St. Louis celebrates its 250th anniversary with a yearlong civic party in 2014, and to help tell the St. Louis story – past, present and future — the city is turning to an innovative startup company that moved here from California just eight months ago.
Leaders within the growing St. Louis startup movement say the alliance is just the sort of thing that’s needed to build the blossoming movement’s momentum.
The startup company is Candy Lab, which relocated to St. Louis from San Diego in June after winning a $50,000 Arch Grant one month earlier. Candy Lab’s forte is “augmented reality” – the phenomenon in which a person’s view of the real, physical world is aided by computer-generated input, be it sound, pictures or GPS information.
Candy Lab’s partnership with stl250, the organization responsible for planning the city’s 250th anniversary bash, began last October, when stl250 executive director Erin Budde attended the first annual Arch Grants gala. “I was seated next to Gilda Campos (the co-founder) of Candy Lab. As we discussed their company and stl250’s initiatives, we both realized there was possibly a very good fit between our organizations. A breakfast meeting a couple of days later made the possibility a reality.”
Candy Lab will bring its technology expertise to the civic celebration in two ways. The company is developing the stl250 app, which will provide mobile device users an easy way to interact with signature initiatives and events throughout the year. But stl250 officials say they are most excited about Candy Lab’s slice of “Cakeway to the West” — an initiative that calls for the placement of 250 four-foot fiberglass birthday cakes at notable spots throughout the 15-county St. Louis region. The mobile app, which will be available on iOS and Android, will allow users to check-in and view information — facts, videos, etc. — about each of those locations using augmented reality.
“Say you’re standing in front of a museum that has been chosen as one of the venues for one of the 250 cakes,” says stl250 spokesperson Kelly McMahon. “If you hold your smart phone in front of the cake, up will pop information on your phone: historical facts, etc., about that museum. At the same time, the user will be awarded points for each venue they visit.” Rewards for earning those points are expected to be announced later this year.
And because the technology will be tied to social media, “it doesn’t just reside in St. Louis,” says McMahon. “It can be shared with anyone around the world,” in essence making anyone who takes advantage of the technology an ambassador for St. Louis.
Says stl250’s Erin Budde, “Our efforts aren’t just about reflecting on our past and celebrating who we are today. We’re also focusing on where we’re going, and a vibrant future. St. Louis has a long history of innovation over the last 250 years. The latest iteration is the influx of tech startups. Not only does Candy Lab have a product that will be valuable to making stl250’s efforts a success, but stl250’s investing in their company and their creative talents helps to highlight current momentum and future success.”
For Arch Grants Executive Director Ginger Imster, the Candy Lab/stl250 partnership represents more than a simple client/vendor relationship. “If we want companies like Candy Lab to come and stay in St. Louis where they can generate jobs and revenue for our local communities, then we have to encourage our established companies and organizations to embrace and welcome them,” says Imster. “For local startups to become a part of the fabric of St. Louis they need the opportunity to network and collaborate with established companies and organizations.”
Jerry Schlichter, the St. Louis attorney who founded Arch Grants, agrees. “CandyLab is an exciting startup doing cutting edge augmented reality. This collaboration is a terrific combination of world class technology from a company new to St. Louis being used to celebrate a historic event,” says Schlichter. “Connections like this are important for startups because they provide revenue sources and credibility as they grow.”
Candy Lab co-founder Andrew Couch says his company is up for the challenge. “Being able to work with stl250 has given us a real opportunity to showcase augmented reality. We’re the company that will allow St. Louis to boast that it carried out the longest and largest augmented reality campaign ever in the United States. We did some research and found a 60 day event, but nothing of this duration, or in terms of number of people who will be exposed to the technology. The stl250 app will serve as a virtual gateway into the celebration and we’re very excited to be the company they selected to bring this to market.”