Startup Junkie hits entrepreneurs with ‘Shark’ questions, refine ideas

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 207 views 

Jeff Amerine describes himself as a startup junkie, hence the name of his consulting firm on the square in Fayetteville – Startup Junkie Consulting. Simply put, the business, which includes his wife, Phyl, and son, Brett, nurtures some ideas into marketable products and finds capital to finance the development.

But there is a lot of work that happens in between and the entrepreneur must work hard to take his idea through the process. Amerine requires that rigor of the firm’s clients. Many ideas drop off as they move through the process because the evidence and data the client gathers in the early stages make it clear the idea won’t work, Amerine said.

One of the first tasks for a client is completing a business model, called the Lean Startup Canvas, on which the client that states the problem and solution and identifies a plan. It’s a soul-searching process for the entrepreneur to work through topics such as key metrics, unique value proposition, unfair advantage channels, customer segments, cost structure and revenue streams.

At the end of this process, the entrepreneur and Amerine have a good idea whether the idea is viable. Along the way, Amerine will tell the entrepreneur “to work as long as you can out of your own wallet,” before moving to the what he calls the “triple F round of friends, family and fools.” 

Along the way, the idea picks up value and reduces risk and then, it’s ready for the funding mix, Amerine said. 

Amerine works closely with LiftFund, a small business lending organization, and the Angel Investors network, both of which have a history of investing in startups. The consulting firm also looks for good strategic partners to pair with entrepreneurs.

“We bring ideas together with capital resources,” Amerine said. “We require rigor and hold clients accountable. We ask hard questions.” 

“‘No’ is a word said “all the time,” he added, but probably a little nicer than “Mr. Wonderful,” Kevin O’Leary, on the television show, “Shark Tank.” Still, Amerine said, “We use “Shark Tank” as a teaching tool. The questions that the Sharks ask are the same questions we ask.”

Throughout the course of year, Startup Junkie Consulting hosts seminars, workshops and other events geared toward startups and new entrepreneurs. The first of which was a pitch contest held March 27. Up to five local companies will pitch their businesses to a panel of judges in what is the Northwest Arkansas regional Innovate HER business competition. 

The regional winner will be submitted to the Small Business Administration for a chance to present the pitch in Washington, D.C. and win prize money totaling $30,000. The businesses will be local startups focused on improving women’s lives.

Amerine began Startup Junkie Consulting, described as a venture catalyst firm, in 2011 while associate vice provost for research and economic development and director of technology ventures at the University of Arkansas. He left that position in December to devote full attention to the firm, housed in a converted bank building across the hall from the university’s Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual Center. 

Amerine continues as an adjunct professor at the university, teaching four undergraduate courses, something he told The City Wire that keeps him energized and closely connected to young innovators. In 2001, Amerine brought his family back to his hometown of Harrison, Ark., where he was an executive for American Freightways. Amerine said he never lost his interest or desire in startups after being involved in at least eight different ones over his career.

He continued promoting entrepreneurship in Northwest Arkansas while at the UA, establishing many key relationships in Arkansas, not the least of which was with Tom Dalton at the Winrock Foundation on the formation of Innovate Arkansas. Since its inception in 2008, Innovate Arkansas has provided more than $235 million to Arkansas-based startups. The program was recently infused with a $1.9 million Walton Family Foundation grant to Winrock to boost startup programs in Northwest Arkansas over the next three years. Startup Junkie is the benefactor.

Startup Junkie Consulting also recently received a $500,000 grant from the Small Business Administration for a regional innovation cluster, one of 14 such clusters in the country. The grant is intended to fund entrepreneurial activities for businesses led by military veterans, women, Hispanics, Native Americans and Marshallese.

For Amerine’s own entrepreneurial efforts and with the help of grants from Innovate Arkansas, Walton Family and the SBA, his consulting services are free to startup entrepreneurs.

One he has established what he calls an entrepreneurship ecosystem in Northwest Arkansas and surrounding areas, he hopes to take his concept to other parts of the country that are considered startup wildernesses. 

“That’s our vision for the next 10 to 15 years,” he said. “There’s a lot more to do here.”