, plans for national or international sales and progress developing the concept, such as creation of a prototype. Applications must be completed by Jan. 1, 2013.
In its inaugural year, the program received 420 applications from across the U.S. and companies from as far away as Chile, Costa Rica and Portugal moved to St. Louis establish their businesses there. The program hopes to attract 1,000 entrants this year.
Standouts in the first Arch Grants class included Labor Voices, which provides crowdsourced supply chain intelligence and has joined the Clinton Global Initiative, and IDC Projects, an app developer that was invited by Microsoft to be a launch partner on Windows 8.
St. Louis's rebirth as a hub of innovation and entrepreneurship has not gone unnoticed. CBS Radio called the city a tech hotbed and business publisher Kiplinger named it one of the top 10 American cities for starting a business.
"Building a startup-friendly city is no small feat, and we’re excited to have competitions like Arch Grants provide incentives to stay or move here," said St. Louis’ Mayor Francis Slay. "We see economic growth coming from the concentration of talented and productive entrepreneurs in St. Louis, and the more this happens, the greater our success will be in growing the city’s startup ecosystem."