The following is the 15th in the series "Live Your Brand" in which branding expert Melanie Spring takes us along on her three-week road trip across the country to meet innovative entrepreneurs whose experiences offer lessons learned to businesses big and small.
Launching a business is a feat in its own right but helping hundreds of businesses launch is a truly herculean task. But that is exactly what nonprofit Arch Grants is looking to do. The organization provides growing companies and startups funding (in the form of grants) while also offering support in the form of mentorship, resources and connections. This mission not only comes from wanting to see entrepreneurs succeed but also the local community.
Co-founders, Jerry Schlichter and Joe Schlafly love St. Louis and wanted to change the city's reputation for business. Everyone in the organization -- from employees to board members -- has entrepreneurial backgrounds and with hearts to help, their experience is perfect for influencing small businesses. And they are off to a darn good start.
During its inaugural year in 2012, Arch Grants received one million dollars from local donors, corporations, public entities, semi-public companies and the state. It had 420 startups apply, 100 semi-finalists and 15 winners, each awarded $50,000 to turn their dreams into a reality. Last year, the company's applicants increased to 707.
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While helping startups succeed has been rewarding for Arch Grants, helping rebrand the city of St. Louis as an entrepreneurial ecosystem may have been its biggest accomplishment.
Here is how they did it.
Stay focused on your mission. Arch Grants' mission is to create an entrepreneurial culture and infrastructure to build successful companies in St. Louis. They has set themselves up as THE organization in St. Louis to support to keep growing the business community. These businesses can be from any industry with any product or service as Arch Grants is not just for the tech community. They apply online with their executive summaries and compete based on innovation, scalability, growth potential, ability to create a buzz and demonstrated commitment to St. Louis.
Not only are they giving away money to entice businesses to apply, their mission is balanced with helping build a solid foundation under their business in order to succeed. Meetings with Arch Grants' team of directors along with building mentor relationships with established business owners, the startups don’t feel alone in their growth. They can learn from the successes and failures of others without the fear of going it alone.
By staying true to their roots, Arch Grants is not only helping businesses grow but also the city they call home.
Sell your customers on why you’re the best. St. Louis is known for many things and Arch Grants gives all of their finalists a taste for the city, selling them on why they should be a part. The organization showcases the best of St. Louis by taking finalists on field trips, highlighting unique attractions like Shakespeare in the park, art museums, sports venues and the city's stunning architecture. Arch Grants is able to sell aspiring entrepreneurs on why they should call St. Louis home for their venture and how their business will contribute to it.
In turn, Arch Grants pushes these entrepreneurs to know how they stand out from the crowd and prove their differentiators. The startups have to know why they’re the best to win the competition and keep proving it even after winning to show how successful they will be upon receiving the grant.
3. Go local, everyone wins. The $50,000 is given full-stop: No equity is owed to Arch Grants or their partners. And to make it even sweeter, the organization gives a lot of extras to ensure their investment goes well. After the initial investment, Arch Grants sets up local support for each of the businesses. They go local on everything from IT and cloud computing to marketing and mentoring. But this perks do come at a cost to the startups. The cash is delivered on a quarterly basis and each startup has to submit metrics to back up how they're doing. These metrics can include how many jobs were created, revenue generated and other capital attracted.
With the grant money coming from local resources, the winners put the money back into their community by hiring local businesses to support them. When one succeeds, the rest succeed and St. Louis thrives.
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