IberiaBank has invested $1 million in a college startup fund and training program created and operated by the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub in Little Rock. Representatives of the Louisiana-based bank said the donation is one example of its investment in entrepreneurship initiatives in the southeastern U.S.
The Hub’s I-Fund recently completed its first 12-week training program, working with proof-of-concept-stage companies started by college students, with a demo day on Dec. 3 at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
While there is a funding component where the entrepreneurs have the potential to receive up to $50,000, the greatest value within the program is the training curriculum, said Jeff Stinson, director of entrepreneurship for the Hub. Based on the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps program, the training is meant to help the student entrepreneurs develop sound business models and start to build a comprehensive entrepreneurial network.
“The formal training is really the crux of the program,” Stinson said. “The students are given mentors from within the business community, and those mentors become an integral part of their team.
Eight student companies were chosen to be the first I-Fund group. Schools initially participating in the partnership are the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Arkansas State University and the University of Arkansas.
The companies were given $5,000 upfront, once admitted to the program, and have the potential to receive up to $50,000 if they choose to apply for additional grants before the end of the school year.
The additional funding is “predicated on the students launching a real startup company, rather than keeping it as an academic pursuit.”
Five of the eight companies already applied for a second round of funding at $20,000. None of the companies have applied so far for the third round at $25,000.
Stinson said the Hub plans to run the program each year, possibly expanding to surrounding states in the southeast in 2017.
“My belief is that universities are the best source for untapped potential in the state and maybe in the country,” he said.
Stinson pointed to intellectual property and innovations surrounding faculty and student collaborations, adding that he believes college students are in a prime position to start businesses, because of the freedom they might have in financial responsibilities.
“If there are great ideas and you have a talent pool, what better place to encourage entrepreneurship?” Stinson said.
IBERIABANK AND INNOVATION
Representatives from IberiaBank say entrepreneurship initiatives have become a key part of its investments in the community.
“Over the past year, our partnership has grown to include several forward-thinking companies, foundations and individuals who are all committed the making Arkansas the entrepreneurial hub of this region,” said Phillip Jett, IberiaBank president for central and northwest Arkansas. “We believe that our support of The Innovation Hub and I-Fund, as entrepreneur incubators and investors, reflects our commitment to economic development and small businesses and elevates the community as a destination for business, entrepreneurship and innovation.
“We see tremendous value in our partnership because it has the opportunity to become a powerful platform for the larger entrepreneurial community, and IberiaBank’s leadership in these efforts continues to create momentum in our business and nonprofit community,” Jett added.
IberiaBank also partnered with the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Innovation Lab and the Collat School of Business to launch the Blazer Innovation Challenge, a program which encourages students to develop new solutions to product, service or process challenges, said Judi LeJeune, public relations director for the bank.
IberiaBank has also invested in The Idea Village in New Orleans, an independent nonprofit that states as its mission that it is dedicated to engaging the community to embrace innovation, entrepreneurship and new thinking.
Jett said its $1 million donation to the I-Fund is simply the latest in its investments. “Our partnership with The Innovation Hub and I-Fund exemplifies our commitment to nurturing an entrepreneurial community and has catalyzed a movement to develop the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders.”