A very important part of Dabble’s story – here is the long overdue interview with Arch Grants. There are currently multiple chapters to this story, but in a nutshell Dabble wouldn’t be in St. Louis without Arch Grants, and I wouldn’t be working for Dabble.

Here is part of that story told by Ben Burke – Arch Grant’s Director of Entrepreneurship. Ben manages the Arch Grants Global Startup Competition as well as the program and support services for Arch Grants Recipients. Keep reading – we talk about a variety of topics from hurdles small business owners face, cheese burgers, and setting yourself up for success as an entrepreneur.

For those that don’t know what Arch Grants does how does it work?

Arch Grants is a nonprofit organization that accelerates economic development and community revitalization by providing $50,000 equity-free grants and pro bono support services to entrepreneurs willing to locate their early-stage businesses in St. Louis. Through the rigorously competitive Global Startup Competition, Arch Grants retains and attracts the most innovative entrepreneurs to the St. Louis region. This program is an aggressive effort to inspire the next generation of employers, civic leaders, and philanthropists for St. Louis.

The Arch Grants Global Startup Competition is an international competition that awards $50,000 equity-free cash grants and pro bono support services to innovative and scalable startups for locating their businesses in St. Louis, Missouri.  The industry-agnostic Global Startup Competition is held twice per year, with grants awarded once in the spring and once in the fall.  Arch Grants funds innovative technologies, products, and services wrapped within scalable business models that have the potential to make a national or international impact.

Out of hundreds of applicants only 20 are selected every year. How hard is it to decide?

We’re fortunate to have gained international exposure while also having a very strong group of startups from the local region applying each year.

We see that the applicants that are clear in their value proposition, concise in their pitch, and compelling in the scale of the startup’s growth are the most successful.  In addition, we realize we are not just funding good ideas, we are funding people; those individuals that give us a reason to believe in them hold more weight.

Popular Mechanics recently voted St. Louis as the number one startup city in the U.S. Since you meet new entrepreneurs every year how would you characterize the startup landscape in STL?

It is growing.  Not more than a few weeks go by before I hear about a new initiative being put forth to help entrepreneurs succeed.  The landscape is comprehensive and collaborative, and constantly changing.

Building a new market is no joke. In most ways the odds are against you when you’re starting. What are your thoughts on this?

Depends on the startup.  But, for the most part, it helps to know the right people to get you integrated quickly into a new community.  Having locals represent your brand as an introduction to the community is sometimes a good strategy.  Other times, just getting the right first adopters of your products or service can make all of the difference.

If you were starting a company what would you consider three fundamental principles to guarantee success?

Well, I’d first say that there is no guarantee of success.  There are things that entrepreneurs can do (or avoid doing) that will likely increase their probability of success:

  1. Choose co-founders, advisors, partners, collaborators, and first employees VERY carefully.  It only takes one mistake here to throw the whole business off of its intended trajectory.
  2. If appropriate, devote yourself to the lean startup approach.  Practice the cycle of learning, building, and measuring.
  3. Put the creation of new relationships and the management of your existing relationships high on your priority list.  Networking (among appropriate people) is something that should be actively placed into a weekly schedule.  Setting goals for meeting a minimum number of new people each week is an awesome practice.

How long have you been living in St. Louis and what is something that you’ve seen change since you’ve been here? 

I moved to St. Louis to start a business during the summer of 2010.  Downtown St. Louis seems to be more vibrant than when we first moved here.  In conversations, you now hear about people actually GOING OUT DOWNTOWN.  That is great to see.

When you’re not at Arch Grants what are you dabbling in?

I’m all-in on entrepreneurship.  I volunteer at a variety of entrepreneurship organizations in St. Louis, including Accelerate St. Louis, Startup Weekend, hackathons, and two Kauffman Foundation-funded research projects.  My wife, Katie Burke, runs her own business, so we work on that together as well.  Last year, I co-founded Underground Angels. This group connects business​-​minded young professionals with early​-​stage entrepreneurs for the purpose of providing hands-on support.

What’s your favorite place to grab a drink?

Schlafly Bottleworks

Best burger in town… 

Cheeseburger at Home Wine Kitchen

What’s your best piece of advice?

Wake up early.