Amidst a backdrop described by several podium speakers as a religious revival, Central Arkansas’ startup community held a celebration on Monday (April 27) to announce a major grant that will spark more activity in the state’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Winrock International CEO Rodney Ferguson stepped to the stage and said, “I’m not a Baptist preacher, but it sure feels like a revival here today.”
The Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub announced a $1 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to complete the development of its Innovation Center in the Argenta district of downtown North Little Rock. The Innovation Hub offers maker and collaboration space to encourage more entrepreneurship and startup activity in Central Arkansas.
The $1 million grant was provided at a press conference that included U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Matt Erskine, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, U.S. Rep. French Hill, Delta Regional Authority Co-Chairman Chris Masingill, Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde, and North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith.
“The U.S. Economic Development Administration is focused on helping communities like North Little Rock capitalize on our nation’s innovative spirit to create the next generation of businesses,” said Erskine. “EDA’s $1 million investment will help to redevelop a 1920’s-era building to serve as the Argenta Innovation Center, which will provide critical education, training, prototyping, and startup training to boost entrepreneurial opportunities in Arkansans.”
“We are tremendously grateful for this support from the U.S. Economic Development Administration,” said Warwick Sabin, dxecutive director of the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub. “This grant demonstrates confidence in the model that we have created to support entrepreneurship, and it establishes Arkansas as a center for innovative programming in talent and enterprise development.”
A portion of the grant will be used to complete the final phase of renovations of the Innovation Center, which will include The Silver Mine, an entrepreneurship resource center for co-working, startup acceleration, and other programming to support new and growing business enterprises. The rest of the funds will be used to purchase the building for the Innovation Hub.
The Innovation Center is home to three other programs:
• The Launch Pad, a maker space with cutting-edge equipment and technology;
• The STEAM Lab, a classroom and laboratory space for science, technology, engineering, and math pursuits; and
• The Art Connection, a program for high-school students that develops leadership and innovation through the visual arts.
“You can feel the momentum building in Arkansas,” said Hutchinson. “With projects like the Innovation Hub, we will continue to establish the state as a place that values innovative thinking and acts as a magnet for fast-growth business enterprises. When it comes to entrepreneurial opportunities, creative thinkers will love Arkansas.”
“I am pleased to see this public-private cooperation to facilitate innovation and entrepreneurship in our region,” said U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock. “More start-up businesses will enhance the long-run diversity and dynamism of Little Rock.”
On Wednesday, the Innovation Hub will co-host the inaugural Arkansas Manufacturing Innovation Summit, as well as the first-ever Maker Faire in Central Arkansas.