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Arch Grants Finalists Weekend Is Here

Maria Altman (St. Louis Public Radio)

It will be a whirlwind weekend for the finalists of the Arch Grants competition.

The 46 finalist startups arrived in St. Louis on Thursday afternoon. They are here competing for 20 grants worth $50,000 each.

In a way, St. Louis itself also is competing this weekend. The entrepreneurs who win must agree to move their businesses here.

Arch Grants Executive Director Ginger Imster said 25 of the finalist companies are from outside the area. She said Friday is being devoted to giving the startups tours of downtown businesses, apartments and incubators, as well as St. Louis’ neighborhoods.

"It’s our way of helping our entrepreneurs connect with the space that we want them to call home," Imster said.

Entrepreneurs began Friday with a trip to T-REX, a technology incubator and co-working space on Washington Ave. They also stopped by LockerDome, an interest-based social network, started in St. Louis in 2008.

Gabe Lozano, co-founder and CEO of LockerDome, spoke with Arch Grants finalists Friday. Lozano is also serving as a judge for the competition.

LockerDome co-founder and CEO Gabe Lozano pitched St. Louis as a place where people want to help strengthen the startup community. He said that while LockerDome has a New York office, the majority of its funding and product development happens here.

"When I’m in New York and I ask for help, some people give it and then they ask what they get out of it, whether it’s stock or money," Lozano said. "When I’m in St. Louis, people just want to help you because they want you to win."

Finalists Jonathan Hubbard and Shanshank Sanjay, founders of a social analytics marketing firm called DCAF, flew in from New York City on an early flight Thursday. They said they spent the day walking downtown and taking the Metro. They are not yet certain whether they would move their company to St. Louis if they win a grant.

"One of the deciding factors for us will be when we actually see the space [Friday] and see what the actual community is like here for entrepreneurship and technology," Hubbard said. "It’s still up in the air, but based off of the first day it’s very nice town."

On Friday morning, following a tour of The Laurel Apartments, the business partners said they were impressed with the difference in rental costs between the two cities.

"The pricing for two people here is astronomically better," Hubbard said.

Another finalist, Tyler King, the CEO ofLess Annoying CRM, is originally from St. Louis. His company offers a platform for managing customer relations. King and his partners are planning to move the company here from San Francisco no matter the competition’s outcome.

"Arch Grants definitely played a role in demonstrating that St. Louis is committed to helping startups succeed. But, win or lose, this seems like a great city to be in and we’re going to be here either way," he said.

It’s a busy weekend in the city with the Blues taking on the Chicago Blackhawks in a home playoff game and the Cardinals playing the Pirates at Busch Stadium. The FIRST Robotics Competition for young student is also taking place at the America’s Center. Downtown was bustling Thursday evening.

Arch Grants finalist Matt Sebek, a St. Louisan and founder of Huddler -- a social app that allows people put out polls and get answers in real-time -- said it’s the perfect weekend to bring outsiders in.

"An event like this coupled with lots of other things just shows what’s possible in St. Louis," he said. "It’s pretty fantastic."

The entrepreneurs will make their final pitches to a panel of judges on Saturday morning. The public also will get a chance see the finalists present Saturday at the St. Louis Public Library from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.

The Arch Grants’ Board of Directors will announce the winners on May 21. 

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.