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Arch Grants reels in more than 700 applicants this year

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 12, 2013 - Arch Grants is seeing a significant uptick in applications as it heads into the second iteration of its grant competition.

More than 700 hopefuls will vie for the nonprofit’s million-dollar pool of grants, which is to be meted out to 20 winners later this year. About 420 applied for the cash last time around.

“The main thing is that it is a recognition of Arch Grants becoming established on the national and international map and St. Louis now being seen as a desirable place for entrepreneurs to start a business,” said Jerry Schlichter, president of the group. “That, I think, is the overarching theme of what these number show.”

The list will be trimmed until about 40 finalists are chosen from executive summaries to give pitches to the judges in person.

“Approximately 50 volunteer judges will be involved in the judging process to cull down the numbers to a group of semi-finalists,” he said.

Those who eventually get the cash will receive not only a $50,000 stipend but networking and mentoring opportunities and an array of pro-bono services ranging from accounting to cloud computing help. Two of the winning enterprises, all of which will be expected to start or relocate in St. Louis, will be targeted for additional $100,000 grants.

Applicants will be judged on the innovative nature of the product or service, scalability of the concept and commitment to St. Louis.

The contest’s original application deadline was Jan. 1 but the process was extended a month when organizers saw additional volume.

Schlichter said that the field of applicants isn’t just bigger. It’s also more geographically diverse, something organizers had hoped would occur with an increased focus on pulling talent into St. Louis from elsewhere. Applicants poured in from 40 states and 15 foreign countries from Israel to Bolivia. More than twice as many applications were received from abroad than last time.

“It’s a substantial increase in recognition of St. Louis and Arch Grants from outside the region,” Schlichter said.

About 70 percent of last year’s applicants were in the tech. This year, Schlichter said that there is still a strong presence in tech and biotech concerns but also expansion in the areas of education and business services.

“There’s a very broad mix,” he said. “We’ve always been technology agnostic. We don’t want to miss a new technology.”

Meanwhile, last year’s winners are doing well. Schlichter said the 15 awardees from the inaugural contest, who are about seven months into the program, included roughly 35 individuals initially but added 51 jobs over the first quarter while bringing in $282,000 in revenue and raising $645,000 in new startup capital.

Schlichter said second quarter figures weren’t yet available but he estimated the jobs number could be up to 100 by now based on the success the companies were seeing. One even landed a $2 million contract with the federal government.

“This could not have happened without the tremendous support of the St. Louis community in all kinds of ways,” he said. “Financial support is critical, of course, but there are also volunteer judges and people who provide professional services for free.”

Schlichter said plans for the future will include an effort to put down roots for Arch Grants in the local startup scene.

“We are going to work very hard to establish Arch Grants as a permanent part of the St. Louis and international landscape,” Schlichter said. “We want to work at finding and developing money so this is something that is on the map and will be recognized as a program that’s renewed each year.”

“The climate of support has been noted by the Arch entrepreneurs as being as important to them as the money itself,” he said. “There’s a synergy and energy that the entrepreneurs have become a part of and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s what makes success.”

David Baugher is a freelance writer.