Start Here Little Rock, an organization composed of various partners from the city, held the organization’s kickoff event in late August with more than 100 people attending the event at Ron Robinson theater. The event was originally scheduled to be hosted by the Clinton School, but the event was moved to Robinson theater due to interest and to accommodate more people.
The organization is a pilot program of the national Start Here Initiative. The mission is to engage minorities and women in the Central Arkansas area in accessing resources and training for entrepreneurship.
“I met Skip Rutherford, Dean of the Clinton School at the kickoff of the recent VC FinTech Accelerator,” Steve Rice tells Talk Business & Politics. “I told him that I was interested in hosting a summit to increase women and minority engagement in entrepreneurialism and he kindly offered to host it for me at the Clinton School.”
According to Rice, there were two goals for the event:
- To raise awareness of the resources and support that exists for entrepreneurs in the community.
- To increase engagement of women and minorities with the Entrepreneur Support Organizations that exist in Little Rock.
Rice said he came up with the idea while serving as a Fellow with the Delta Regional Authority.
“I had the initial idea when I was in New Orleans at New Orleans Entrepreneur Week (NOEW) in March,” he said. “I was representing the Venture Center as a Delta Entrepreneur Network Fellow with the Delta Regional Authority (DRA). I heard Steve Case, the co-founder of AOL speak.”
According to Rice, Case “pointed to the dramatic gap that exists for women and minorities when it comes to securing venture capital.”
As a result, Rice noted, “The thought struck me that we are missing out on a huge portion of the innovation, ideas, and companies that could be created if we don’t engage a more full representation of our community. That’s where the Start Here idea got started.”
This inaugural event was held in collaboration with University of Arkansas Clinton School for Public Service, the Arkansas Association of Black Professionals and Start Here Little Rock.
Skip Rutherford, Dean of the Clinton School, kicked off the event by stressing the importance of diversity and increased inclusion in the process of entrepreneurship.
“Democratizing access to capital for entrepreneurs from every part of our society is vital for success in modern innovation,” he said. “Start Here Little Rock provides a starting point for minority and women entrepreneurs by raising awareness and providing access to the resources and support already available in the thriving startup community right here in Little Rock.”
A group of successful entrepreneurs from various backgrounds were represented on a panel during the program. The entrepreneurs included Jeston George of Apptegy, Ivan Hudson of the Hudson Agency, Chris Bell of Complete Consulting, Gina Radke of Galley Support Innovations, Tina McCord of Zuni Learning Tree, Tinisha Turner of BigUms Catering, Maura Yancey of Hola! Arkansas, and Maf Sonko of LumoXchange.
The afternoon panel featured representatives from various local support organizations for entrepreneurs including the Delta Regional Authority (DRA), Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center (ASBTDC) at UALR, the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, the Venture Center, and the Small Business Administration (SBA). The representatives fielded questions from the audience and learned more about services offered by the organizations.
“Resources for entrepreneurs exist in our community,” Katie Milligan, community organizer for Start Here Little Rock, said. “The first step is to raise awareness among women and minority entrepreneurs – or would-be entrepreneurs – about what tools exist and work together to increase engagement by providing access to key resources, education and support. Start Here aims to begin the conversation towards building a more inclusive and accessible ecosystem.”