By David Nicklaus
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) This article follows the trials and tribulations of several entrepreneurs who got their start in St. Louis. Many of the entrepreneurs featured credit Washington U. for helping them find their footing.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Jolijt Tamanaha found a lot of support for her technology startup in St. Louis, but she moved to New York — and failed.
That’s OK, the 23-year-old entrepreneur says. She wanted to learn whether her company was viable, and the price and pace of New York forced her to make decisions quickly.
To be fair, Tamanaha also had personal reasons for moving. She’s from New York and had always planned to return after graduating from Washington University last year.
Champio, a social media application designed for internal corporate use, was Tamanaha’s second startup during her student years; she also founded and sold an online produce market called Farmplicity.
After Champio won funding from Prosper, an accelerator program for female entrepreneurs, she met several potential customers and investors here. Still, the allure of her hometown was stronger.
“I really wanted the density, and I really wanted the speed with which things happen in New York,” Tamanaha said. “Things burn down to the ground, but they also grow really quickly.”
Tamanaha closed Champio in October, five months after moving to New York. She wasn’t able to raise enough money to keep building the business.
Her money would have lasted longer in St. Louis, she says, “but I don’t know if it would have changed the ultimate outcome.”
She quickly landed a job, which happens to be with another New York company founded at Washington University. She’s chief marketing officer of Fresh Prints, which sells custom-designed apparel to groups on college campuses.
Co-owners Jacob Goodman and Josh Arbit bought Fresh Prints from the founder, an older student, when they were sophomores at Washington U. Like Tamanaha, the East Coast natives felt the tug of hometown ties when they graduated in 2014.
“It was Washington U. and St. Louis that really enabled us to get our business off the ground,” Goodman says. “In New York, we would have been just another tiny fish in an enormous pond.
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In St. Louis, getting access to people and resources was easier.”
New York, he adds, has been a great place to grow the apparel business. Fresh Prints has about $4 million in revenue with 10 full-time employees, plus 81 student managers who represent the company on their campuses.
New York isn’t the only city with a network of expatriate Washington U. entrepreneurs. Paul Lee, 32, says he knows several San Francisco area business founders with ties to his old school.
Lee ran Tackl, an online sporting goods marketplace, in St. Louis for two years. He moved west last year when his wife landed a job at Facebook.
The Midwest’s affordability “buys you more time to get your work done,” Lee said, but he thinks other St. Louis entrepreneurs could benefit from moving to the West Coast. “There is talent here that I don’t think you can find in Cleveland or St. Louis,” he said.
Being in a fast-paced city forced Lee, like Tamanaha, to be realistic about his dreams. He says Tackl is in “recalibration mode” while he figures out whether it has a future. Meanwhile, he has taken a job at TuneIn, an audio streaming service.
Neither Lee nor Goodman nor Tamanaha expects to move back to the Midwest anytime soon, but all three say they owe a lot to their former city. They hope to be remembered positively here, even though they left.
“What St. Louis could do is talk about all the entrepreneurs who started there, and find ways to amplify our stories as St. Louis successes too,” Tamanaha says.