Central Arkansas startups, Cocoa Belle Chocolates, RaftUp, and ClinicPass have been chosen by the Delta Regional Authority to be part of New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, March 19-24, in downtown New Orleans’ Warehouse District.
Those regional companies will be able to attend all NOEW events and will compete against each other and 13 other startups from the U.S. Delta region for $10,000 in a pitch contest at 10 a.m. on March 21 at the Ace Hotel. A panel of independent judges led by Pat Morand, president of Open Prairie Ventures in Effingham, Ill., will choose the winner. Open Prairie has managed more than $100 million in fund commitments, according to its website.
Later that day on March 21, the companies will present at the Delta Entrepreneur Showcase at the event’s Camp Street Stage near the Contemporary Arts Center. Attendees of the showcase will vote for crowd favorite.
Cocoa Belle Chocolates in Bryant is an artisan candy company owned by chocolatier Carmen Portillo. Portillo makes a wide variety of candy collections and custom chocolates. She hopes to launch a new line of chocolate bars and barks inspired by classic Southern desserts and aims to sell them at major retailers, according to a DRA press release.
RaftUp in Little Rock, founded by Corey Boelkens, has a mobile app for boating that offers a number of features, including interactive maps indicating potential areas of interest and safety features like the “Social SOS,” which sends a distress signal to others nearby.
ClinicPass was founded by Tracy Simpson in Searcy. It is a healthcare solution for pharmaceutical scheduling, credentialing and sampling, according to the NOEW website.
Delta entrepreneurs qualified to participate in NOEW by taking part in the Delta Challenge, a series of six regional competitions last year, said Andrew Moreau, communications director for DRA.
“These entrepreneurs represent some of the best the Delta has to offer. They are converting what makes our part of the world great – our people, our culture, and our history — into successful business ideas and opportunities,” DRA federal Co-Chair Christopher Masingill said in a press release. “As the Delta Entrepreneurship Network grows, I am excited to work with this new class of fellows to strengthen entrepreneurial development in the region and build a robust ecosystem of talented business leaders.”
Other participants in the Delta Entrepreneur Showcase and startup pitch competition are from New Orleans and Ruston, La., Memphis, and Lexington, Tenn., Pope and Oxford, Miss., and Tuskegee, Ala. Two participants are from Cape Girardeau, Mo., and one is from Marble Hill, Mo.
DRA is also bringing six student entrepreneurs from historically black colleges and universities in the eight-state Delta area, including one from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Moreau said.
While not formally competing, the students will have the opportunity to exhibit their businesses at the Startup Catalyst event 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on March 23.
A New Addition
The Delta Entrepreneur Showcase was introduced last year. Before that, companies that participated were from the New Orleans area only.
There were 119 events at NOEW 2016 and about 13,000 people attended, showing a 25% increase since 2015, according to the Idea Village, the nonprofit that created NOEW.
Attendees were awarded $648,430 in capital and in-kind resources in last year’s event series, according to the nonprofit.
Last year, Spencer Jones, founder and CEO of Lineus Medical (then LineGard Med) of Little Rock and Tina McCord, founder and CEO of ZUNI Learning Tree in Conway, were winners at the Delta Regional Showcase event. The two companies were among a field of 19 entrants from six DRA states.
Lineus Medical won the grand prize, grabbing $10,000 in startup funding, while ZUNI won $1,500 as the second runner-up, according to the DRA.
Lineus Medical, now headquartered in downtown Fayetteville, makes devices that aim to help prevent the dislodgement of IV catheters.
ZUNI Learning Tree is a cloud-based educational platform featuring games, videos, tutorials and other resources in categories that include STEM learning, Girls in Science and coding help.
The Delta Entrepreneurship Network is a fellowship program, initiated by the DRA, to help identify entrepreneurs and support organizations located in the Delta region to help nurture talent and create a vibrant ecosystem for startups and entrepreneurship, according to the DRA.