What if you could receive $50,000 in equity-free, non-dilutive cash--even if your startup is still in the idea stage? Well, you can. St. Louis-based Arch Grants has been distributing equity-free $50,000 grants and pro bono services to startups since 2012.

(Disclaimer: I serve as a preliminary judge for the 2019 Arch Grants Global Startup Competition.)

In the seven years since the competition first began, Arch Grants has had a huge impact on participating startups as well as the City of St. Louis. The organization has funded 134 companies, with more than 90% of those companies still in business. Collectively, Arch Grants Recipients have created over 1400 jobs, generated over $89 million in revenue, and attracted over $130 million in follow-on capital.

The impact on St. Louis is important to note, because Arch Grants Recipients are required to move their startup to St. Louis in order to receive funding. Founders will discover a community that ranks second only to Columbus, Ohio, on Forbes list of the top ten rising cities for startups.

"Arch Grants is very unique," said Competition Manager Julie Maurer. "Your application is reviewed not only by Arch Grants staff, but by hundreds of volunteer judges across the metropolitan region. When your startup is selected to receive an Arch Grant, the community of St. Louis is selecting you--and is ready to support you."

The success of Arch Grants and Arch Grants Recipients is a testament to three important points:

  1. Startups can succeed in cities located far from the nearest beach.
  2. Founders can succeed without a multi-million-dollar initial round of funding.
  3. Cities can create jobs and economic opportunity by focusing on homegrown startups.

"I've lived in a lot of places, in America and around the world," said Tiffany Chimal, co-founder of MakersValley and former Arch Grants Recipient. "I've never found the same entrepreneurial energy anywhere else. So many good people here are building so many great things."

Despite the success of founders like Tiffany Chimal, St. Louis isn't the first city most people think of when they think of startup hubs.

That's unfortunate.

For much of the past two decades, the region's leadership has made a concerted effort to create a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Today, the metropolitan area has a deep bench of organizations supporting entrepreneurs who've chosen to make St. Louis their launchpad. Arch Grants is not alone in its mission to rebuild one of America's once-great cities on a foundation of innovation and entrepreneurship. The metropolitan area has invested in a collection of coworking facilities and incubators (including Cortex, TRex, and OPO Startups) and is also the home of Claim Academy, one of the most successful coding camps in the nation.

The city also recently hosted the first Chaifetz STLaunchSM competition.

That competition included a grand prize of $1M awarded to former Arch Grants Recipient KNOWiNK, an election technology startup. The competition also awarded a second-place prize of $200,000 to former Arch Grants Recipient Juristat, a legal tech startup that helps businesses identify emerging technologies and potential competitors through the analysis of patent applications.

In other words, Arch Grants' requirement that startups move to St. Louis shouldn't be viewed as a condition, a catch, or an unfortunately attached string.

Instead, it should be viewed as an opportunity to become a big fish in a relatively small startup-focused pond--and being a big fish in a small pond is a good thing.

Especially when it comes with $50,000.

Published on: Feb 28, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.