ASU receives $500,000 grant to help with business innovation

by Michael Wilkey ([email protected]) 216 views 

Arkansas State University Delta Center for Economic Development Deputy Director Heather Walker Clark said Monday (Feb. 8) that a new program will help budding entrepreneurs fill in the gaps and piece together to create the idea they have wanted to follow.

The Delta Center received a $500,000 grant from the federal Economic Development Administration to create the East Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub. The center has also raised $886,967 in in-kind matching to help with the project. Also, Ritter Communications committed $266,000 in equipment and services for the Proof of Concept Center, Clark said.

The funding is part of the i6 Challenge program. According to a press release from the Department of Commerce, the program was created in 2010 to help with startup, business creation and innovation.

Clark and Executive Director Shawnie Carrier said the program, which is expected to begin in April 2016, will be patterned after a similar program in Little Rock. The Arkansas Regional Innovation Center was given a $1 million grant last spring to help create an innovation hub in Little Rock.

Carrier said the program will take a systems approach in looking at complex issues. The East Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub will have two major functions, Carrier said. A Proof Of Concept Center will serve as a clearing house for entrepreneurs to meet and learn about the process, while commercialization centers will be opened in six places – ASU, the ASU-Newport campus at the Jonesboro Industrial Park and in Crittenden, Lawrence, Mississippi and St. Francis counties.

From there, the commercialization centers will be used to test a product before it is ready for market.

Clark said the hub is also partnering with several chamber and economic development groups to create an “Angel Investors” group to help projects with needs. The ASU Small Business Technology Development Center will also help with business analysis.

Clark said it took about six weeks to create the grant proposal, which was submitted in October 2015. From there, Carrier said Clark, who previously worked as the grants coordinator for the city of Jonesboro, started to work.

“Heather was instrumental in facilitating the project partners from vision to design and writing the grant that would ultimately end in an award for East Arkansas,” Carrier said in a statement. “Heather will oversee project implementation for the Delta Center and we are excited to work together alongside our partners and bring this level of innovation to Jonesboro and East Arkansas.”

Clark said she is ready for the program to start and be able to help everyone from young to old who has an idea. She also hopes the program will launch in April.

“It will be available for students, faculty, local schools, everyone,” Clark said, noting the program could also get young children interested in entrepreneurship.