Becca Shaddox has made a career of growing the national STEM pipeline and ensuring the workforce of the future is prepared.
She is taking that same approach to launch a new business ecosystem in Fayetteville to help prepare early-stage companies for life after incubation.
The company is called Anchor, and Shaddox says it’s designed to serve as a growth catalyst for entrepreneurs, startups, small businesses and other enterprises through an innovation lab, public and private co-working space and an event/conference venue.
“We are in business to create value for businesses,” said Shaddox, who’s spent the past 15 years working for Walmart in a variety of roles. She’s currently the company’s director of STEM strategy, working in the David Glass Technology Center. “We’re here to help the scale of companies and startups. When you think of years two-four for a startup, or even the need for an established business to pivot, we’re here to help them achieve that growth. If they [startups] aren’t in growth mode, that doesn’t really help do what we want to see Northwest Arkansas become.
“We need some further-down-the-line strategies that are going to help these companies scale and grow and keep them here. And to keep more coming.”
Shaddox said she was “not quite ready” to talk about funding for Anchor but expected to have some announcements about that later this year.
Anchor will make its home in the vacant Sears building in Fayetteville —an anchor tenant of the Northwest Arkansas Mall until it was shuttered in January 2018. Shaddox said she has signed a 10-year lease for approximately 55,000 square feet in the 137,000-square-foot space.
Lisa Lockwood and Dave Burris are leading the redesign for the space, which will be done in phases. Shaddox said the conference and event space and the innovation lab should be open this fall.
“We see it as a hustle-and-bustle place of business connections, networking, people working and lots of large enterprises coming in,” Shaddox said.
Shaddox is the founder and CEO of Anchor. She is partnering on the new venture with Amy Bates, founder of Fayetteville-based Bates Events. Trent Carrender and Bryce Paden, co-founders of Bentonville tech firm i2i Labs, are also partners in Anchor.
The list of companies already partnering with Anchor is impressive considering the company has not officially launched. They include, among others, J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Microsoft, IBM, Intel, Republic and the University of Arkansas.
“Anchor is unique in the magnitude of visibility that it can provide to the inventing, visioning, entrepreneurship and scaling in Northwest Arkansas,” said Matt Waller, dean of the UA’s Sam M. Walton College of Business and an Anchor adviser. “While at the same time solving a practical venue problem we face in Northwest Arkansas.
“Becca and Bryce are two people for whom I have high levels of respect for in terms of their entrepreneurial spirit and their ability to execute.”
Cameron Smith, whose eponymous executive recruiting firm in Rogers is known as a leader in placing consumer products executives, has also put his support behind Anchor.
“When the team at Anchor came and talked to me about their business plan and their mission to help businesses scale, I saw a huge opportunity,” Smith said. “Anchor has found a niche, and I believe that their experience and drive will not only grow their own business but the businesses of so many here in Northwest Arkansas, as well as bring in other companies.”
Anchor will hold a launch event June 4 at Fayetteville music venue Sunrise Stage. Shaddox said she’ll be leaving Walmart to focus on Anchor but an exit timeline hasn’t been finalized.
PROPERTY SALE PENDING
The repurposing of the former Sears building has an additional layer of some interest: the property owner.
The owner of the Northwest Arkansas Mall is a group of investment bankers based in New York — Namdar Realty Group, Mason Asset Management and CH Capital Group. They completed a deal in December 2015 to buy the property for $39.5 million. Midwest Mall Properties, at the time a partnership among Doyle Rogers and John Flake of Little Rock and Samuel Mathias of Springdale, was the previous owner.
Shaddox said, however, the Sears building is under contract to be sold. She said the buyer she has been negotiating with is a wealth management group based in Tulsa, Okla., but did not disclose the identity.
That deal is expected to close in the coming weeks.