“From my earliest days I was a theater kid,” said Kathryn Jamboretz, founder of AI obituary platform Tributary. “I was always telling tales and getting up on tree stumps and talking and I just always loved the idea of being able to present an idea in a way that would get people to listen.”
Writing and getting in front of people were motivations that led to a career in journalism, where most St. Louisans will know she was a morning news reporter at KMOV-4, then news anchor at KPLR-11, followed by a stint as radio host at The Big 550 KTRS.
If they’re not in the tech startup ecosystem, they might not know that she followed broadcasting with public relations and marketing, notably at the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership.
“I really like taking big ideas, and making them approachable,” she said. “A lot of startups are founded by Ph.D.s and people who are crazy engineering geniuses. Through my training, I could help them feel like they could present something in a two minute elevator speech that was both interesting and compelling and didn’t dumb down their idea.”
About a decade ago she really dug into the St. Louis tech startup ecosystem and it was starting to pick up momentum. Entrepreneur support organizations were springing up. VC firms, home grown and from the coasts, took interest. Companies grew.
“We are a town that really grows companies well, because of the way you can get access to resources and other founders,” Jamboretz said. “What I fought against a lot is this notion that St. Louis is the land of dying headquarters, which actually couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
She says our most successful companies didn’t even exist 30 years ago. Companies like Express Scripts, Build-A-Bear Workshop, Enterprise Holdings, and even newcomers like Nerdy and Benson Hill. Being around all this innovation is contagious and when she saw a problem and a solution she got to it.
“Most obituaries get written right in the funeral director’s office. It’s not their favorite part of the job and for the family it kind of turns into more of a list with names and dates,” Jamboretz said. So she came up with Tributary, an AI platform that turns family supplied information into something that tells the story of their loved one. “We’re really teaching the program how to write great obituaries. It’ll help get you out of staring at a blank page which is hard on a normal day, but really, really hard when you’ve lost someone you love because an obituary has to be turned around in just a few days.”
She started Tributary during the pandemic. Early in ideation she was talking to Build-A-Bear Workshop founder Maxine Clark, who she calls a mentor. Clark recommended that she go kick her idea around at the Skandalaris Center at Washington University, St. Louis. She took part in one of their Idea Bounces, and feedback from it propelled her into researching the funeral home industry in much greater depth.
“One of the most helpful things that I thought came out of the Idea Bounce is that you went into breakout rooms, and I got to meet some really successful investors. And I said, ‘Hey, can I jump on a Zoom with you next week or the week after just so you could give me some feedback on my presentation deck? And so they graciously did that and took time out of their own schedule.”
She misses Venture Cafe’s in-person Thursday meetings, and followed them when they went virtual. She’s looking forward to the world coming back to in-person, and says she expects to plug into ITEN and Startup Week and apply for an Arch Grant.
“I’ve gotten to this point, I’ve really been kind of out on my own, figuring it out,” Jamboretz said. “Because my company is a technology company, that’s been very hard. But I’ve had great conversations with Cultivation Capital and Capital Innovators. They recommended I come back when I have a product that I’m selling.”