Arkansas startup accelerator puts focus on cyber protection

by Jennifer Joyner ([email protected]) 498 views 

A 20-week accelerator program is being offered to tech-enabled Arkansas businesses this spring, through a partnership with The Conductor, Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC), Startup Junkie Consulting and Metova.

The 10x Cyber Accelerator is designed to scale Arkansas’ high-growth ventures by providing peer-driven, targeted education and support with a specific focus on accelerating company’s revenues while also developing resilient software and cybersecurity tech platforms, according to a press release from The Conductor, a partnership between the University of Central Arkansas in Conway and Startup Junkie of Fayetteville that is focused on fostering entrepreneurship through programs and mentorship.

The application period for 10x Cyber began Wednesday (Jan. 24) and will be open until Feb. 16. The inaugural cohort of 20 companies will be announced Feb. 23. Companies may apply here. Organizers also plan to repeat the accelerator this fall with a new cohort.

10x Cyber will begin March 6, and the group will meet in various locations in Conway on Tuesday nights from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. until June 19. 10x Cyber will culminate with a Demo Day that will be open to the public.

It is funded by the AEDC through a $2 million accelerator grant program for startup companies, authorized under the Arkansas Business and Technology Accelerator Act signed into law by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in February 2017. Matching funds of up to $250,000 per event are available through the program, according to the AEDC website.

“This accelerator has the ability to change the face of Arkansas’ technology and entrepreneurial landscape,” Mike Preston, AEDC executive director, said in the release. “The AEDC is proud to be supporting this program.”

The accelerator program is open to any technology-enabled company, so while software and other tech companies are welcome, organizers are interested in scalable companies from all industries that use tech as a key part of their business, said Kim Lane, chief operating officer of The Conductor.

Lane said 10X Cyber is different from other accelerators because it is focused solely on growing Arkansas companies and not on recruiting businesses to relocate to the area.

“The reason we exist is to catalyze an entrepreneurial ecosystem here,” Lane said.

Conductor on an average month works with more than 35 area entrepreneurs within a broad range of industries and business sizes. The accelerator “is a great way to strengthen and grow existing Arkansas companies that are already here, while also helping them navigate cybersecurity.” In terms of choosing companies for the first cohort, the organizers are looking for businesses that are past the idea stage and are in a “prize position” to scale up, Lane said.

Every business owner will say he or she is looking to grow, said Glenn Crockett, director of 10x Cyber.

“What we’re looking for is a little bigger. We’re looking for companies that are wanting to expand, for example, to other markets, or to work with larger customers.”

Eligible companies are Arkansas-based, growth-oriented firms with annual average revenues from $100,000 to $10 million, according to the press release. Selected companies must commit to having at least one member and up to two members of the senior executive team available, engaged and in attendance at weekly program meetings that will run about three hours, according to the release.

Crockett said while the accelerator looks to address the issue of cyber security, the program is intended to provide a more comprehensive entrepreneur education and training experience, with discussion subjects to include sales growth and building a sales team, cash flow and forecasting, doing business with Fortune 500 and finding the right financial partner.

For Crockett, the networking element – where the business owners will be able to spend time with potential investors, technology specialists and experienced entrepreneurs – is key for the accelerator.

“That’s the part that has me most excited, being able to help companies, point them in the right direction,” Crockett said.

He spent 25 years at the Conway-based tech company Acxiom Corp., serving as client executive until this past April, when he co-founded Dave Creek Media, of which he serves as CEO.

“We are adding a person almost every month, whether that’s part-time, full-time or internships,” Crockett said, speaking of the fast pace at which his company is growing. “So, in addition to serving as director of the accelerator, I’m living it as well, so I can share some things we’ve done.”

The emphasis on cybersecurity, Crockett said, is intrinsic for tech-enabled companies during this era.

“With tech advances, it is becoming a bigger and bigger issue. The risk associated with not having a secure environment are huge,” Crockett said, pointing to breaches that cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.

That’s why the partnership with Conway-based app development and cybersecurity company Metova is key, he said.

“These guys are experts in that field and can share best practices.”

GB Cazes, COO of Metova, said 10x Cyber has the potential to make a real impact.

“The entrepreneurial programming paired with intense assessment and improvement in cybersecurity and code scalability will be a difference-maker for the state’s high-potential companies,” Cazes noted in a statement.

Jeff Standridge, chief catalyst at The Conductor, said most medium-sized business owners don’t think they’re at risk for cyberattacks. Meanwhile, the closure rate for those that experience a cyber threat is “staggering,” he said. Standridge pointed to data provided by Metova that show 43% of all cyberattacks target small businesses, 82% of small businesses don’t believe they are targets for cyberattack, 31% don’t have a plan in place in case of such an attack and 62% of businesses that experience a cyberattack close within 6 months.

At the same time, Standridge said the accelerator will provide insight outside of cybersecurity.

“We also want to make sure people understand this is about business growth,” he said, though he added scaling up and cyber security go hand in hand. “When you are a local company that’s growing locally, you might fly under the radar, but when it comes to expanding to multiple locations and other regions, states and geographies, and when you’re leveraging technology as a core part of your business or as a growth mechanism, you become more and more susceptible to the threat.”

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