Innovation Hub coming to Fayetteville, connects to central Arkansas effort

by The City Wire staff ( 203 views 

The Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub and the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce have formed a partnership to develop a new Innovation Hub in a building that the Chamber of Commerce is acquiring on the Fayetteville downtown square.

The announcement was made in downtown Fayetteville on Thursday (June 25).

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson applauded the partnership that he said will better serve start-up businesses in Northwest and Central Arkansas.

"This is the type of partnership that links our state geographically, economically and intellectually. It also signals to entrepreneurs and creative thinkers outside our borders that Arkansas is fast becoming the ‘innovation state,’" Hutchinson said.

The new Innovation Hub on the Fayetteville Square will be located at 21 West Mountain St., in the Bradbury Building which is being acquired by the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce for an undisclosed amount. After renovations, the building will have 4,500 square feet of space dedicated to the Innovation Hub and its Launch Pad maker space. All current tenants, such as Tiny Tim's Pizza and Jammin' Java, will remain in their existing space.

The first phase of the new Innovation Hub will be the Launch Pad maker space on the lower floor of the renovated building. Like the original Launch Pad maker space in North Little Rock, the new facility will include 3-D printers, laser-cutting tools, and other equipment for rapid design and prototyping. The Innovation Hub will direct the creation of the new space and assist with the development and implementation of the programming there. Educational opportunities will be provided for people of all ages as well as support for local manufacturers and corporations that want to solve problems or provide additional training.

"We are very excited about this opportunity to work with the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce to bring our facilities and programs to Northwest Arkansas," said Warwick Sabin, executive director of the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub. "Our mission is to extend access to entrepreneurial education and resources across the state, and this new partnership with the Fayetteville Chamber is a major step forward in that direction."

Steve Clark, president and CEO of the Fayetteville Chamber, said there is clear evidence of growing entrepreneurial education opportunities and resources being created in the state.” He said this new partnership should strengthen the innovation ecosystem and further elevate the startup culture throughout Arkansas.

The new hub in Fayetteville will be an extension of the Innovation Hub’s headquarters in North Little Rock. The new facility also will include entrepreneurial co-working space that has been lacking in Fayetteville since the re-organization of the Iceberg co-working space took place in early 2014.

The Silver Mine co-working space for entrepreneurs and small business owners looking for networking in the new facility is modeled after what is being offered in the Little Rock. It will also be the home to vertical business acceleration programs that will seed and mentor promising new enterprises from Arkansas and around the world. According to leaders of the effort, the Silver Mine will be able to incubate and give birth to a steady stream of new businesses, where ideas can connect with capital and other resources.

Another important feature of the new site is a STEAM (Science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) Lab that will be operated in partnership with the EAST Initiative to offer science, technology, engineering and mathematics education across a variety of ages and disciplines. STEAM is the new STEM, but with an arts component added in.

The STEAM education model has been championed by Wal-Mart managers like Rick Webb, senior vice president of global processes, who said there is an immense talent shortage in science and engineering fields. Webb said Wal-Mart has somewhere around 800 open positions for technology-related jobs. He said the retailer is forced to off-shore many projects because it can’t find the STEM-educated problem-solvers its needs.

Lastly, the new Innovation Hub also will feature the Art Connection, an afterschool and summer work program for high schools students designed to develop leadership and innovation through hands-on training in the visual arts industry. Modeled after the Artists for Humanity program in Boston, the Art Connection works with arts organizations, local artists, business owners, city government and others in the community to provide practical skills for under-resourced youth.

Most involved in the startup scene say there is a real need for a stronger startup ecosystem in Northwest Arkansas, despite the success that a few ventures born in the region are having today. More than 300 startups launched in Northwest Arkansas in the last five years, raising more than $190 million in funding to do so, according to Jeff Amerine, co-founder of Startup Junkie Consulting.

He said the bulk of that capital raised in recent years helped to put the region on the map as a viable place to start a business. Amerine works with startup ventures on everything from LEAN Canvas business planning to seed money investments. The position of the new Innovation Hub is in close proximity to the University of Arkansas where so many of the local startups originate.

Also recently locating on the Fayetteville Square is Hayseed Ventures, a startup capital investment group led by John James, co-founder of Acumen Brands. He founded Hayseed Ventures in March and moved June 1 into the Old Post Office on the Fayetteville Square. He, too will offer a small co-working space in the basement. James and his small team also recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $25,000 for building renovations.

James is in the process of raising $6 million in investment capital for startups.

"We have more than half of the capital committed, and should close the rest of the round quickly," James noted in an e-mail.

Earlier this year he told the Northwest Arkansas business community that there is a major need for more venture capital in this region. Overtime he believes the region can raise $100 million in capital venture funds which is an effort underway by Newroads Ventures which James also advises.

He said $100 million is a challenge and he’s more than ready to do his part. James said at the time he had secured soft commitments for almost 30% toward the $100 million.