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Economy & Business

Graematter adds to St. Louis' startup scene

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 30, 2013 - Civic boosterism and celebrating entrepreneurial success were the themes of a press conference by Graematter, a local startup that announced the commercialization of its new regulatory intelligence system.

“This is a very exciting day for St. Louis,” Mayor Francis Slay told a group of media and well-wishers at the Center for Emerging Technologies on Friday morning. “This is a demonstration of why we are a startup city.”

The nascent venture will enter the fast-growing field of regulatory intelligence and monitoring that tracks and analyzes government actions and requirements for client companies. The system, dubbed SOFIE, focuses on the Food and Drug Administration. It examines a wide variety of items in the regulatory environment including inspections, sanctions, recalls and review times while providing quicker, more efficient search functions for clients.

Merle Symes, CEO of the T-REX-based company, said recent research has shown that managing the large amount of data being generated by government will be a growth industry.

“We believe Graematter is the right vehicle for doing that,” he said. “In fact, we think Graematter is perfectly positioned to ride the crest of this new wave of opportunity.”

Symes said SOFIE is being rolled out at trade shows.

“Two  of the largest medical device companies indicated to us that they would like to talk more about the potential of us developing customized versions of the SOFIE system specifically for their organizations,” he said.

Slay said that while the Gateway City remains a center of manufacturing, it needs to expand into new sectors to stay competitive nationally and internationally.

“St. Louis is continuing to build a name for itself as the place to be for both IT and plant and life sciences work,” he said. “Graematter has managed to conquer both in one company.”

Melissa Walker, president and chief technology officer, said she came up with the idea for Graematter while working as a regulatory compliance executive.

“Thirteen years ago, I sat down at my computer and said, ‘I have to have better information in order to do my job right,’” said the former senior vice president for regulatory, quality and compliance at Stereotaxis. “I actually never envisioned that I would be standing here in front of you getting ready to open up this tool for regulatory professionals, attorneys or anyone who needs it in order to help get better medical products back to patients.”

Symes credited a wide range of investors and organizations for Graematter’s success, two of which were represented with speakers during the press event.

Eric Gulve, president of BioGenerator, said he was proud to have Graematter as a recent addition to the group’s portfolio, noting that over the past three years, the BioSTL-supervised 501(c)3 has brought 32 companies on board.

“In today’s world, where FDA regulations and approval processes are becoming exceedingly complex, knowledge has become power,” said Gulve. “Graematter’s SOFIE system retrieves a much more complete set of information while reducing the burden that regulatory professionals have and aids their ability to turn that information into knowledge.”

Also represented at the announcement was Arch Grants, the local nonprofit that’s been awarding stipends to startups that begin or move here. Symes said the group was proof of the changes in St. Louis’ entrepreneurial culture.

“It’s common to see innovation within early stage ventures,” said Symes. “What we’re now seeing in St. Louis is innovation around the process for creating the environment, which really fosters these early stage ventures.”

Jerry Schlichter, president and director of Arch Grants, noted that the organization intentionally does not take any equity in its awardees. Part of the reason is to make St. Louis a more desirable place to do business and partly to make awardees more attractive to follow-on investment.

“We’re thrilled with your success, where you are now and where you are going in the future,” he said. “You are really emblematic of the kind of companies we want to foster here in St. Louis as we build for the future.”

Schlichter noted that Arch Grants is working to build a “new St. Louis.”

“We have a new spirit here,” he said. “We have a new energy and a new synergy around entrepreneurship and building companies of the future that will compete in a global economy with national and international sales creating a value-added benefit for St. Louis.”

Still, he joked that some elements of the old city remain.

“I still hear that high school question,” he said to chuckles from the audience, “but I haven’t heard a single person talk about the World’s Fair for a couple of years.”

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