Two St. Louis Student Startups Named Among Best 8 in the Country at SXSW

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This is EQ’s fourth dispatch from SXSW. Read the previous ones here.

Student entrepreneurs made a major contribution to the mark St. Louis left on this year’s edition of SXSW.

For the second year in a row, two St. Louis student startups made the “Entrepreneurial Eight,” the national final of nationwide Student Startup Madness pitch competition. WashU junior Andrew Glantz, competing with mobile app FoodShare, finished 3rd overall and won $2,000. Lachlan Johnson, an entrepreneurship major at St. Louis University, entered the race with Trep-ology, which uses video learning to teach children entrepreneurial skills.

Photo credit: SXSW

Last year, WashU students Jolijt Tamanaha and Blake Marggraff (both alumni now), represented St. Louis at SXSW with Champio and health-tech startup Epharmix, respectively. Marggraff took 2nd place in Austin.

Johnson, who was also on a panel discussing Gen Z entrepreneurship, attributes much of her success to the support she is receiving from St. Louis University. “SLU actually paid for my way down here,” the junior said. “It means so much to know that such high-up people like Tim Hayden are supporting the next generation of student entrepreneurs.” Hayden, director of SLU’s Center for Entrepreneurship, also participated in the Gen Z event.

St. Louis University is one of 11 regional host universities that hold the first two rounds of the tournament-style competition to select the best eight startups, which then pitch to a panel of entrepreneurs, technologists and investors every year at SXSW.

Robotics company Maidbot, a joint project from Cornell, Georgia Tech and Carnegie Mellon, won the competition. Syracuse University team ChaChing, a mobile payment application integrated into messaging apps, placed 2nd. They took home $5,000 and $3,000, respectively. The remaining five teams each won $1,000.

Glantz, named one of the top-five US student entrepreneurs at the Global Student Entrepreneurship Awards earlier this month, was modest about finishing third of 64 original teams. “You take each small victory and try to compound it into three or five more. We’ll use this experience to fuel FoodShare’s growth, whether it is money or recognition, to try to get something more tangible like signing up the next chain restaurant,” he said. This strategy seems to be paying off: just days before competing in Austin, FoodShare received a $50,000 investment from Capital Innovators.

Trep-ology’s Johnson said several people at the event told her they’d be able to help get the $350,000 she is trying to raise at the moment. “I’m extremely hopeful moving forward from South By South West,” she said.

Glantz (right), with overall winner Maidbot and 2nd place winner ChaChing
Glantz (right), with 1st place winner Maidbot and 2nd place winner ChaChing (from left)

We spoke with both students on their time at SXSW:

Tell me about your experience in Austin.

Glantz: The main thing was coming to South By South West in general, meeting everybody here and seeing everything that is going on in tech. And come here and pitch, seeing other student entrepreneurs has been a lot of fun. It’s always fun to talk about startups.

What does this competition mean to you?

Glantz: It means $2,000 dollars, which is nice. It’s also nice validation to have, but in the end, there’s a lot of progress to go. I can feel good about it in the moment, but now we need to move in and actually bring in money for the company and do tangible things, but at the moment it’s nice.

Johnson: I made amazing contacts. I actually talked to all the judges, who told me I didn’t have enough traction, but being here at SXSW has given me the contacts, and people have offered me to help me get to the next level. I’m super hopeful for the future.

What does it say about the St. Louis startup ecosystem that two of the eight finalists are coming from St. Louis?

Johnson: It speaks volumes. The fact that out of hundreds of nationwide applicants, two students within ten miles from each other made it to the final 8, shows that St. Louis has an amazing thing going and that people there are creating amazing things.

Glantz: I think it’s especially important for student entrepreneurship in St. Louis because a lot of students leave the city after college. I think student entrepreneurship is a great way to create new opportunities and retain the talent. Student Startups Madness is a great way to prove to students that they can do things like this in St. Louis.