“I applied five times for an Arch Grant and got rejected every single time! The time that we ended up getting it, I actually was rejected then as well,” laughed Andrew Glantz, CEO of GiftAMeal. “And then I got a call from Arch Grants five days before the finalist pitch that year, saying that one of the finalists dropped out and that I was kind of the next one on the cusp. They asked if I wanted to pitch and I was like, absolutely, count me in, I’m ready to go!”
It sounds like a Cinderella story, but Glantz is quick to point out that he had put in the work. Mentors, pitch competitions, accelerators and incubators – but he didn’t take to that path intuitively. The baked-in risk taking of entrepreneurship wasn’t something he found attractive while growing up.
“It’s way too risky… if I’m fortunate enough to go to Wash U, I can go into finances or investment banking to provide for a family – why take the risk?” he said, but then he got an internship at a venture capital firm and came up with the kernel of an idea. “I saw the potential when I was at the venture capital firm and was exposed to the creativity and the autonomy that these entrepreneurs had. That was really appealing to me.”
The idea wasn’t quite GiftAMeal yet, but it had some of the elements and it was a for-profit social venture. Glantz had done a lot of volunteer work while growing up; volunteering to help elementary children read, volunteering at food banks, and as a counselor at Camp Harmony – a sleep-away camp for underprivileged children.
“I actually donated a portion of my bar mitzvah money to help the organization Junior Variety get started,” he said, adding that his charity work experiences had some characteristics in common with being an entrepreneur. “I later joined their board… became vice president in high school… and raised about $350,000 for children in need.”
Returning to Washington University from the internship, idea in tow, Glantz says he wishes he’d gotten involved right away with all the help available there, instead he did everything the wrong way.
“I didn’t reach out to mentors at the very beginning stages, I just did it on my own,” he said. “I ended up building out GiftAMeal with a different concept based on restaurant recommendations for cash rewards, and we would donate a portion of our profits to charity – not the ‘take a photo, give a meal’ component. And we didn’t test that out enough. I had no idea what a minimum viable product was, or a lean startup model. That initial idea failed in two months.”
He first encountered mentors at the Skandalaris Center at Washington University, St. Louis. Mentors and staff introduced him to alumni and other student entrepreneurs like CareSignal CEO Blake Marggraff – a couple years older than he was, but who had raised some money and was generous with advice. That got Glantz fully engaged with the ecosystem.
“I did all the different pitch competitions,” Glantz said. That started with WashU’s IdeaBounce, followed by the SLU Real Elevator Pitch Competition, U.Pitch, GESA, Startup Connection St. Louis, PitchForce – to name just a few. Meanwhile, “I was fortunate in my junior year to get accepted to the Capital Innovators accelerator program and get a $50,000 investment from them. Then I started to get involved in ITEN the following year, going through their Mock Angel Investor program for investor readiness, and started applying to Arch Grants.”
Although he’s busy scaling his company he says he got where he is now through kind people helping him out, and he enjoys passing along what he’s learned to founders working on an idea.
“When an entrepreneur tells me their ideas and what they’re looking to do, there’s always at least a few small pieces of advice where I know they’re going to waste their next two months on something and I can help them, dissuade them, or open their eyes to other resources in the St. Louis community that would be helpful for them.”