Black tech startup founder travels Midwest on entrepreneurship journey

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  • Published on March 28, 2023
  • Last Updated May 15, 2023
  • In People

Would you change city to grow your business? From ATL to STL, one Black tech startup founder’s entrepreneurial journey has enabled him to travel the Midwest.

A startup competition is offering $75,000 to startup founders who will consider relocating their businesses to St. Louis. You’ll have to act fast as the 2023 application deadline is March 31st.

Offered by Arch Grants, the funding comes with surprisingly few strings attached. Firstly, it’s an equity-free grant, which means that no one is buying any aspect of your business for the money. Secondly, founders just have to commit to relocating themselves or 51% of their founding team to St. Louis for 12-months.

Relocate Your Startup to St. Louis for $75,000

Would you move to a new city to grow your business? Would you consider moving for fifty-thousand dollars or more?

We caught up with Edwin Williams, a tech entrepreneur in St. Louis who is building ZenHammer, a project management app for construction projects.

Edwin’s entrepreneurial journey has taken him on the road all over the U.S. After joining transformative business development programs in Atlanta, Edwin relocated his startup ZenHammer from northeastern Tennessee to St. Louis Missouri in 2021 and recently received funding from Erie Pennsylvania.

The Big Idea

“The first big thing I did in terms of relocating my startup business was moving to Atlanta. I started off in Johnson City, Tennessee, where you’ll be hard-pressed to find a lot of startups,” said Edwin.

He needed help to develop Zenhammer and finding it there was hard to do, so he applied to get into the pre-accelerator program at Atlanta Tech Village.

“That was an eye-opening experience, for me,” Edwin recalled. “You walk into Atlanta Tech Village, and you’re surrounded by startups, from early stage up to Series A, and it’s like, ‘Wow, this is different.’”

Conceptualizing a Product

There, he started learning startup concepts like the business model canvas. Later, he joined the Square One Startup School, also in Atlanta.

“Those two programs got me to really hone-in and focus on what was going to be my initial problems and what ZenHammer was going to become,” said Edwin. “I was like ‘Where has this been my whole life? This is the information I’ve been searching for.’”

Then the pandemic hit, so Edwin returned to Johnson City. However, the good news was that while he was in Atlanta, Tennessee’s own startup community had really taken off across the entire state. He joined a marketing program through LaunchTN’s partner, SyncSpace and also reconnected with FoundersForge, another startup program serving the Tri-cities area.

Leveling Up

It was a connection made in Atlanta, who suggested Edwin’s next move should be to St. Louis, where he had lived previously for school. The team behind Square One Startup School contacted him saying, “Hey, you used to live in St. Louis, didn’t you? You’re at the right stage for Arch Grants. We’ll help you with the application.”

Promises kept, with their help ZenHammer was one of 35 winning startups to receive $50,000 in grant funding and Edwin moved back to St. Louis in 2021.

“Where my programs in Atlanta were for, from idea to MVP,” explained Edwin, “My move to St. Louis via Arch Grants was like, ‘okay, you have your idea. You’ve got market validation, maybe even revenue, so our goal is to help you reach the next stage.”

Arch Grants facilitated a lot of introductions, especially to local building associations and construction companies.

“That has been incredibly helpful with us in terms of getting in front of potential clients, doing demos, getting users and then getting feedback on our tech concept,” says Edwin.

Building a Startup

“The other thing too with Arch Grants is that we got a check. My co-founders and I had been bootstrapping and were moving as fast as we thought we could. But then when we got the check, it was like ‘Oh, this is what speed looks like!’

“Living in St. Louis changed my perspective on raising money. Originally I preferred bootstrapping, but once I realized how much faster we were moving, I thought maybe raising money isn’t such a bad idea. We can move faster, get to revenue quicker and grow a bigger company.”

Another big benefit of moving to St. Louis was connecting with another large startup community, like in Atlanta. Meeting other startup founders whose companies were at different stages was an incredible peer-learning experience.

“We would just get together and have drinks and say, ‘Hey, I’m having this problem. Have you guys dealt with this before?’” recalled Edwin. “That ability for startups of different stages just to sit together and share experiences of what strategies they had tried and tested and the results they got —whether it was success or failure— was everything.”

Following the Money

Today, Edwin commutes between St. Louis, Johnson City and now Erie, PA, where he’s committed to generating more customers after completing the Fire & Ice Accelerator program, which also made an investment in ZenHammer. Their programming targets experienced early-stage startup entrepreneurs who have been through at least two startup programs.

Edwin says their message to other startup entrepreneurs is, ‘We’re giving you investment. We’re going to help you find your first set of customers if you don’t have them. Or if you have customers already, we want to help you find your next set of customers. You’re also probably looking for investments. So we’re going to run you through an angel investor accelerator program as well.”

The Entrepreneur’s Journey

So would he recommend relocating your startup to another city?

“Do it if you can. I have had good experiences doing it,” says Edwin. “If it makes sense to move to grow your business then move to grow your business.

“I had the idea in Tennessee. The startup programs in Atlanta taught me how to develop a concept into a product. In St. Louis I learned how to take the company to the next stage and met angel investors in Erie. Now I’m meeting with potential customers all across the United States.”