Revisiting The Birth Of A Viable Startup Ecosystem

by Todd Jones (tejones1971@gmail.com) 63 views 

A few years ago, Jeff Amerine of Startup Junkie talked about developing a startup ecosystem at TEDxBentonville. I summed up the talk in a blog post at AR Scene.

From the blog post:

Much of what he had to say then, maybe all, is still relevant today.
Here are some of the things you will see:

IDEA

  • Innovators +
  • Designers +
  • Entrepreneurs +
  • Artists

This community of “creatives” drive new ventures. This a very important point. There is this new, emerging, Creative Industry that will be important for our economy going forward. These four different elements are core components of building a startup and entrepreneurial ecosystem that will fuel the coming economy.

Available Venture Finance– resources to make the ecosystem go.
Other core components

Places (spaces – coworking, etc) — we need spaces, also known as maker spaces, to serve as a hub to get creatives working together in collaboration.
Programs– an ecosystem needs to have programs, such as incubators like the ARK Challenge, to build the foundation.

Events– any of our events that spur collaboration and creativity is important. Events like Made by Few, BarCamp, G60 and others light a spark in the minds of all creatives.

Networking– we should not work, isolated, on an island. Partnership and collaboration also improve innovation.

The talk was in October of 2011, approximately four years ago. I wanted to go back and look at what he said and how things look in 2015.

So, let’s take a look at some of the components needed to help facilitate a startup ecosystem.

Venture Finance
We have expanded the venture finance opportunities in Arkansas since 2011. Some that have become available include Hayseed Ventures, New Road Ventures, xCelerate Capital and VIC Technology Venture Development. In addition, there have been several existing venture companies including Gravity Ventures Arkansas.

John James called for capital to be more present in a post on Medium called Flyover State Venture Capital: A Rant and Action Plan. James is involved in at least two venture capital firms.

Places (spaces – coworking, etc)
This was a pressing concern in 2012, but I believe we are making progress. The opening of the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub was a big win for Arkansas. They have since partnered with Northwest Arkansas to help establish maker spaces there. In addition to the Hub, Little Rock also has the Arkansas Venture Center and the Little Rock Tech Park, both of which operate together currently and have several co-workers. Fayetteville Square will be the home of the Innovation Hub in Northwest Arkansas and will house co-working.

Hayseed Ventures is also looking to get into the maker-space game as they look to convert the old Post Office into a startup accelerator.

Forge is taking the charge in Northeast Arkansas helping to secure future maker spaces through their Forge Labs Initiative.

Programs
Before we had the ARK Challenge, and, while it seems to have run its course, other opportunities are sprouting up across the state for accelerators and startup workshops. Just look at the calendar for October. October is full of tech events, some of which include workshops for startups. The list of events has been named Techtober.

Startup Junkies in Northwest Arkansas, Hayseed Ventures and the Arkansas Venture Center will and have offered various types of workshops and accelerators. In addition, in May, the Winrock Institute offered a bootcamp for those involved in Social Entrepreneurship.

Networking
Entrepreneurship networking and collaboration has become more seasoned as the years have passed. For instance, a collaboration with the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce and the Arkansas Venture Center brought 1 Million Cups to Little Rock. While both the Venture Center and 1 Million Cups have moved from the Chamber, the Wednesday morning event still continues and is thriving in the Venture Center’s new space catty-corner from the chamber.

Northwest Arkansas has its own networking events such as Creative Cocktails which is designed to connect the community and creatives with each other in a social setting.

Little Rock had its first TEDx event this summer with TEDxMarkhamSt. UCA will host its first this coming year, and with Hendrix College hosting a TEDx, that makes three for Central Arkansas. BarCamp was also available this year in Little Rock.

Startup Junkie still hosts G60 events throughout the entire state. This is a benefit and I believe we will continue to see former winners such as Passenger Baggage Xpress benefit in the continued growth of their startups.

If you would like to see the video of Jeff at the TEDxBentonville, it is posted below. Very useful and great to see how far we’ve come.

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