Estimated reading time: 6 minute(s)
Arch Grants recently announced Emily Lohse-Busch as its new Executive Director. EQ had the opportunity to have a candid chat with her about what brought her back to St. Louis, her vision for Arch Grants and her thoughts on the growth of entrepreneurship in St. Louis.
What attracted you to this position and back to St. Louis?
The thing that attracted me to this role is actually closely related to why I decided to move back to St. Louis. I grew up in the St. Louis area, but left in 2005. I have close family ties here and my husband and I were inclined to move back, but it wasn’t yet clear to us where we fit into the St. Louis ecosystem. A few years ago, a friend suggested that I look into the startup scene, particularly what was happening in the urban core. I started doing some research and discovered that there was a lot energy and sense of potential around St. Louis through the startup ecosystem that was really exciting to me. These people were actively building the St. Louis for the future. When we made the decision to move, my goal then became, “How can I take the skills and experience that I’ve gained in my career and help to advance this energy?” I have worked with a lot with nonprofits and in organizational development and founded my own small business several years ago, so when I became aware of the Arch Grants position, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to take what I’ve learned from my career and help this organization that has proven itself to be an engine for positive change over the last five years to go forward into its next generation of growth.
What are you hoping to bring from your previous experience?
In my experience working with both domestic and international nonprofits and social changemakers throughout my career, one of the key things that I have learned is the power of an organization’s story. One of the great things about Arch Grants is that the story is incredibly appealing, and the impacts are being seen in the community every day. The question now becomes, how do we make sure that all the right people know about not only Arch Grants, but also about what is happening in the startup scene in and around St. Louis? That’s one of the key skills I hope to bring to Arch Grants, the ability to build on the momentum that the past leadership has created and make sure everyone knows our story so they can support this work, either by bringing their startup to St. Louis or helping to support the startups we help to bring here.
In terms of telling the story, I feel extremely lucky to be coming on board right now, just as the Cisco acquisition of Observable Networks is being made public. That is clearly a really exciting example of the role that Arch Grants has and can play going forward, and the fact that Cisco, Observable Networks and others are so clearly benefiting from our work is helping others to take notice.
What part of Arch Grants’ mission are you most passionate about?
The thing that is so compelling about Arch Grants is the boldness of its foundational premise – to ignite innovation and ingenuity in St. Louis – supported by the simplicity and effectiveness of the model. We are attracting and retaining startup companies to St. Louis, creating economic momentum and sparking a positive narrative. To put it plainly, we’re actively building the region for the future, and that’s something I’m passionate about as a professional, as a resident and as a parent who wants my children to have a wealth of options when considering their futures, hopefully in St. Louis!
It is interesting that Arch Grants’ mission is to attract and retain talent to St. Louis and it actually brought you back, too.
I think that it’s a really great parallel. In some ways, Arch Grants is what brought me back, not directly in the way that we are discussing [with the position], but the work that Arch Grants is doing is what creates that energy [in St. Louis] that led me back here. And it was when I was getting to know more about who the different players are and what they do that I came to really understand the unique role that Arch Grants plays and how I could use my experience and my skills to help advance that.
What do you see as your number one priority in your new role?
I would say the number one priority is making sure that our pipeline of entrepreneurs stays robust, and that we continue to bring passionate people with brilliant ideas to St. Louis. I know that our finalists, who will be coming to town next month for Finalist Pitch Day, are excited about St. Louis and the community of startups here, and that excitement and energy will add to the existing ecosystem. This growing pride in St. Louis as a model for innovation and entrepreneurship is vital to the other part of our mission – making sure that entrepreneurs stay and build successful companies here. I think the more success stories we produce, the more of a community we can build, the better chances we have of these companies seeing value not only in coming to, but in staying in, St. Louis.
What do you see as the main goals that Arch Grants specifically has right now and over the next year?
I will preface this by saying [as of the interview] I’m on Day 2 in this role, but I do think that what we’re going to be looking to do over the next year is really to take stock of all that we’ve done up to this point, and determine where the opportunities lie. We’ll continue to collaborate with the smart, passionate people that make up this startup ecosystem in St. Louis and, of course, make sure that entrepreneurs from around the world know about the opportunity to get an Arch Grant.
What would you see as the challenges St. Louis faces right now?
I would say that the biggest challenge that St. Louis faces is making the case for the growing potential and getting it out there. That comes down to not only organizations like Arch Grants and EQ and others making sure that it’s out there in the startup community, but also just everyone in the St. Louis business community talking about the potential here. One of the things I loved when I was reading about Arch Grants and deciding whether or not to apply for this position was that Arch Grants was looking to spark a positive narrative. Being from St. Louis and seeing the city as it’s gone through a number of changes and transitions over the past several decades, I’m proud to be a part of a community of people who are looking forward and building St. Louis as a model for cities around the country.
What do you see as the challenges that local entrepreneurs face in St. Louis?
I think every entrepreneur in every community in the world faces the need for funding. I wouldn’t say that is unique to St. Louis, but I do think that it’s important for entrepreneurs to embrace the benefits of this region and really figure out how to use the resources, and for the region to make sure that the entrepreneurs know what’s available. As several entrepreneurs have told me over the past several days, there are a lot of really successful people in this community who are more than willing to help. These people want to see startups succeed, and something that I’ve heard more than once is that people will “take your meeting” in St. Louis, unlike other, larger markets. The ease of connectivity in St. Louis is incredibly valuable to the startup community as a whole and something our Recipients quickly learn to take advantage of while growing their businesses.
Why should entrepreneurs considering where to grow their startup choose St. Louis?
I’m really passionate about this, so I’ll try not to not talk your ear off. The reason that an entrepreneur should consider and ultimately choose St. Louis is:
- There is a growing and passionate group of people here ready and willing to help. That’s number 1. These people are part of the startup community and part of the established business community – but they’re all rooting for you to succeed.
- There is a growing pride in this community. The greater St. Louis community, particularly in the urban core and around the startup scene, wants to see St. Louis succeed and will welcome entrepreneurs with open arms because anything that is helping the entrepreneurs is helping the St. Louis the region as a whole.
- This community offers entrepreneurs a city big enough to test out products and ideas, but at the same time, it is also navigable, which I think is important.
I can’t end without giving a little plug to the fact that I would think and hope that Arch Grants is another reason an entrepreneur should consider St. Louis. There’s not only financial incentive, but also all the other incentives that we try to embody in everything that we do. Of the 96 companies we’ve funded, over 70 of them remain active in St. Louis- that’s a huge signal to me that our work is impactful and worthy of continued community support.
Where can people find you on your days off?
My husband and I have two young boys, and we live in the Central West End. Honestly, we spend a lot of time playing out on the street. We have a lot of really great neighbors and community members, and we are out and about as much as possible. And then we also love to be tourists in our own city. So at least once every weekend, we try to get out and see or do something new. This past weekend we went to see the Route 66 exhibit and the Civil Rights exhibit at the Missouri History Museum. Every weekend we try to do something that is uniquely St. Louis. It’s a reciprocal process; it feeds our passion and our love for the city, but it’s also because of our love for the city that we’re trying to explore it to discover what’s happening here in St. Louis.
Any last thoughts?
The thing I want this community to know and understand about Arch Grants is that we are now five years in and because of the wonderful efforts of people who came before me, from the board who is still very active, from the entire staff here, we’re here and we are in it with this community for the long haul. We’re going to continue to attract and retain the best possible talent and ideas to the St. Louis community from the wonderful potential we see from around the world. What I love about this early stage I’m in right now at Arch Grants is that I’m able to get out to talk with new and interesting people who are involved in our work, which just feeds my own excitement about what is possible.