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The World Trade Center St. Louis (WTC), the international division of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, today launched the 2017 St. Louis Export Challenge, powered by Arch Grants and JPMorgan Chase. The competition will award a total of $60,000 in grants and other benefits to startup and mid-size companies with the best exporting ideas. Applications are open through Aug. 9, and winners will be announced Sept. 22 at WTC’s Growing Global event.
This is the second year for the competition, which was first announced in 2016 when the World Trade Center St. Louis unveiled the St. Louis Export Plan, a report that assessed St. Louis’ current export climate, set goals for increasing exports and laid out a detailed implementation strategy. The plan was the culmination of a year-long study conducted through the Global Cities Initiative, a joint project of the Brookings Institution and JPMorgan Chase that helps business and civic leaders grow their metropolitan economies by strengthening international connections and competitiveness. St. Louis was one of eight cities selected to participate in 2015.
Exporting: A Broad Definition
Last year’s winners of the first Export Challenge included a food exporter (US International Foods), an AgTech company and a biotech company (Aggio) and a drone and data management company (AirZaar). The diversity of the prize winners reflects the intention of the challenge, according to Tim Nowak, Executive Director of WTC. “We want to encourage all industries to apply,” he says. “When you think about exporting, that doesn’t have to be manufacturing. It can also be services.”
When WTC unveiled the Export Plan and JPMorgan Chase’s investment to launch the first St. Louis Export Challenge to help fuel startup companies’ export capabilities, it was an acknowledgement that companies are exporting earlier and growing faster than ever before. Given St. Louis’ nationally recognized entrepreneurial ecosystem, the WTC envisions long-term export opportunities for St. Louis. “As we were going through the export planning process, we began to understand the greater opportunity to incentivize small to mid-sized companies to export. That is what’s driving the Export Challenge,” says Nowak.
JP Morgan Chase sees the competition as an important step to fuel the local economy. “International trade and investment provides a pathway for local businesses to create jobs, attract capital and grow our economy,” says Craig Horstmann, Region Manager for JPMorgan Chase. “JPMorgan Chase is proud to fund the St. Louis Export Challenge and to support innovative programming that will help our region’s future economic success.”
Partnerships for a Bigger Impact
This year, each of the selected finalists will receive access to the World Trade Center’s network of export resources and the option to accept a full paid scholarship in the six-month online Chancellor’s Certificate in International Trade program at the University of Missouri—St. Louis. Nowak is pleased with how winners took advantage of the mentoring and programming aspects of the awards last year. “All 15 finalists last year were certified through the online trade training. Although it’s still early, feedback from the companies is that they are pursuing trade shows now that they never would have without the training.”
One of 2016’s winners, US International Foods, credits the training and prize money for the company’s ability to hire a full-time export buyer and pursue trademark protection for a new brand, Kirksville Farms.
“We’re continuing to grow the business this year. We’ve started up with new customers in Vietnam and Cambodia, and have several other exciting projects in progress,” said US International Foods President Dave Shogren. “We’re very optimistic about our future, and want to thank JP Morgan and the organizers of the competition for the financial support and recognition received.”
In preparing for the 2017 competition, WTC formally engaged Arch Grants to facilitate much of the administration of the St. Louis Export Challenge and to draw upon a wider base of applicants. Ben Burke, Interim Executive Director of Arch Grants, says this is a natural fit given Arch Grants’ experience with its national competition. “Our role is being a go-to place for applications while leveraging our experience with managing competitions.”
Because the Export Challenge is a local competition, Arch Grants is reaching out locally to community organizations, aggregators that are directly involved with target startups and small businesses that fit the profile of a local exporter. “The effort is–through word of mouth–to get businesses to understand the value of the prize money as well as the World Trade Center’s network.”
Applications for the competition are currently open and will be accepted until Aug. 9. First prize for the best global market entry strategy is $25,000, with additional awards for second and third place, as well as, immigrant-led and minority- or woman-led businesses.
Companies must be for-profit businesses currently generating revenue, but less than $10 million annually and be currently located in the greater St. Louis region. Read additional requirements on the application page.
Winners receive cash prizes from $5,000 to $25,000 and access to WTC’s network of export resources as well as the opportunity to self-select into the University of Missouri—St. Louis Chancellor’s Certificate in International Trade program.
- Applications Open – June 29
- Applications Close – August 9
- Winners Announced – September 22 at Growing Global, WTC’s annual meeting at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel
Note: Arch Grants staff and board have no influence on the decisions of which applicants are selected as winners in the St. Louis Export Challenge. The St. Louis Export Challenge is wholly and completely separate from the Global Startup Competition. Please email ExportChallenge@archgrants.org with any questions or clarifications.
Apply for the St. Louis Export Challenge here.