St. Louis native pitches business on Startup U

News & Schmooze

Native St. Louisan David Kram (right) is one of the entrepreneurs featured in “Startup U,” an hour-long reality series that premiered in August.

Toke on this 

Admittedly, I’m not a big ABC Family channel watcher, but I turned the corner recently when I found out about David Kram and “Startup U.”

Kram, who is 27 years old and grew up in St. Louis, is one of 10 young techies competing in a seven-week entrepreneur mentorship program at Draper University in Silicon Valley on “Startup U.” The hour-long reality series airs locally at 4 p.m. Thursdays on ABC Family.

To give you some idea of its essence, think “Shark Tank” for millennials.  Draper U is headed by venture capitalist Tim Draper, who has to be one of the quirkiest billionaires in America, though truth be told, it’s not as if I’m familiar with a lot of billionaires. When Draper tells the group to dive in head first, he does just that, with all his clothes on. 

After a semester of a boot camp-like program learning the fundamentals of launching a startup, the students will pitch their ideas to venture capitalists eager to find the next big tech innovation. (To date, more than 180 Draper graduates have received funding, which totals more than $20 million from investors and Draper himself). The show is halfway through its 10-week run, though earlier episodes are available on demand at ABC Family.

Kram’s business proposal has to do with delivering medical marijuana to those in need within 20 minutes. He even has an app to assist in the delivery, named “Relieve.”

Now living in San Francisco, where medical marijuana is legal (as it is in all of California), Kram says he got the idea when he heard others expressing grief over the lack of technology that existed in getting qualified patients their pot. 

“You would think every industry would have an innovation that makes a product easier to acquire but that isn’t the case with medical marijuana,” said Kram, who graduated from Parkway Central High School in 2006 and University of Missouri in 2010. “I saw an industry ripe for innovation. I felt I could do something that would have a meaningful effect and change the lives of people for the better.”

Proposals from Kram’s competitors include “Romeo In A Box,” a subscription-based service that sends gifts on pre-specified dates to wives, girlfriends and moms; “Pretty Litter,” a colorful, sparkly cat litter that changes colors once it’s used, and “StudyBetter,” an app that uses money as a motivator for students to study. Participants make money once they meet their goals, but must pay money if they fail.

As you might expect from this kind of show, Draper and his team put the millennial entrepreneurs through the paces in a series of challenges. A recent one had Kram and the others selling men and women’s underwear to shoppers in San Francisco’s Union Square. The goal was to have the students become experts at selling their brand.

“Part of being an entrepreneur is thinking outside the box,” said Kram. “One of the things that Draper U teaches a lot is when building a company, situations come at you unexpectedly. You have to roll and adapt in order to be successful. While selling women’s bras was embarrassing, I probably sold as many as I could.”

In “Startup U,” Kram knows he comes across, at least in the first few episodes, as cocky and self-assured. One of the women in his group even describes him as a “playboy  (d-----) bag.” Nevertheless, he takes it all in stride.

“It’s difficult when you meet people and are acting off first impressions,” said Kram. “You make generalizations and assumptions. By the same token, I am competent and highly ambitious. That’s what makes me a successful entrepreneur. I’m a go-getter and very in-your face. That doesn’t always rub people the right way.”

Kram, who grew up in Chesterfield, is the son of Carol Grosz and stepson of Rick Grosz, and has two younger siblings. He celebrated his bar mitzvah at Congregation Shaare Emeth, though his

family now attends United Hebrew. Prior to “Startup U,” Kram worked as an investment banker specializing in technology fields.

While the producers of “Startup U” bar Kram from divulging the competition winner, he did say that he has made “a ton of progress” with his business. 

“I think the world, especially the medical marijuana market, will be pleased with the progress I am making,” he said. “We are working on something big – think game-changer here – not only in San Francisco but the rest of the country as well.” 

Jumping for joy

Congrats to the St. Louis Arches, which performed in Washington, D.C. over the Labor Day weekend at the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival. The group was there to represent the newly published book about the collaboration between Circus Harmony in St. Louis and the Galilee Circus in Israel, “Watch Out for Flying Kids!” by Cynthia Levinson (Peachtree Publishing, $22.95). Jessica Hentoff, artistic/executive director of Circus Harmony, said the Arches had an hour-long presentation in the Teen Pavilion followed by a book signing.  

“Watch Out for Flying Kids!” is a new nonfiction book for 10-to-14-year olds. The book follows nine teenage troupers in the two circuses. Together, they confront racism in the Midwest and tribalism in the Middle East, as they learn to overcome assumptions, animosity and obstacles. The book’s message is one that Hentoff has championed for years – using circus arts to promote social change.

In addition, “Painting for Peace in Ferguson,” by Carol Swartout Klein (Layla Dog Press) was selected to represent the state of Missouri at the National Book Festival. Released in February, the book features images of the actual artwork painted on hundreds of boarded up windows in Ferguson and surrounding areas last November. All profits after printing costs benefit north St. Louis County-area youth and art programs as well as the businesses and employees affected by damage or loss of business. The 48-page book is $15.95 for softback and $25.95 for hardback. Go to paintingforpeace.com to order a copy or for more information.

Remembering one of our own

It takes a village to put out the Jewish Light every week and Cheryl Gouger was an integral part of our village. Unfortunately, it is with deep sorrow that Cheryl, our great friend and colleague, passed away over the weekend in her apartment in Clayton. She was 68 years old and had suffered with severe asthma.

As an editorial assistant at the Light since 2007, Cheryl’s responsibilities included coordinating the weekly obituary notices. Upon hearing the news, editor-in-chief emeritus Bob Cohn remarked how much he appreciated Cheryl’s keen eye to highlight obituaries that warranted more in-depth coverage of a person’s passing because of his or her influence in the Jewish community.

What I’ll remember most about Cheryl was her artistic flair, especially when it came to handmade jewelry. She beaded the most intricate bracelets and necklaces that were true show pieces. She also was extremely proud of her only child, daughter Lesley, who lives in California. 

On behalf of everyone at the Light, we extend our deepest condolences to Cheryl’s family and friends.